Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Every Girl Needs A Room Where She Can Dream

The Dreamer.

I have a room of my own.  Virginia Woolf would applaud this I’m sure. I’ve been blessed much of my adult life to have had such a space, a little sanctuary to call my own.  In this room, I get to be me.  Or at least the me, I imagine myself to be.  I’m a self-proclaimed dreamer.

Little back story.  Growing up I shared a bedroom with my older sister.  Not only did we share a room but much of the time we shared the same bed.  A double, which slept two rather comfortably.  Sometimes we were strange bedfellows but mostly we were amiable, considering our 8-year age difference.  The room we shared was downstairs next to our parents.  My two older brothers occupied one of the two upstairs bedrooms. The other room was our “spare” which was cold in winter but a fun place to play, and hang out with Ma while she sewed. By the time my sister moved to the West Coast and my two older brothers were both married, I had moved upstairs to their old room.  I finally had a room of my own. It was divine.

There were four things I especially liked about this room.  The slanted ceilings, the small attic door next to the closet, the brick chimney next to the door, and the wooden vent on the floor that you could peer down and see into the living room. There was something enthralling about these four details that captured my imagination.  I loved to poke around in the attic which was dark and musty and contained the usual things like Christmas ornaments, dance costumes, childhood artwork, old toys and a broken lamp or two.  But what was most beguiling was the possibility that buried deep within all this family memorabilia and junk was some mis-placed and forgotten treasure.  The vent was both scary and practical.  Scary because there was the possibility (although slim) of falling through it and practical because I could drop little notes down to Ma while she was sitting on the couch watching Ed Sullivan. I don’t recall what these messages to Ma said but most likely they were requests for food or drink.

Ma always made our home look lovely.  She didn’t have much to work with financially but what she lacked in cash, she made up for in imagination.  She just had a knack for this sort of thing and like most women of her time took care of “the decorating.”  I use this term loosely because no one spoke that way back then, at least not regular folks like Ma and The Old Man.  Decorating meant Ma made things for the house – curtains, table cloths, pillows.  She sewed and embroidered.  The furniture and appliances were bought on time at Sears or Eaton’s.  We weren’t poor but we were also a few miles from the middle of middle class.  Everyone in our neighborhood was, so it didn’t really matter.  At least not to me.

When it came to my room, Ma graciously handed over the decorating torch and without any strings attached either.  I was given free rein to do whatever my heart desired.  So I did.  I plastered the walls with rock posters and my kitschy-coo personal art.  The Old Man painted the chimney white which became the perfect blank canvas for my poetry, lyrics from folk musicians like Dylan and Leonard Cohen, pithy quotes by the pop psychologists of the day.  “If you love something set it free.  If it comes back, it yours.  If it doesn’t, it never was.”  I somehow found this to have deep meaning back then.  It just baffles me now.  Somehow we came into possession of an over-stuffed antique maroon velvet tub chair that had worn arms and smelled bad.  We put this in the corner for me to curl up in and read.  I had a desk that overlooked our driveway and stared directly into our neighbors upstairs window.  Thankfully they kept their curtains closed allowing us both the privacy we needed and me with the added blessing of natural light. I also had a record player, and by then a fairly decent collection of LPs which I played continuously.  Everything from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Dylan and Joan Baez.  From Rock to Folk, Motown to Blue Eyed Soul. This music comprised the soundtrack of my life.  It was the fire beneath my dreams and it fueled my creative passion.

It was in this little room at the top of a wartime house in the middle of small blue collar town where my dreaming wanderlust began.  I read books and dreamed of becoming a novelist.  I played rock music and dreamed of becoming a musician.  I made my own clothes and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer.  I scribbled poems on brick chimneys and dreamed of becoming a poet. I danced in my pajamas and dreamed of becoming a ballerina.  I doodled on albums and dreamed of becoming an artist. I gazed out at the stars and dreamed of flying.  I cuddled a dog named Sugar Miettinen and dreamed of becoming a mother. I had a typewriter and dreamed of using words to transform lives. I looked down at the street below and dreamed of a life outside of this room and wondered how I would get there.

