Okay, I admit that I enjoy building castles in the air. I enjoy luxuriating in possibilities. Daydreaming, writing, creating are pursuits that stoke my inner fire. The scent of hyacinth, reading sheet music, and elongating through a yoga pose can satisfy me in the same way that drinking cool water on a hot day can quench an unrealized thirst. When the right Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song is playing while a breeze blows through curtain sheers, I feel like I understand one of my dad’s favorite expressions: “A day like this makes you want to live forever.”
My father. He turns 84 years young on Friday. I once asked him, “What was your favorite birthday?” And he quipped in his Canadian accent, “Nine-deen twenty-eight.” He was driving the car when I asked him that question more than a few years back as we drove to celebrate his birthday at a nearby restaurant. Driving is something my father has always loved. His first car matched his blue eyes. Materially, my dad has never seemed to have preferences. Mom decorated their house. She even chose the house. She chooses his clothes. I remember him buying cars, though. Never on credit, of course.
The ’72 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham bought off the show room floor. That was the car I learned to drive first. “Learn to parallel park that tank and you can drive anything.” Dad doesn’t like talking on the phone, so when he called me at college I was alarmed at first.
“Helloooo!” he said like he had to bridge the 200 miles with his voice alone.
“Daddy?” I asked because I was nervous. “Is everything ok?”
“I sold the car today.”
“What car?” He had two cars and his company truck, so I was confused.
“That car had a lot of memories, you know. Your brother learned to drive on it. You drove it to high school. Remember how we fit the mini bike in the trunk when we took it to hunting camp?”
Memories are made when you aren’t thinking about it. I felt so touched that he was calling to share good times, our family times. This wasn’t a car he was talking about. He was marking time with it. Times when we took our little black dog with us on road trips. She was a little pup that Dad and I picked out together on Halloween at a house that was giving out puppies instead of candy. This car was more than a possession. With it, he took us places, enjoyed our family. The winter of ’77 we could only clear the driveway of snow for two car lengths. That car was out there, taking the wind and ice and snow for us. When the weather got really snowy and the roads slippery, Dad always volunteered to take us out to the store for groceries. Because he’s from Canada, we nicknamed him Nanuk of the north.
Recently, my dad went on a trip. The last time he visited Canada was about seven years ago. To reach his hometown in Nova Scotia takes about 3 days of driving, if you drive 8 hours a day. And that’s the schedule he kept this time. He drove three days there, stayed four and drove three days home. We all used to take the trip together, mom, dad, my brother and I. Since his retirement, Dad has gone alone to visit his sister when she was alive. And well, many relatives, who are now also passed. Some of the pictures he brought home were of grave stones. That’s where some of our relatives are. I know that he thinks about life winding down because he has a list of people his age, his friends who have passed. It’s right next to his calendar, written in pencil on his legal pad of paper.
I’m glad that he felt strong enough for this trip. He looked so happy the night before he took off, his bags packed and set up next to the door. “I’m away” is what he says he says when it’s time to go.
The heart surgeries that Dad has endured over the past ten years have been life-giving. He exercises according to the doctor’s instructions and his heart has actually healed.One of my favorite stories is when he talks about the breathing classes he had to take, including a Tai Chi class. Now, I love yoga and meditation and breathing lessons, so I crack up when he says how he had to endure this crazy class because the teacher would tell the students to reach for the moon and he’d say, “There’s no moon in this room. I’m not ever gonna reach the #@! moon.”
The hardest part I saw him endure was the post-op days when he could not drive. When he was given the permission to drive the car after weeks of rest, he always came back from that first ride with a refreshed look that only his “drive therapy” can give him. Freedom that “makes you want to live forever.”
When he said he was going to drive, alone, to Nova Scotia, I offered to come along. But he quickly said, “Nope” in that way that I understand. It’s not personal. My father knows what he can do. If he knows he can drive that long trip, then he can. He knows his limits. He stopped changing the oil in his truck at age 70. He stopped going up on the roof to fix shingles a few years later. He stopped driving at night when he noticed that long shadows played a number on his vision. He works on projects in small timed periods. Work a little, rest a little. I’m proud when people say I am like him. Sometimes love is so deep in the heart, it doesn’t make the light of day because words are not enough to convey it. We just know.
So, these are the few bits I know so far of my dad’s trip. On the drive there, he hit a deer. I was worried about dad, but he was concerned with the deductible amount on the insurance and how it marred his Lincoln.
While visiting his cousins Eddie and Betty, Dad hand-fed a visiting fox. The fox came up to him in Eddie’s backyard. Dad would feed him and the fox would take it, step away, and eat it. Funny thing is, Eddie told us that after dad left, the fox hasn’t been around.
On the drive home, Dad said that Maine seemed to go on forever. Last I talked with Dad, he felt like he was still driving. He’s decided to take the rest of the week off from his exercise class. I think he deserves it.
Here’s a video of me and mom and dad on their porch last summer, chatting about a car parked on the street. It’s a 26 second video. It marks a memory together that I didn’t know at the time would mean a lot to me today.