Because That Man Walked This Earth

Note:

September 28, 2015. My father would have celebrated his 70th birthday today. This is a piece I wrote earlier this year to help cope with the impending anniversary of his passing. Although no words could ever really bring a man like him to life, taking the time to remember him in writing, especially the humorous memories I have of him, has proven very therapeutic.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

February 2014

When I wake up tomorrow, Sunday, February 2, 2014, it will mark the third anniversary of the day my dad, quite simply, just didn’t wake up. While that realization is somewhat debilitating, I’ve come a long way since that morning three years ago when I got the news that my dad had died in his sleep.

When I think about my father, the flood of memories that rushes over me is overwhelming. Naturally, some of those memories are more “unique” than others. For example, my dad never met a smelt he didn’t like. On any given weekend, whether my family was eating at Governor’s Restaurant or Geaghan’s Pub, you could hear him ordering fried smelts and (and I quote) a baked “bodado”. He never pronounced the word potato correctly by actually using the letters P or T. Never. I mean it. Not even once did I ever hear that man say the actual word potato. Although he was born and raised in Orono, or as he would say, Ono (he also often left the letter R out of his words) he had a pretty thick Maine accent.

Dad was not a very complicated man and it didn’t take much to make him happy. He loved it when I’d get emotional talking about the fact that he and his three brothers, along with their parents, lived most of their lives in a tiny apartment above the bowling alley in Orono without two pennies to rub together. He was proud of the fact (as well he should have been) that his real name, Lawrence, was given to him because his father, who worked in mills all his life, had a soft spot for a certain mill that he’d worked at in Lawrence, MA. And finally, he loved how curious I always was about the fact that he devoted his life to selling cash registers and never once put his degree in Physical Education to use. In his words, he had to do what made him happy.

It’s true. There’s never been anyone quite like my father.

It was the small things in life that made him truly happy. The Red Sox (of course), fiddleheads in the spring, sitting on the front porch of our home decked out in his coffee stained 532212_10151135913600785_10021386_nundershirt, plaid shorts and Dr. Scholl’s velcro sneakers (he had a passion for velcro sneakers the likes of which this world has never seen) and doing his best to strike up conversation with the participants in the annual Bangor 5 Mile Labor Day Race. Those were some of the highlights of his year.

The day of Dad’s funeral, my brother and I spoke about our father. The only way either one of us could survive that day was to remember the funny experiences we’d shared with him over the years. We talked about his love of sports and especially the basketball tournaments, and the fact that he always added an S to the name of every major department store…Wal-Marts, K-Marts, and when he could remember the actual name, Targets. For the first three years the store was open, he called Target “Gadgets”. One day he was beyond thrilled at having said the name of the store correctly. I could tell he was proud when he really emphasized the store name as he declared that he and Mom had just returned from “Budgets”. I never did have the heart to tell him that he was close, but no cigar.

God love him.

When I returned to my hometown after college, and after teaching for three years in a town about an hour away, I got to spend a lot of time with my parents. It was during that time that I learned things about them that I never took the time to notice when I was growing up. For example, by interacting with my parents as an adult, I came to understand how in love they were with each other. When you’re a child you don’t notice things like that, but when you’re an adult, you do, and it means the whole world. My father loved my mother unabashedly.

Perhaps the most surprising fact that I came to understand about my dad was that he was truly fascinated with space and the whole concept of extra terrestrials. Like most other people, I remember him taking me to see “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and he always had a real passion for the X-Files (though I’m pretty sure that had a lot to do with the attractive red head who played Scully). Either way, the time that I spent with my parents when I returned to Bangor provided me with some of the best memories in the world.

When Dad first saw the trailer for “Signs”, a movie about an alien invasion starring Mel Gibson, he literally called me up and left a three minute message about how excited he was to see it. It was released right after I returned from my honeymoon and going to the movie was one of the first things that my husband and I did with my parents when we got back from our cruise. I remember the four of us piling into the seats of the cinema. Mom ended up on one end with my husband next to her and then I sat between him and Dad who, because he had such long legs, always needed an aisle seat.