And here I am.  Thousands of miles and many years away.  In this room, I write novels and blogs.  Play my guitar and write songs.  I sing to myself and dance like a wild woman. I gaze out the window at a sweet little pond and a garden full of Garry Oak trees, and I am in awe.  Full of wide-eye wonder and gratitude. I’m eternally grateful to Ma and The Old Man for giving me that first room and for allowing me a place to plant the very seeds that my dreams were made of.

Here in this room, I am becoming the woman of my dreams.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: A Good Snow Day Trumps All.

Me and The Old Man posing in the snowy backyard.

I love a good snow day.  I always have. We had one last week.  They are pretty rare in this part of the country so when one happens it’s an ‘event.’  Not momentous like Christmas, a wedding or a milestone birthday.  But in some nonsensical way, celebratory just the same.  And if the truth be told, the amount of snow that causes a snow day on the West Coast is laughable compared to that of my wonder years.  A heavy enough frost out here can bring the city to its collective knees.  The size of the celebration is not necessarily equal to the depth of the snow either.  It’s not always relative.  I think even Einstein would agree.

When I was a kid a snow day was synonymous with no school.  That in itself was cause enough for celebration.  Nothing much has changed since then.  When my kids were younger they behaved pretty much the same way I did. Their reactions echoed those of a girl growing up in another place, another time.  Same holds true today for my grand daughter.

It pretty much goes down like this.  If you wake up to a magical and mysterious Brobdingnagian sized nighttime dump, you immediately turn to some form of authority for their take on the situation.  I’m not talking about your parents here.  I’m talking the BIG authority.  And no not God.  I’m talking the Media.  And only the local, close-to-home purveyors of news and weather will do.  Who cares what’s going on in the rest of the world when you’ve got a day full of plans to make, your life to reconfigure.  Your snow day trumps all.  Will you do the happy dance, jump for joy, slap the high five?  Or will you grit your teeth, throw on an extra sweater, button up your pioneer spirit and walk five million miles to school in this crap?  One’s emotional landscape can be turned on a dime depending on the news.  Pretty or ugly.  Which is it?  Truth is, it’s just cold precipitation and sometimes it can be pretty ugly.

Let’s say the news is cause for celebration, a paradoxical thing often occurs, whether it happened last week, last year or the last century.  The very same kids who are incapable of pulling up their bootstraps (literally) and getting themselves to school are supernaturally transformed into hardy Nordic tribesmen who charge fearlessly into the very depths of the white stuff.  Here they commune, they romp about, and play gleefully like there is no tomorrow.  And in truth there isn’t, at least not like this.  This may be it.  The one and only snow day.  The one chance to throw caution to the wind, make a snowman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Bob, fall backwards, with complete trust into the blanketed earth, to make a glorious one-of-a-kind snow angel, slide down the closest hill on a rickety wooden sleigh, broken toboggan or hunk of cardboard, have a spontaneous snowball fight, put on old leather skates, cry out to God for the sheer splendor of it all, and just let go.

Snow is seductive.  It beckons.  Calls your name.  Calls you forth.  And calls you back home. It calls a treasured daughter to a garden-sized ice rink her Old Man made in the backyard solely for her skating pleasure.  It calls out love through the years, the passage of time, from the heart of the whiteness.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Regrets, Do-overs and the Night My Dog Died.

Andy hated having to wear the dreaded “cone.”

I have regrets.  Probably more than I care to admit, or face.  I’m not one of those people who boldly declare, “I regret nothing.”  I don’t necessarily wallow in them like a drunk on the bar stool, but they do exist and suffice to say, are now part of my DNA.  I don’t judge but I do acknowledge.

One of my biggest regrets, and the author of my sadness, is that I wasn’t with my mother when she died.  I was there a few hours beforehand but not at the moment she left.  That was over a decade ago and I pined for a do-over, an opportunity to hold her hand, say one last good-bye and bear witness to her presence and her passing.  And until last September I thought this was just the wishful thinking of a heartbroken daughter.  But in a peculiar and unexpected way I got my do-over.

