I looked – once again – at a special DVD created from old home movies taken in the early fifties. My Grandpa Ted bought the movie camera because he had new grandchildren: my sister Brenda, me, my brother Teddy. Grandpa shot most of the movies himself, but sometimes Grandma Thelma had the camera, and sometimes my Mom did.
My Dad did not take pictures, and he didn’t much like being in them. Yet, there he is, grinning widely as he hoists a child to his shoulders, or bends to rub a dog’s ears. There he is, striding purposefully across the lawn carrying boxes that soon reveal a new swing set…and there is Dad, assembling it as we smile from the sidelines. He’s there in the summer, giving us rides in the wagon he built to pull behind the riding mower; in the winter he’s pulling us on a sled. At parties, he laughs as he fills glasses from a pitcher. In other scenes he talks to adults or tickles children, and often puts up an arm to hide his face from the camera.
My heart swells to see my father so young and vital, so involved with his family, and with so much life still ahead. Being one of the oldest, I remember that man. I also remember the man he became: frustrated, saddened and disappointed – often – with how his life had turned out, sometimes a little bit bitter.
It’s hard to know, because all change is gradual, what happened, and when, to make the difference. Age alone, I’ve come to realize, alters the world. There comes a point where some dreams have to be set aside; no longer is there time or energy or ability enough to continue to believe that anything is possible. Aches and pains can be frustrating. Everything that could once be done without a second thought, but that now is a struggle, becomes a discouragement. Losses build.
If I could spend a day with my Dad, I’d choose a time when hard work was possible, and hope was still alive. Let it be in the years when he always leaned over to give Mom a long kiss before he left the house, and when they’d snuggle together on the couch to watch cowboy shows.Let him be old enough to have his many children all around him, young enough so that we were still at home. I’d like to give each of us children enough foresight…or insight…so that we’d appreciate Dad more than we did at that time.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the value in a person or a thing until it’s long past. If I could spend a day with my Dad, I’d offer him fresh strawberries with cream. I’d tell him everything that’s happened in our family; I’d talk to him about Aunt Katie’s health, Bob’s sheep and chickens and the new pond. I’d do my best to let him know I love him, and appreciate all that he was, and all that he taught me. I know his value, now.