How was your autumn? I seem to have missed it. Looking out my window here, there is a lot of snow on the ground and it's -19 degrees C. Definite winter.
I haven't been around here for awhile. In truth, I haven't been in any of my usual haunts this fall.
My father was diagnosed with kidney cancer in July, and he passed away on October 26. My parents live a 6-hour drive away from Calgary in Saskatoon. So most of my autumn was spent on that road. It's 6 hours of prairie, which a lot of people (most people really) complain about doing, but I love it. I am a prairie girl through and through and nothing makes me happier than the play of light and shadow on the landscape, leading to a never-ending horizon. Sigh. During this period of stress and strain, it was a balm to my soul.
Relationships with parents are always at once complicated and straightforward. Your Dad is always your Dad. In my case, my Dad was a complicated man. He loved learning - and he passed that love on to my two brothers and me. He was very accomplished - he had both a geology degree and a law degree. He combined those two loves later in life to help geoscientists become a legally recognized profession in Saskatchewan. He was also an introvert, and a "rugged individualist", as my brother and I laughingly say. That sometimes made him hard to communicate with. Underneath all that, he was a big softie. No-one cried harder at my wedding, myself included.
I have written two different obituaries for my Dad so far (a strange sentence, to be sure). One was very formal, detailing his professional achievements. That one went in the newspaper. The second was less formal. It was for the funeral cards that were produced for the wake.
This one is for the man I knew.
My Dad loved the forest. My grandparents retired to a quarter section of forest in Northern Saskatchewan and my Dad and I spent many weekends of my childhood making the two hour drive north of Saskatoon to their property. My Dad and my Grandpa would get up early, have porridge for breakfast and get to work outdoors, while my Grandma and I would sleep in. I would wake up in a bed that was heavy with layers - flannel sheets, wool blankets and a feather quilt on top - to the clang of wood and iron (the woodstove in the kitchen) that meant my Dad and Grandpa were in for mid-morning coffee. I would quickly get dressed and run downstairs, because maybe I could help if I ate my breakfast quickly.
That's where I learned how to take down a tree safely in the forest. And how to limb it once it's on the forest floor. How to stack it properly in the wood shed so that it would dry. How much you need to make it through the winter in the farmhouse. Their furnace was wood-fired, with a natural gas backup just in case.
It's also where I learned that you don't just grab any flat rock to put on the side of a fire pit to heat buns up for dinner. When some rocks are heated, they explode. And send buns flying everywhere. I thought it was funny. My Dad couldn't believe that he, a geologist, had done it. No-one was hurt except the enamelware roaster that my Grandma had put the buns in. It was irretrievable.
My Dad liked to build things. And I liked to help him. There is a skill to being the helper in a wood shop. You both need to know where the job is going. I became pretty good over the years. When it came time to renovate the houses that my husband and I have lived in, I was prepared to get in there like a dirty shirt, thanks to my Dad.
My Dad is also the source of my love for writing. As a lawyer, he was a hard taskmaster when it came time to proofreading essays. Sometimes we worked at cross purposes. He was trying to get me to see that the best way to communicate was with clear concise wording. I had five pages to fill up with only one real point. It used to make me crazy, but I am a better writer for it.
Finally, my Dad taught me when I was a little kid that there was nothing better than a hug in the kitchen at the end of a long day. When he would come home, he would say hello to my mom with a hug and a kiss, then I would stand on his feet and get one too. Everyone would get on with life, but for that moment, all was well. My husband and I still say hello with hug and a kiss in the kitchen every night. It is a moment of acknowledgement that we chose each other and we choose to celebrate that choice every day.
There are a lot of other things - some good and some not-so-good - that I learned from my Dad, but these are the lessons that I choose to take forward:
1. Work hard.
2. Words are important.
3. So are Library cards.
4. Take care of yourself and those around you.
5. Hugs are awesome.
Stay warm and keep well.