Little back story:  On those rare occasions when Ma went to her Dark Place she would refer to herself as a dog.  “I feel like a dog,” she’d say.  Ma wasn’t one to feel sorry for herself, but we all go there at times and she was no exception.  Although I heard her sorrowful dog Mantra and even took it to heart at times, I also dismissed it as crazy-talk, and never really gave it much energy nor validation.

Then I fell in love.  At first sight.  With Andy.  He was a dog.  Really.  Literally.  A long haired Jack Russell. Not since the dog of my childhood, Sugar Miettinen, had I loved a creature so.  He was heavenly.  Divine.  A wonder.  And I loved him. We got him the year after Ma died.  We responded to an ad in our little neighborhood weekly that said something like “male Jack Russell, 12 weeks old, last one of the litter.”  By the time my husband, daughter and I arrived at the farm where he had spent his first weeks of life, we had him named and our hearts were spilling over with dreams.  On the way home, I happily joked that it wouldn’t have mattered how much he cost, because I knew the minute I laid eyes on him, he was coming home with me.

Our daughter was nine at the time.  Years before, we had promised her that when we bought a house we would get her a puppy.  We were diehard renters and had cats because for some reason they were more “landlord-friendly,” which is, among other things, a testimony to the intelligence and cunning of the feline persuasion.  When Ma and The Old Man died, I inherited a small amount of money, enough for a down payment on our home.  A month after we moved in, so did Andy.

He took over the house and our hearts.  He was brilliant that way.  I expected him to be around for at least twenty years like Sugar Miettinen and Dee Dee, the country and western cat.  Both lived extraordinary wonderful lives.  I used to brag that my pets lived long. I had this naive notion that my love was the secret sauce, the reason for their inexplicable longevity. I was wrong.

At the beginning of September, while my husband was on the East Cost, thousands of miles away burying his father, Andy got sick.  At first I thought he had “the bloat.”  This was something I discovered on the internet after hours of research the night I noticed his stomach was swollen and he was having trouble breathing.  It was serious but not necessarily life threatening.  It was, however, enough to scare the bejesus out of my daughter and myself.  We wrapped a blanket around him and piled into my sister’s car.  I called her because I couldn’t think straight, much less drive.  My brain was consumed by “the bloat.”  By now it was well after ten o’clock so our only recourse was to take him to an emergency Vet clinic across town.  The Vet examined him, then took X-rays.  And then he delivered the news that Andy did not have “the bloat” but in fact, he had congestive heart failure.  His little heart was surrounded by water.  Mine was surrounded by pain.  The Vet, who was very nice, but due to all the surrounding circumstances, and him being the bearer of bad news, I took an instant dislike for him.  Basically he gave us two options: he could euthanize him right then or we could take him home and Andy would continue to have “episodes” and eventually he would have one final heart attack and die.  Needless to say, the floodgates opened and neither my daughter nor I could control the tears.  Not that we wanted to anyway.

I learned a couple of things about myself and my daughter in those moments after hearing Andy’s death sentence.  We don’t take bad news well, perhaps we don’t take it at all.  We’re full of hope, even when it’s clearly hopeless.  And we’re either incredibly optimistic people or we live in chasm of denial.  Regardless, just like that day nine years earlier when I knew I wasn’t leaving the farm without him, I scooped Andy up in my arms and brought him home.  I had no game plan.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I only knew that he had been sick a total of 24 hours and I couldn’t let this be the end.

Andy lasted a week.  My daughter and I tried everything we could to save him starting with a second opinion.  Two days later we took him to our own Vet and she offered us the hope we so desperately sought.  She gave us medication and prescribed a heart healthy dog food.  But by this point, Andy wasn’t interested in food and getting the pills down his throat was next to impossible.  It was tantamount to wrestling an alligator.

