He gave me my first typewriter.
He bought me my first car, a red Toyota Celica stick shift because everyone should know how to shift a stick.
Sure he left me sleeping sideways in a swing for a few minutes when I was barely one, but he came back with the camera and took the photo. Twenty years later, he gave me his Nikon.
He infected me with the lure of dark rooms, trays of chemicals, and glossy black and whites, so I signed up for a photography class my last semester of undergrad.
He gifted me with curiosity. I languished way too long in college, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about that innate curiosity that today sends me down Google rabbit holes and through mazes of YouTube tutorials. Always yearning for new skills.
Did I mention he gave me typewriters? My first one. And then some.
I took a very crooked path, sometimes I felt I had lost my way, but after years of art-numbing theory courses, distractions, and living life, I’m back. Sure, it’s a PC, not a typewriter. It’s a Canon, not a Nikon. But I’m showing up. And that’s also something he gave me. The stick-to-it-ness. The courage to come back, to try. That steady hand, that stubborn determination.
Mostly, he gave me space. When I was two, to feed the hens he’d already fed. When I was ten, to explore the castle on the hill. When I was fifteen, to hole up in my room for days with cassette tapes and a typewriter. Through the years, to sign up for the all the lessons, horseback, judo, painting, pottery, piano, topped off with thirteen years of college! He gave me space to learn and explore.
He had seen my scores, which, like his, highlighted sciences and numbers, yet he allowed me to explore literature, art, speech, creative writing, liberal arts. He gave me the freedom to nurture that chaotic part of me, that inner artist child. The crooked path.
Emotions are high these days. Mine may have spiked in one of those twenty-some hours I spent sitting with dad in the hospital. Heart work. Even though the procedure is now routine, you can’t avoid entertaining mortality when the lessons involve aortic valves, Cath labs, and beating hearts.
I watched him, I saw myself. Those fears behind a curtain. The stoic, I got this. I know him. Left brain strong, right brain leanings. I watched and learned a couple of things.
First lesson: He’s not the greatest patient (I warned my kids that they’re in trouble if I inherited his hospital patient gene). In his defense, he carries a heavy load and no matter where he is, sitting still and waiting is a struggle.
Second lesson: he talks in his sleep… with some profundity!
When I saw him doze off, I wiggled on the hospital couch to resume my mini reading vacation. My plans were quickly thwarted when he began speaking very clearly, as if sitting at a table with a dozen colleagues.
“I wonder what happens when you get to the last page?”
The last page
Right away, I knew I had to take notes.
I could chew on the first line for years, but he continued, “You take a picture of the next-to-the-last page.”
He kept going. I couldn’t keep up, mostly because of the first two lines. What is this last page?
“It looks very thorough if what I see is correct.”
Most of his life, dad followed the science, gave his energy to his left brain, but his right brain has always been strong. Maybe part of me is the version of him that managed to wriggle lose from the confines of left brain. Whether left or right, science and art, we share this —facing the last page—, we share our mortality, imagining it, facing it, wrangling with it.
“Where is the next-to-the-last page?” he asked.
A question I wanted to ask, but he voiced it and quickly offered a response.
“I wouldn’t want to answer that. [pause] We just passed through.”
My eyes focused on his chest for the rise and fall of life. Thank god!
Happy Father’s Day!
We all have a father, a sperm donor at least. We don’t all have a dad.
I have a dad. I am still learning how much this has blessed my life. After this week and as we move through Covid19, I’m grateful that my dad is still here with me. Even on the days he confuses me and scares me with his sleep talking. I’ll think about that last page for many days, years even. What do we do when we get there? I’m immensely grateful that this week wasn’t a last page for us.
Thanks, Dad. I’m grateful for all you’ve taught me, all the space and love you’ve given me. I’m sorry we can’t be with you today to celebrate, but know I love and appreciate you. I promise, after we get a couple more Q-tips up our noses, we’ll be right over with shrimp and coconut cake to make our own Happy Father’s Day time.
©Pennie Nichols. 2020. All Rights Reserved.