It’s been over a decade since the film was released, so I’m not too worried about spoiling it for anyone as I describe how the events of that movie going experience unfolded. Throughout the film, the girl who played Mel Gibson’s daughter was constantly drinking water and leaving glasses around the house because she didn’t like the taste of it. It was a source of annoyance for poor Mel, signs11but since he was a single dad trying to keep his children calm and safe, while at the same time having to deal with the crop circles that kept appearing on his farmland, it seemed a pretty minor infraction. Having said that, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the water was somehow going to be important later on.

As the movie neared its end, and the aliens inevitably made their way into Gibson’s farm, there was one thrilling moment when audience members made the realization that the water was going to be the ticket to the aliens’ demise. Now…did it come right out and say that? No. Did the words THE WATER WILL KILL THE ALIENS scroll across the bottom of the screen to let viewers know what was coming? Certainly not. Did speech bubbles appear above the on-screen characters’ heads that read, “Hey, I think the water will kill the aliens!” Nope. But you know what? The audience was given several clues that allowed them to infer that the water was the key.

Every single person in that theater picked up on those clues except for my poor father.

After the rest of the theater figured out that all that little girl needed to do to save herself was to get her tiny hands wrapped around the glass of water that was just beyond her reach, it took a good two minutes before she was finally able to do so. When she finally got the glass in hand, she threw it into the alien’s face, causing the figure to disintegrate. It was then, and only then, after the creature began to sizzle and smoke after having been doused with water by the fleeing child, that my father finally made the connection. And when he did, I assure you, all Hell broke loose. In a voice loud enough to have been heard three states away, and after slapping my knee so hard it brought tears to my eyes, he excitedly boomed, “WATAH! Karyn, it’s the WATAH!”

Sweet Mother of Pearl.

People snickered. Heads turned. I even think there were a few audible gasps. I slithered down in my seat and tried to placate Dad by whispering something along the lines of…“I know, I did NOT see that coming.”

It was a lie, but sometimes you have to choose your battles.

That’s when my mom decided to take matters into her own hands by leaning forward, and not so discretely (think of Wilma Flintsone hollering Freeed!) bellowing, “Red! SHHHHHH!”

Not to be outdone, Dad responded, classily of course, with a bellow of his very own…”Oh, Jesum Crow, Patricia…nobody’s listening to me!”

Her response was a resounding,“Well, SHHHHHHHH!”

Feeling utterly helpless, I turned to my husband, who, and I hate to keep filling this memory with cliches, looked exactly like a deer in headlights, and said, “Welcome to the family.” Honestly, what else could I say?

There’s not a single day that passes that I’m not overcome, 312986_2087682118363_1167129_nat least once, by heartache from all that we lost the day my dad passed away. And when I say “we” I mean our family, his close friends, the people whose lives he touched through his love of sports and refereeing, and all the people who got to know him on his sales routes all over the state. He touched the lives of every single person that he met through his kindness, his positive outlook on just about everything, and his great sense of humor.

Smelts made him happy. He loved baked bodadoes. The words don’t exist that can accurately describe the love he had for Dr. Scholl’s velcro sneakers. He didn’t often pronounce words exactly the way they were supposed to be pronounced and he made up fictional store names and swore to God they were real.

No, Dad. It’s Big Lots OR Best Buy. There has never been a store in the area that goes by the name of “Big Deals”. There just hasn’t.

He was all of those things and so very much more, but most importantly, he was my father and I worshipped him. I’ll never be exactly the same person that I was before he died. How could I be? But I’m the person I am today because that man walked this earth.

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You Really Just Need To See Them For Yourself

Yes, they’re mud boots. 1391885_10200825684911149_21367115_nAnd yes, they have a heel.

But let’s back up, shall we? It’s the middle of September and I recently spent some time at my mother’s house helping her organize her Christmas sweaters.

No. I’m not kidding.

And no, I didn’t mean Halloween sweaters. Come on, those have been organized and in place since shortly after the Fourth of July for crying out loud.

Before I really get started, I want to make it clear that I love my mom more than anything in the world. From the time I was a little girl, I knew I had a great mother because my house was the place where all of my friends wanted to hang out. That meant a lot. Today, as a 43 year old woman, I still know that I have an amazing mom. My mother was a fourth grade teacher for 38 years and I often get reminders from people I’ve never even met via Facebook, when they contact me to tell me how much they loved being in her class. Many of them have said that they continue to remember her into their adulthood because she made such a difference in their lives. As a teacher myself, and more importantly as her daughter, that means the world to me. I wouldn’t trade the relationship I have with her for anything.