Thursday, September 8 was Ma’s birthday.  It was also the day Andy died.

All that day, at the back of my mind I thought “this is the day.” Ma died from congestive heart failure.  So did Andy.  Not all that unusual I suppose, perhaps a little coincidental at best, except for this.  One of the reasons I knew I would never leave the farm without Andy was because of his eyes.  They were dark and sweet like the finest rich chocolate.  When I looked into those dark sweet eyes I saw my mother’s eyes looking back at me. There was an ancient connection.  I knew him.  I shared this “knowing” with my husband and daughter.  I’m not sure they really understood but they never ever, not even once in nine years, denied my conviction that in some cosmic kooky way my mother was with me through Andy.  I always called him my “healing dog,” the one who helped ease the pain of relentless grief, and recover from the rawness of loss.

On the night Andy died I got my do-over.  I was sitting in my office waiting for my bedtime cup of milk to heat in the microwave.  It takes 220 seconds to do so.  I heard the sound of a dog’s toes tapping along the wooden floors of the hallway leading to my office.  I assumed it was our other dog Coco, who we had rescued a few years earlier from a life not worth living, coming to visit me.  Andy hadn’t been able to make the climb up the stairs for a few days so I was surprised to see him walk through the door to where I was sitting in the dark.  I greeted him, gave him a gentle pat behind the ear, told him how lovely it was to see him.  He laid down on the floor facing me.  I thought this was some sign from God that he was having a miraculous recovery and that he was healed. Hallelujah. Before the microwave could beep, Andy got up and headed towards our bedroom.  Instinctively I followed him.  He got next to the bed and started to heave and gag.  I knelt down with him, massaged his throat to help him breathe – we had been doing this all week during his episodes – and told him it would be okay.  Everything would be all right little buddy.  He let out two deep grunts, stiffened and collapsed.

That was it.  I got my do-over.  What a privilege to have been with him in his final moments, to have been the last one to touch him.  What a gift that he chose me.

I didn’t really have a game plan for how I was going to care for Andy after we left the Vet’s but I did start to think about what I would do should he die at home with just my daughter and I alone to manage on our own. I was terrified. I also knew I wanted him buried in our garden, the place where he chased sticks, laid under the Garry Oak trees, drank from the pond, sat with my husband and watched the fish, the place where he barked incessantly at every passer-by, where he stood on the rocks keeping guard over his family, the place where he pooped.  That’s where I wanted him to be.  Close.  Forever near. I knew I couldn’t dig a hole, at least not one that Andy would be placed in.  But I knew someone who could.  While my daughter held vigil, I threw on my jacket and went next door to our neighbor, who is young enough to be my son, strong from years of working as a garden designer, and who on that night, brought truth to the meaning of “good neighbor.”

In the quiet darkness, on September 8th, Christian dug a hole, and while doing so we talked in hushed tones about our mother’s deaths, about our connection to the earth, the trees and plants we both salvaged from their gardens, and most importantly, how connected we were to them. Something beyond words happened that night.  Something far greater than the death of my beloved pet.  I learned about the unwavering kindness of human beings, and their generosity and willingness to help with things that are often incomprehensibly difficult.

I am forever grateful to Christian.  He knows this.  The following evening he contacted me to see how I was.  He shared something with me, something so profound it took my breath away.  As grateful as I was to have had him participate – however unintentional on his part – in this sacred ritual, he too was grateful.  It touched him deeply.  All that day he told me he “felt so alive.”  Is this what true, unselfish acts of kindness do for us?  Even in the face of death, in the middle of the night, in the shroud of darkness, if we reach out, feel our connectedness, we get a glimpse of the Divine.

And then, we know for sure that we are alive.

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Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Everything Scares Me.

I was even too afraid to smile in my Kindergarten photo.

I have fears.  I have always been afraid.  Everything scares me.  Anxiety has haunted me from the beginning, probably even in the womb. Perhaps there is deeper meaning to that first cry.  I have no conscious memory of not being anxious about something.  In fact, fear and anxiety have been such an indelible part of my life I suspect on some level I’ve grown comfortable with this diabolic duo of emotional destruction.

