My friend Peg lost her dad this week. Bernie was 94 years young and even though he lived a rich life and it was his time to "dance" in heaven, as daughters we are pained to the core to lose our Daddies. I can tell Peg that I know what it's like, since Red died almost 15 years ago, but it's really of little comfort. Intellectually, we can accept their death as the natural progression of an aging parent, or that they are far better off than enduring a prolonged sickness. We can even rationalize that they are "in a better place", but it never makes it any easier to bear.
Losing a father is sad, period. It doesn't matter whether he was strict or a pushover, we are molded by the extraordinary impact our fathers had on our formative years. And how we remember them is significant. Not every Dad was a hero, nor is every memory necessarily pleasant. After all, we live in an imperfect world, and sadly, some fathers just didn't have it in them to nurture, love or respect their children.
My Mom would say that I have a very childlike, idyllic hero worship of my Dad, and she's probably right. But who cares? My memories of Red are as sweet and nostalgic as the oak-laden countryside where I grew up. We jokingly called him Dudley as we aged because of his ability to do anything, make anything, fix anything. Hence, most of my memories of him have building and creating themes - "Dudley can do it!" I remember sitting in the driveway next to a greasy canvas covered with valve stems, rocker arms, nuts and bolts, watching him carefully clean the parts in a can of gasoline. I couldn't put an engine together to save my life, but I know what a head gasket is. I used to brag that I could skin a deer, but Mom's right - that would be a slight exaggeration, even though I do know how to wield a hunting knife fairly well.
My Dad built roads all over California. It took him away most of the weekdays of the dry summers, leaving Mom to be the disciplinarian. So when the weekend fianlly came, I was the first one to wake to the smell of Dad's frying bacon. Our memories are powerfully linked to our sense of smell, and to this day I love to cook bacon on a Saturday morning. I can't drive buy a field of fresh mown hay without opening the window to take in the earthy warmness and remember hours of driving a tractor in circles with a baler in tow...or walking through a mountain meadow and rustling the skunk weed without thinking about camping trips without a tent under the stars.
Today, I putter in my wannabe garden of three tomato plants and two zucchinis, a pathetic tribute to the memory of a half-acre maze of corn, tomatoes and every kind of vegetable that I, along with my siblings, were made to weed. Dad would brag at dinner that everything we were eating was grown in our garden or raised in the barn. I credit him with my love of eating good food, despite the fact that he made my mother cook his vegetables to a frazzle. But even my foodie friend Peg would acknowledge that green beans cooked on the stove for three hours with bacon still invoke a warm, comfortable feeling of "home" - Martha probably cooked them for Bernie that way too.
I can conjure up flashbacks to wood cutting days in the Fall with buzz saws and brush fires and enjoy them as much as Summer evening rides in the back of a Chevy pickup over to Dad's old ranch a few miles away. I can picture my Dad laying on the lawn on a hot summer evening with a piece of grass dangling from his mouth, laughing a his uncles' bad jokes and tall stories. Red could tell a joke better than anyone, and that's probably why I love to laugh.
Granted, my memories sound idyllic and childlike, and probably not altogether acurate, but I cherish them never the less. Some country singer wrote a song about "Daddy's Hands", and amazingly, that's one of the things I remember more vividly than anything else about my father. I guess that's because he used them in so many ways, his whole life was carved into their freckled, gnarled fingers. Thankfully,I don't have my Dad's hands. And truthfully, my hair only had a hint of his red. In fact, I am my Mom all over again - her eyes, her mouth, her skin. But I love that I am Red's daughter, through and through. It isn't June 20th yet, Happy Father's Day anyway, Dad.