It was a gorgeous spring day on my last trip to The Park to take Mom to visit the surgeon – a momentary break in the monsoon allowed the sun to appear, bringing overdue warmth. As part of our “doctors appointment” ritual, i always walk through the house when i drop her off, performing an assortment of tasks that need doing* – everything from changing light bulbs, to taking out the trash, to reviewing insurance paperwork and writing down the medical info du jour.
Last week, she asked if i could take a look on the back porch to see what needed doing to get it ready for summer. A concrete patio, with a small raised deck for flowers, all covered by a corrugated aluminum awning, it’s not a “Home and Garden” showplace. Just a place for fresh air – away from the stale, “three pack a day” air inside the house.
Man-handling the sliding glass door – unmoved since November – i stepped out to do triage on the winter shrapnel and disorder. i didn’t get very far. There was Dad’s redwood lounge chair, covered in crunchy green plastic. Shaking the dust off the cover, wondering if the plastic would simply disintegrate in the process, i found that it had survived another winter, virtually unchanged.
Nothing special really. Still sporting the worn, faded and deflated yellow floral cushions. Not a comfortable place to sit, but i settled in anyway. It’s become part of a spring ritual for me.
The chair is positioned against the back wall of the house – and the view looks out across the park-like back yard. Until last year, the end of the yard blurred into an open field – where either winter wheat, soybeans or corn grew**. Now? Beyond the trees at the end of the yard lies the sterile ass-end of a McMansion – part of a cookie-cutter collection of new housing.
The undeveloped land was worth millions, and sold to a developer for a housing project. Pale vinyl siding on the backs of overpriced, hastily-built houses that are spaced too closely together stared back at me – Dad would have hated the unwelcome change in view. Just as much as i do.
My fingers settled into the “worry grooves”. Dad would sit in the chair, and run his fingers along the end of the arm rests. Curling and releasing his fingers, dragging his fingertips back and forth. He called this his “worry chair”, where he would sit for hours reflecting on the latest trauma, crisis or disaster facing one of his children. The grooves are perhaps a half inch deep, and the wood is remarkably soft and smooth where his fingers traced this path hundreds, if not thousands of times.
What did Dad worry about? i remember spending time with him on the porch when my sister, T, had her first breakdown during grad school. And when my sister, S, was dealing with the crazy stalker boyfriend between her second and third husbands. My brother, T’s battle with drinking while trying to establish a stable environment for his family. Family arguments over money. Family arguments over insults – real and imagined.
And his battle with colon cancer. Wondering what came after death. Worrying about future family disasters. Worrying about Mom. Reflecting on his life. Telling me he had no regrets, or unfinished business. Gently guiding me to accept my role as “patriarch” after his death.
i don’t think i contributed much to the worry grooves – not because i was a perfect child, just that i didn’t unload my problems on my parents. My husband and i were fiercely independent*** and simply didn’t want to burden them with our day to day troubles. The rest of the clan had elevated that to an art form…
As i sat there, thinking of the immediate challenge ahead for Mom, i did find some comfort in retracing the grooves in the arm of the chair. i could almost see Dad’s long, olive-skinned, leathery fingers working over the soft redwood. He had those unmistakable musician’s fingers…
But last week? They were mine. Not as long, not quite as weathered… and with lavender nail polish…
Thanks Michael, for drawing this one out of me. i read Walking Distance that night after i returned home… and the resonance was strong.
* Sometimes aggravating to see the number of bulbs out when my niece, DQ, lives next door. She does a good job of driving Mom to and fro, and handling the daily attention, but…
** Some of my favorite childhood memories are also planted in that field. Endless summer days, games of cut-throat “capture the flag”, lying in the dirt, making shapes from the clouds, playing “first man on the moon”…
*** After a car wreck in 1982, we lived on our bicycles for 6 months. Both sets of parents freaked out, but it worked out fine. Finally picked up a junker before winter. Even after my ex moved out about 5 years ago, i didn’t bother to tell the extended family. The divorce was final for a few months before i even mentioned it…
Pingback: Juggling « Smoke & Mirrors
Very good post daisyfae. I also went and read Michael’s “Walking Distance” – also very good. I think posts like these are partly the reason why I’ve begun blogging, although I have yet to pen such poignant posts myself.
Thanks for sharing.
I abdicated my “number one son” position to my next youngest sister (who truly realizes now how easy she had it all those years) when I left the country to marry Rob. I am lucky my parents had a “spare for the heir”. There was a time when younger sis wouldn’t have qualified but she has shaped up nicely.
Your sibs sound an awful lot like mine. It’s not easy being the one who grew up.
I never saw the point in dumping my problems on my folks. My mother always resented that, because she was only really happy when she was worried. She especially liked worrying about things she had no hope in hell of doing anything about.
You’ve really got the roll of time with this one. How things change, but really, often, stay just the same. I find myself unconciously fulfilling the rituals of my parents, part as comfort, part as heritage. It’s interesting.
~m – your post, full of loss and love, dredged up a few nuggets i’d buried. theres more, but for some reason i can only do this in measured bursts…
rob – forcing myself to put it into words has been therapeutic. thinking “what do i feel?”, and “what really bothers me about this?” and “why can’t i let this go?” as part of the writing process is like having a therapist embedded in my RAM (geek to the core…)
annie – i’m only an hour away from The Park. i spent a year in DC in 1998, which was the year Dad was diagnosed with cancer. i put at least 30,000 miles on my car that year… no one stepped up. Good that your little sis accepted the role…
kyknoord – my Mom seems to have resented my failure to complain about my husband, failure to complain about my children, failure to bring her drama…and especially my failure to tell her about the divorce. i’ve still shared no details with them. she also resented my discussions with Dad about deeper issues – Thoreau, Campbell rather than digestible bits of sensationalized tabloid fodder.
dolceii – Comfort and heritage. i don’t want either, but am grudgingly accepting that it’s part of being a socialized human.
As long as you do it. That’s the bottom line.
I hope the writing of it brought you a sense of peace.
Thanks again for the wonderful link.
keep the faith and remember the ‘worry grooves’ 😉