I’m an ordinary woman who has always longed to live an extraordinary life.  And in some ways I do.  I look back with wide-eyed wonder at the life I have led, the people who have surrounded me, travelled this journey with me.  I’ve come a long way baby!  From the little girl trembling and weeping on her mother’s knee because she didn’t want to go to kindergarten without her to a fully evolved woman with accomplishments, skills, adroitness, and stuff under my belt.  I’ve had the privilege to have met and worked with sublimely talented people, who have shared their gifts with me and enriched my life, both professionally and personally.  I’ve fallen in love, married and had children, who have sat on my knee and wept.  What an honor to be their mother and to have dried their tears. Yet through it all I have been afraid.  Some days just getting out of bed is an act of courage.

It’s a miracle that I’ve done anything with my life.  I don’t recall what got me off my mother’s knee and into that kindergarten classroom. I don’t know what she said or did.  But I do know it required faith and trust. The flip side of the coin.  The antithesis of the diabolical duo.  Faith that someone or something was out there watching over me.  Trust in my mother, that she wouldn’t lead me astray nor send me somewhere that would cause me harm.  I was her dear one.

I tried a slew of things to overcome this underlying malaise that colored my days including reading copious pop psychology books.  In turn I became a perennial student of self-help, a physician to my subconscious wounds and minister to my spiritual being.  Some of these books were helpful, downright inspired, especially those written by Dr. Wayne Dyer.  I think I’ve read everything he’s written from Your Erroneous Zones to the one I’m reading right now, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life.

In addition to books, I took fitness classes, practiced yoga, tried meditation, attempted creative visualization, ran my butt off, rode my bike everywhere, hopped on an elliptical machine every morning for a year, and I walked and walked and walked.  I still run five mornings a week, practice yoga every morning prior to the run and I walk almost every day.

All of this mental and physical activity has helped.  But nothing has helped more than the time I spend in quiet solitude writing my letters to God.  Sometimes it feels a bit like we’re pen pals, albeit a tad one-sided. And other times it feels like unrequited love.  No cards.  No flowers.  No love letters in return.  But bit by bit, day by day I’m learning to trust in the process of life.  I’m slowly letting go and letting God. And I tell myself that I was Ma’s dear one.  And I like to think that I am God’s dear one too.  Only good can come from a relationship like that.  Nothing to fear.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth.

Ma’s Recipe Box.

I bake.  Cookies mostly.  But sometimes cakes on someone’s birthday.  Or pies at Christmas or Thanksgiving.  I love everything about baking – the ingredients, the utensils, the smell, the warmth, the kitchen, the bittersweet memories.  Simply divine.

Ma taught me how to bake and cook.  Not by instruction but more by osmosis and illustration.  And by surprise.  My fondest memory from childhood is that of walking in the backdoor after school and inhaling the delicious aroma of something freshly baked.  Heaven scent.  Growing up, our kitchen was the hub of the house.  A Mecca that attracted all, not just us kids but our friends as well.  It was where we ate of course, but it was also so much more.  In a way it was Sacred Ground, the place where things got discussed, prayed about, laughed and cried over, and most importantly, where Ma served tea with delectable treats.  This was her turf, the place where she was most at ease where she could express herself creatively through the things she made with her hands.  Not just the food but other things too.  The curtains embracing the windows, the paintings adorning the walls, the cheerful tablecloth.  All wonderful expressions of her God-given talent to make much with very little.

Little back story.  Ma taught herself how to do pretty much everything.  Her mother died when she was three and her father at ten.  She was raised, along with her four sisters, by her maternal grandmother who taught her manners; how to pick lettuce from the garden and turn that into the best sandwich in the world; how to embroider and transform the drab to lovely with a few colorful stitches; and how to love unconditionally.  Ma learned how to bake and cook by doing and perfecting.  I learned by watching and eating.

