It doesn’t feel so long. I don’t want it to be that long ago. This would baffle him. “I’m dead, it’s over. Nothing we can do about it.” He would shake his head and be pained I wasn’t moving right along.
We went to Armstrong Redwoods Saturday, to have a picnic in dad’s honor, and enjoy the warmth, the big trees, and the incredible quiet. Everything is muffled, the sound absorbed by the thick forest floor and the big trees. (That little black thing lower left is Christmas!)
The Redwood grove is nothing like the forest in the Sierras (one of his favorite places). But he would have loved it.
What do I know about my dad that made him unique?
He liked sliced ice cream. He’d open the half-gallon box of ice cream, and slice off neat slabs of ice cream for all of us, an inch thick.
He liked to cook. Once a week, he’d grind up all the meat we’d need for hamburger or sausage in a meat grinder screwed to a chair back. He’d have us kids sit on the chair to keep it from tipping. No one could cook Italian food like my Irish dad.
He was an excellent and imaginative woodworker.
Sharpening knives calmed him. Every night, I would hear him sharpen a knife in the kitchen before starting dinner.
He was paradoxical. Raised in a small all-white farm town, he never met a non-white human until he joined the army. He had to unlearn most of his cultural upbringing. Culturally Baptist, he eventually became Buddhist. Not hip Buddhist, but quietly, seriously Buddhist.
He was a good son. Sundays often found him at his mom and dad’s house, painting, trimming, putting in new light bulbs.
Shaun and I walk in silence.
Shaun says, “What are you thinking?”
I reply, “Remember the Chinese restaurant?”
We invited my parents to visit, and asked them to choose the restaurant. We were taking them to dinner. My mom looked at my dad. My dad said, “Well, that Chinese restaurant sounded good. “
In this restaurant you could order off the menu, or pile a plate up with the raw food of your choosing, and have it cooked to order on a round grill the size of a bridge pillar, watching the chef deftly grill and stir fry, creating sauces as he went. It was an inexpensive restaurant, family oriented, with good food.
We walked in, were greeted by the owner, shown to a table, and given menus. I excused myself to wash my hands. When I came back, mom was flipping back and forth through the menu, trying to decide, Shaun was frozen in place, and my dad and the owner were deep in animated conversation.
I was nearly 40. I had never heard my dad speak Chinese in my life. My dad speaks Chinese?? We ended up eating dinner with the owner ‘s family after the restaurant closed early. On the surface, he was a giant, conservative, white man, with all that implies. Inside, he was a labyrinth of hidden chambers and big surprises.
The owner wanted to know where he learned to speak Chinese so well, without an accent.
“Oh I don’t know”, he said, “I picked it up here and there.”
Shaun and I had looked at each other. Speaking a latin based language, you might pick up a bit of Spanish, French, or Italian.
Dad, If you happen to see a big black draft horse, his name is Tiny, and the two of you would totally hit it off.
Because it’s been a year, we’ll wish you this, with one of your own creations, now hanging in my brother’s house:
We love you. Miss you too.