It’s been four years since my dad died, in early November 2004. That first Thanksgiving was, um, difficult because I was behind the locked doors for a few days.
But each year has been a litle easier. The bad memories, the ones of illness and hospitals and waiting for hours, uncertain about what was coming next, have begun to fade. The good memories, of Thanksgivings past, spent at Oak Island or home in Virginia, are becoming more vivid. Like the year we stayed up until 0’dark-thirty in the morning watching My Fair Lady, or the year Daddy went to WalMart on Black Friday to buy….cookies.
So here we are. It’s 2008, Mom has remarried to a wonderful man with a huge family. I’m getting to know my new step-brothers and step-sisters and their families….I may need to buy Christmas cards ’cause I don’t think I have enough in my stash! Our parents’ wedding celebration last weekend was a trip, literally and figuratively. Parties are way more fun with lots of people, and there were lots of us.
Thursday we traveled to spend Thanksgiving with Hubby’s family in Virginia. Lots more people. It’s funny, but I actually met Hubby’s brother before I met Hubby, in high school band. And his girlfriend, now his wife of way more years than I should admit. So when we get together the topic of high school or high school acquaintances will invariably come up. One of Hubby’s nieces found some old photo albums and started flipping through them. What a marvelous time! We laughed at our 80’s haircuts, about how skinny we all were back then. We looked at wedding pictures, bridesmaids in a rainbow of pastel-colored dresses, all made by the brides mother. Does anyone do that anymore? It’s so NOT Vera Wang.
Then there were albums of candids from all over. Niece found a picture of hubby and me taken on Halloween in, oh, about 1982. Definitely before we got married. I found a dress, hat and some beads and went to the party as a flapper. (And yes, I can do the Charleston.) Hubby, well, I think this was the year had put on mismatched suit pants and jacket, white socks, loafers, and put a bag over his head and declared himself to be the “Unknown Comic.” (And if you reach way back into the cobwebs of your 1970’s mind and retrieve the Gong Show, you’ll remember the Unknown Comic. Of course, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine was my personal favorite. I digress.) Niece has challenged me to scan the photo and put it on facebook as my profile picture, which will be done before the end of business today.
There were other pictures from 1982. Various Hubby-family functions, cute babies, etc. But there was one event that year that brought both of our families together for a party: my college graduation. We used to have a cabin on New River where we’d go on weekends to rest, eat, fish, eat, visit with river friends, eat. And in the summer the river was perfect for tubing. So we had a graduation party for me at the cabin, and hubby’s family (only he was boyfriend then) were all there. There were pictures of the river, which is lovely. There were pictures of us tubing the river. There was a picture of my graduation cake: Garfield. I love orange tabby cats, even the cartoon variety. Then someone turned the page and there it was: a picture of three of the “adults” in attendance that day, all standing next to the river in a semi-circle, laughing. Two of them were immediately recognizable: Hubby’s parents. Both of them passed away in 2004 as well. The third person was standing at a funny angle, face in 3/4 perspective. So I looked a little closer and…it was Daddy. Smiling, his hands seeming to be in motion, as he was known to do when telling a story or making a point.
And he was young. Younger than I am now. He looked so happy, not a care in the world. He loved the river, and my heart broke for him when, many years later, it became too difficult for him to keep up the maintenance on the property and he and Mama sold it.
I looked at the picture and managed not to cry, but to remember the fun we had that day. I missed my dad, again. But I was also thankful to have had him, thankful to see that his influence could be seen in other peoples’ lives, people who weren’t my family then, but have become dear family to me in the years since.
Grief sneaks up on you when you’re not looking for it. You turn a page, empty a drawer, rummage through the basement looking for the yard rake, and something catches your eye.
But other things can sneak up on you when you’re not looking: love, joy, friendship.
My mom found new love, and while I wasn’t looking, I found friendship and joy.