Ma shared a lot of her favorite recipes with me over the years.  She even gave me the recipe box that came with her first “modern” stove.  A Gurney.  I still have the box.  It’s a magnificent piece of vintage memorabilia, tin construction, red and cream enamel with “Recipes” embossed on the front.  I cherish this gift.  The Gurney Box came complete with a set of recipes covering everything from Beverages to Vegetables. No A nor W X Y Z.  The best categories were in the middle – Cakes, Cookies and Pastries. The super stars of the box.  But my favorite recipes are Ma’s handwritten gems.  These are the ones that have seen better days, are tattered, smudged, splattered, greasy, barely legible. But it doesn’t matter.  I know them by heart.

The days prior to Christmas I become a marathon baking fiend, along with my sugar-sweet grand daughter, who has my mother’s beautiful dark eyes and easy smile.  I pull out all of Ma’s ancient recipes.  Sometimes I cry when I see her handwriting but mostly I’m comforted by these artifacts of her, little pieces of Ma on scraps of paper torn from a memo pad or jotted on 3×5 recipe cards.  It takes me back to a small divine kitchen, a little piece of heaven on earth full of activity, laughter, tears, flour and lots of sugar.  Love.

Ma’s Chewy Ginger Snaps

Cream Together:
3/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses

Sift Together:
2-1/3 cups flower
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ginger & cinnamon
1/2 tsp closes
1/4 tsp salt

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.  Shape into 1-inch balls.  Roll in white sugar.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets @ 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Sweet and Simple.  Just like Ma.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Walk Talk And Listen.

Ma and Me on the town in our snazzy slacks.

I love to walk.  Alone.  Or with dogs.  Sometimes with people.  But mostly I like to walk alone (which sounds like the title of a good country song but that’s another story.)

I didn’t always.

A little back story.  I have a long history of walking, which began with my mother.  She too loved to walk.  She didn’t drive so in order to get around and maintain her independence, she walked or took public transit, which in our town meant the bus.  When my father wasn’t working, he drove her to and fro, mostly to the grocery store and the plaza, which eventually flourished and grew into a mall.  Progress.  But I digress.

I loved walking with my mother.  And talking.  Ma wasn’t a big talker, but she was an excellent listener.  This gift alone made her an extraordinary conversationalist.  She was quite simply, transcendent in this talent. With Ma, there was never any competition for airtime, cutting off mid-sentence, interrupted chains of thought, one-up-man-ship, running rings around, nor upstaging in quick wit and repartee.  She was a delighted, polite and interested listener.  I liked that.  I could pour my heart out and bare my soul endlessly and still she listened, with kindness, patience and love.  She offered her opinion when asked, her advice when needed, her consolation and comfort unconditionally.  I liked that too.

I think over the years Ma and I must have traversed thousands of miles and covered an infinite array of topics while doing so.  Everything from soup to nuts (literally).  We solved all of the world’s problems, or at least had a few good recommendations.   We walked off pain, sorrow, anxiety, fear, and a few extra pounds.  We laughed.  We gabbed.  We gossiped.  We wept.  We commiserated.  We stopped.  We started.  We looked back.  We looked forward.  We thought we could walk forever.  At least I did.

Although Ma is no longer with me physically on our walks, she is with me none the less.  I have conversations with her in my head.  I still seek her advice.  I still hear her laughter.  I smell her face cream, subtle and clean.  I ask her about God.  Is there anything I need to know Ma?

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Growing The Compassion Muscle.

Me and The Old Man

At the start of every new year, I resolve.  I gave up resolving out-loud years ago, but I resolve none the less.  This year is no exception.

Like a lot of people, I’ve resolved to lose –  weight, toxic relationship, bad habits, double chin, muffin top.  And to gain – more knowledge, more money, more fun, more wisdom, more sleep.  This year I thought I’d try something new.  I have resolved to grow.   Not a garden full of tomatoes nor my bank account nor my hair.  The focus will be on one very specific muscle, which really isn’t a muscle at all, but I like to think of it that way. Compassion.  It’s right next to the heart muscle. Not really.  But for argument’s sake, let’s say it is.  Anyway, I want to grow this in a big way.  I want it to be so large I’ll have to give it a name and buy it a wardrobe.

