Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fathers and Fireworks

I remember the time my little sister came to visit at age 15 and I let her get her nose pierced.  I thought it looked darling. It was the mid ‘90s and I was 25.  But having been a New Wave rebel in the 1980’s, I was in favor of slightly alternative ‘looks’. After a good chewing out, my father did not speak to either of us for a couple of months…until she took it out. I was shocked that he was so angry.  Now, as a parent of a 15 year old, I can understand. But she did look darling… it’s a debate I might still try to have if dad was with us. But he’s not. And besides, he wasn’t much into debates or arguments. Conflict was not his thing.

 Admittedly I did not live with my dad full time after the age of 7, so it could be said that I don’t completely know what he was like as a parent. But I took a plane to visit once or twice a year, often staying for a couple of months and even living there for short periods of time as I got older. What I remember most about my dad is his sense of humor, always bubbling under the surface and ready to pop out just when you needed it. He coached Little League for my younger brother and sister, who lived with dad and my stepmom. He was always working on some project, coordinating the company picnic, organizing the family Fourth of July party. I would watch my dad at these functions, moving through the crowd, ensuring everyone was comfortable and making people laugh. His humor was that of the absolute silly sort. Not dry or cynical or dark (like mine can be), but a goofy, crack you up-or embarrass you to death if you are his teenage daughter- type of humor. 

Channeling Dad! I embarrassed my kids-ha!
I don’t know if I had ever seen him angry, and certainly not at myself, before the ‘nose-piercing’ incident. It’s not that he was never upset, mad or disappointed with me…it’s just that he did not express it with anger. I wish I had a little bit more of that in me.  Just Only Judy has a temper and sometimes a short fuse. Speaking of fuses, have I ever written about my dad and the Fourth of July? It was like his Christmas! He would fill the basement of our little Midwestern house with fireworks of all sorts, some quite large. He sold them out the side kitchen door and I occasionally handled sales during the day when he was at work. He gave many to family and friends, but the bulk of them were for the big family "Bean Dinner and Cookout" at my Uncle’s lake property.  

I have never liked loud noises or things that could potentially explode.  The explosion issue borders on a phobia. You can imagine how I enjoyed sleeping above a basement full of large fireworks…it just takes a spark! I never wanted to light a firework, let alone have my children lighting them. Sparklers still make me sweaty today. But dad, the uncles and some of the teenagers in the family would all head out to the wooden dock when the sun went down. They would put on the most fantastic firework show for all of us, and probably everyone else living on the lake.

Naturally, there has not been a Fourth of July in the last 15 years that I have not profoundly missed my dad. We usually watch fireworks from a safe distance these days. In the Pacific Northwest it’s not as easy to find a safe place away from trees to do your own big show. When the fireworks start going, if I close my eyes, I can hear the laughter of my midwest aunties…oh they had a special, love-filled laugh! I can smell the food, smoke and bug spray; feel the heavy, humid night. If there was not an undercurrent of electricity from an approaching thunderstorm, then there was the sound of crickets and cicadas. Inevitably a small child would start to cry, and if I could I would volunteer to take them inside and watch from the safety of the window. But part of me always wished I was brave enough to be out on that dock. I knew that some other sort of magic was happening out there. My dad’s silhouette crouched to put the fireworks in place. A smaller silhouette would sometimes come up to light it and then run quickly back to the other end of the dock, to gather with the small crowd of my bravest family members.

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads, grandpas and uncles. An extra special Happy  First Father's Day to my little brother- dad would have been so proud of you and I know he would be in love with that little guy!
Happy Father’s Day to all my cousins who may be missing their dads today. May you find some memories to make you smile. May you hear their laughter, oh how they all laughed, loud and often! And may we all create some traditions and memories for our children, nieces and nephews. Those memories are a gift that can’t be taken away. Not by cancer and not by time. 

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