Dad Stories

My dad died a  year ago on September 18th.  (History: here, here, and here.)

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.

In Chinese.

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.

But Chinese…?

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.

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14 thoughts on “Dad Stories

  1. lizgoldsmith

    What a nice tribute to you father. Thanks for sharing.

    Funnily enough, my grandfather also taught himself Chinese. For fun.

    Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      At times it seems to me that the people I should know best, are the ones I know least. I’d like to reverse that, but I’m not sure it’s possible?

      Your grandfather must have been very smart, to teach himself Chinese!

      Reply
  2. dressage rider

    I enjoyed reading your memories of him. Your father sounds bigger than life just like those redwoods.

    My father also cuts slabs of ice cream. Very interesting…a Dad thing?

    Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      You’re the only other person I’ve heard who knew someone who preferred their ice cream sliced, so I’m going to guess it’s a dad thing! I kinda miss those boxes of ice cream (though not the results).

      Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      That’s a big deal to use chopsticks correctly. We all grew up eating with chopsticks also, but half my family is Japanese (from Japan) so that makes sense. I’ve often wondered why my dad didn’t learn Japanese…? Why Chinese?

      Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      I’m thinking he and Tiny have met already too. He’s probably teaching Tiny the Japanese word for carrot. Thanks to Google Translator, that would be:
      ニンジン

      That does sort of look like a three chomp carrot!

      Reply
  3. Marissa

    Lovely post Jane. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the scale of the first photo… I saw Redwoods a long time a go, when I was little, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around it now. Sounds like you had a nice day remembering your dad though. I’m sure he approves.

    Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      We had a great day remembering dad and dawdling through the redwoods. It’s always impressive to me when I go back and visit the big trees. There is a remarkable tree that was cut down by loggers long ago, and the park service has marked major events on the rings of the tree. Like Columbus hitting North America, the 1908 earthquake in California, and oh, the birth of Jesus. The tree was already old by the time Jesus was born. (I’ll try to remember to get a photo next time we go.)

      Really puts my perspective back in it’s boots! What can possibly be BIG in my life compared to that? 🙂

      Reply
  4. Lissa Rabon

    This was amazing. My dad went home over 20 years ago. I don’t think you ever get over it. You just manage how much you miss them. Your dad sounds like he was really cool. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to say hi and share! I like how you put that, and needed to hear it. I know I’ll never get ‘over’ losing my dad. I love the concept of managing how much I miss him. I’m probably too much like him in some ways to ever lose him, which is lovely.

      I visited your blog and loved it, so glad you came by. Go, people! You will be glad you did!

      Reply

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