Mom was the kind of teacher who decked her classroom out for every single holiday. No matter the season, there was never a shortage of bright jack-o-lanterns with gaudy fake jewels for eyes, turkeys with an abundance of feathers, Christmas trees adorned with colorful sequins, Valentine hearts and St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks dripping with glitter, and Easter bunnies decorated with cotton balls. 557849_3983525633266_587467285_nSounds pretty typical for the most part, I’m sure. However, much to my despair, the fake jewels, feathers, sequins, glitter, and yes, even the cotton balls, extended to her wardrobe as well.

Yes, that’s right. Her wardrobe.

Anyone who knows both of us really well is aware of the fact that for as similar as we are in many ways, the differences between us are glaring. Needless to say, our sense of fashion is one of those major differences.

Getting Mom’s festive Christmas sweaters organized and separated into bins is one of the highlights of her year. That being said, one can’t help but wonder what categories could possibly exist for these sweaters that might require so much work. Please, allow me to enlighten you.

And, just a suggestion, you might want to be sitting down for this.

The sweaters are organized by color. By those that require batteries. By those that have Christmas trees intricately, and no doubt lovingly, woven into them. They are categorized by those with matching scarves, and by those that have 1, 2, 3, and in one somewhat unsettling and bizarre case, 65 Santas proudly displayed (and I do mean from EVERY angle) on the front, back, sides, and arms.

As luck would have it, the distinctions don’t end there. The separations continue to be made by those sweaters that have sequins and those that don’t. Those that have cotton balls, and those that don’t. Of course, the question begs, what happens if a sweater boldly displays a Santa whose suit is made of sequins AND whose beard consists of cotton balls? Which pile does that sweater end up in? Believe me, you need a degree in Statistics to figure that one out. In fact, for my Math teacher friends out there, this dilemma could be turned into one fantastic holiday themed word problem. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love one of those?

s2Finally, don’t get me started on the debacle of what to do with the snowman sweaters. As it turns out, those can be worn both before the holidays and after. They’re more of a Winter themed sweater, if you will.

Who knew?

Last year Mom bought me the snowman sweater pictured here for the holidays. Naturally, I thought she was kidding. When I realized she wasn’t, I introduced myself to her and asked if we’d ever met. Realizing my disdain for the sweater, she assured me I would change my mind as soon as I saw the snowman on the back.

s1Oh, yes. That helped a lot. I mean, is it me, or does this particular snowman look a little creepy? I love her a ton, but…I don’t wear sweaters sporting snowmen that bear likenesses to peeping toms. It’s just never really been my thing. Not to mention the fact that the one and only time I ever did actually give in and wear one of her sweaters to school, I got so frustrated that my students were distracted by the Halloween design that I ended up bellowing, “Stop staring at my pumpkins and pay attention to what I’m saying!”

So…that was fun.

At the end of the day I spent helping my mom prepare her sweaters for the holiday season, l loved knowing that I’d been able to help her in some small way. Knowing that her holiday sweaters are in place so that she, and I quote, “Won’t have to spend all her time digging through all those sweaters to find just the right one when the occasion calls for it,” makes me happy.

Well…happy and somewhat frightened.

As I made my way down to the garage to store the lids of all of the bins now bursting with Mom’s holiday sweater assortment, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the mud heels displayed at the top of the page. Literally, just when I thought I’d seen everything…these little gems popped out of nowhere and just begged to be photographed. Because Mom had threatened me within an inch of my life if I took pictures of her prized sweaters (and if I’m being honest, no picture could EVER really do any of them justice anyway) I was able to convince her to let me take a picture of her recent purchase. When I brought them into the kitchen and plunked them down on the counter to get a better look at them in the light, she beamed with pride. The first words out of her mouth were, “Do you want me to go get the sweater I have that matches them? I can’t wait to wear them with jeans on the next rainy day.” My answer was a swift, yet polite…..”NO! I mean…no, thank you.”

h1In the end, there are absolutely no words that can adequately describe how much I love my mom and her passion for the holidays. The same goes for the sweaters and the mud heels.The words don’t exist to describe those either.

You really just need to see them for yourself.