I wish I had resolved to do this sooner.  About ten years sooner, while my father was still alive.  Or probably further back than that so it could have actually had some affect on our relationship.

Little back story.  As far back as I can remember I had this love-hate relationship with my Old Man.  That’s what my siblings and I called him, not to his face of course.  Actually we referred to him as “The” Old Man.  He didn’t even warrant a personal pronoun.  Looking back, that disrespectful name-calling makes me sad.  I guess my compassion muscle is already starting to grow.  In our defense, referring to your father as your Old Man was pretty common back then, even amongst offspring who revered their fathers.

There were reasons for my love-hate relationship with The Old Man.  First and foremost, he was an alcoholic.  And it wasn’t pretty.  He wasn’t the life of the party, the fun guy when he drank.  He was mean and miserable and terrorized my timid mother and her four kids. I being the youngest, and his only biological child had no memory of a father who didn’t drink.  Not that it’s any consolation, but my siblings had a few good years without an alcoholic in their midst prior to my parents meeting and falling in love.  Okay, that’s the hate part –  the ‘I wish he’d drop dead’ silent prayers.

The love part goes like this.  The Old Man was a sweet, shy, funny, give you the shirt off your back guy – when he was sober.  That father took me with him when he delivered bread, went to my parent-teacher nights, took me to baseball games that he umpired, brought home pastries from the bakery, bought me my first teddy bear when I was sick (that I still have), took us for Sunday drives in the country, on trips to Duluth, taught me to drive, hugged me when my heart was broken, yelled at drivers who sped down our street for fear one would hit me, spit on my warts every morning because he’d heard this was a cure, took me to church, loved me unconditionally, thought I was beautiful.  And so much more.

My father’s alcoholism got in the way of things.  It especially interfered with my ability to love him like a daughter.  As I grew older, so did my resentment and impatience.  Even long after he had found sobriety, my detachment and lack of interest in my father’s thoughts or feelings was ever-present and my inability to forgive was paramount.  As he became elderly, he also grew cantankerous and ornery, demanding of my mother.  This was just fodder for the chasm that lay between us.  Even as his hands shook and his gate faltered, his hearing went and his eyes clouded over, as he developed Diabetes, Parkinson’s and Petit Mal Seizures I was unmoved, detached and lacking in compassion.  None of this touched my heart, or if it did, I wasn’t about to tell him.  I was over it, past all that. Emotionally bankrupt.

Of course, I’m not over it.  And probably never will be.  I also have regrets.  I wish I had spent more time with him that last year of his life.  I wish I hadn’t scolded him for sneaking cookies and cake, threatening that  it would send him into a diabetic coma.  I wish I had listened better to his stories at the dinner table.  I wish I hadn’t looked away, called him an asshole under my breath.  I wish I had told him I loved him more often.  I wish I had said ‘thank you.’

My father died of a broken heart five weeks after my mother.  I had this crazy thought in my head when my sister-in-law called to tell me the news.  I was relieved.  Not because my prayer for him to drop dead had finally been answered but because I took comfort in the thought that perhaps he was with my mother.  For the five weeks prior to his death, I worried about her being all alone “out there” and now she wasn’t.

A few months after he died my sister-in-law sent me a small box of his stuff.  There wasn’t much in it – his wallet, watch, ring, a few photos, a Finnish Bible and a Song Book that belonged to his mother and some newspaper clippings which included his obituary and an article on his days driving a horse-drawn bread wagon, the last of his kind.

In his wallet was a photograph taken by my mother of The Old Man and I when I was about three months old.  It was tattered, torn and cracked, barely recognizable.  I didn’t know it existed.  He had carried it with him my entire life. I love that photo.  My heart expands when I look at it.  As does my compassion muscle.