February 6, 2008

NIEBM 6: February 5th

I've been waking up way too early lately. Lying awake at 3 a.m. isn't fun. My body is tired, my eyes are burning but I'm not sleeping. Mystifying...and unpleasant. Hope it's not the pressure of my blog-a-day pledge that's throwing off my sleep pattern.

Since I missed most of the final Super Tuesday results last night (too tired to stay up!) I checked online first thing this morning. Interesting results. I'm glad the democratic campaign will continue with two viable candidates, and I'm glad that California became part of the Super Tuesday primary this year. The process is more exciting when you feel you have a significant stake in it.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about parents--having them, not being one. We were reminiscing about our dads when I realized that February 5th was the anniversary of my dad's death. It's startling to realize that he died 16 years ago, and distressing to think that the day might have slipped by like any other, if I hadn't been talking to Peggy.

I can still remember the early morning phone call from my mom. We were living on Singleton Drive in Bethesda and I was upstairs in the bedroom. I knew the phone call was probably bad news because Dad had been admitted to the hospital a few days before. I was in my nightgown and seated in the white wicker chair by the phone when I answered the call. The light in the room was dim, winter sunrise filtered through cream-colored roller shades. Mom's voice was almost unrecognizable--a tight monotone reciting a painful script. The phone calls to her children must have been very difficult to make. It was unbearable news to hear.

Paul, Nora and I had just been in California for Christmas 1991. It was the only time we'd celebrated Christmas away from home since Nora was born. Things started to deteriorate with Ern (our affectionate nickname for Dad) during our visit, but those days also gave us some of our best memories. My favorite was sitting around the kitchen table after dinner and singing Christmas carols. We weren't a family prone to spontaneous sing-alongs but at that moment it somehow seemed appropriate. My brother and his family were there, too, and Dad, in his worn Pendelton bathrobe, had come up the hall to join us after dinner. There were candles burning on the table, and Paul was at the sink washing dishes. I don't remember the songs we sang, but I remember the sensation of singing them. We sounded wonderful.

Nora had just turned eight when Ern died. I'm glad that she knew him so well even though we lived 3,000 miles away. She and I always spent a chunk of the summer visiting Mom and Dad in the house I grew up in. Nora loved swimming in the pool, and in her younger years Ern tucked her into an floating disc attached to a rope which he pulled on to bring her back into the shallow end when she started to drift toward the deeper water. He wasn't much of a swimmer but Ern and Miles (the resident mutt) made excellent lifeguards.

Nora also loved to help her granddad eat the strawberries he planted on the hill above the house. She always had telltale red lips after a visit to the garden. One summer they planted carrots together. During the carrot harvest later in the fall, Ern sent her pictures of crooked orange produce and of the sign he had made proclaiming them "Nora's Carrots."

I remember being slightly surprised at how abandoned I felt when Dad died. He had been sick for a long time, and his death was expected. I was a full-fledged adult but my world was irreparably different without my father. Eleven years later when Mom died, I described myself as orphaned. I was adrift without my lifelong anchors.

That Christmas in California was also when Nora found out about Santa. She was probably suspicious at age 8, but her discovery of the Toy's R Us price tag hidden beneath a holiday sticker was the clincher. Learning the truth about Santa is an inevitable rite of passage, a small loss of childhood innocence. The real loss of innocence came six weeks later.

1 comment:

Nora said...

This was very sweet and poignant. However, I was 7, not 8. I'll try not to take this personally.