Last night, my father visited. He’s been gone from this world for almost twenty years. He lives happily, though, in my thoughts and memories, and those of others who knew him well.
Dad’s work ethic is a constant influence in my life. I’ve told these stories before. No one could keep up. Beyond the long hours at General Motors where he worked as an electrician, Dad always had a dozen projects going. He was filling in the swampy areas, in the empty lot next door, to help to keep the mosquitoes down. He was adding a shoulder to the narrow paved road we lived on, so that the children that lived down the road would have an easier time walking to the bus stop. He was raising pigs… chickens….an ever expanding garden…and – at any given time – keeping his own and a dozen or more other children busy and entertained.
I have joked that Dad often treated us like his own crew of migrant workers. Up in the morning early to pull weeds in the garden, at dusk we’d haul hoses and buckets to water the plants. In between there was plenty more to fill the time from helping with housework, taking care of little brothers and sisters, meal preparation, harvesting and canning, feeding the animals…and on and on. Mom was involved in all of this, too, as well as being the one to defend us, or answer to Dad if our work wasn’t done to his expectations.
His stubborn cantankerousness was legend, too. There was a particular way to make a bed, or wipe a table, or weed a row of beans. Dad didn’t just want us busy, he wanted things done right. Arguing in defense of cut corners was futile. He was rock solid in his opinions, and would hold his ground, picking up anger and momentum as the discussion continued. His sharp temper affects the way I deal with conflict, still. No matter how sure I am of my position, a contrary opinion spoken in a sharp tone will bring tears to my eyes and silence me every time. It’s humiliating, but I am unable to react in any way but the way I reacted as a child, to that tone of voice.
Listen to my ramblings for long, and one could be led to a particular image of my Dad. It would likely be inaccurate, because I’ve neglected the very best aspects of him. Beyond the firm belief in hard work and a job done correctly, and a stubborn insistence on his infinite rightness, my Dad had the heart of a young boy.
Dad was a tease. He had a twinkle in his eye and a little mischievous sideways grin that gave away his pleasure in the moment. Dad loved projects and adventures. He could turn work into play, or – when that was impossible – make the reward worth the effort. A coca cola and a dime for the jukebox while Dad shot the breeze with the bartender was a fitting ending to a day spent in hard work. There were harvesting parties, corn-gathering parties and butchering parties, but also sledding parties – often involving the biggest hills, or specially-designed icy ramps. On Beaver Island, there were long days spent on the beach, and evenings of long drives filled with stories.
That was the person that visited last night. Driving home from a friend’s house after dinner and a movie, my Dad was suddenly with me. It wasn’t a ghost-like visitation; there was nothing mystic about it. It was only the definite feeling of Dad’s presence as I winded down the narrow roads toward home. I could picture him clearly: one hand casually slung over the bottom of the steering wheel, the other cradling a can of beer. I could imagine his voice as places led to stories, and hear his laugh as we rolled downhill toward Barney’s Lake.
The movie I’d watched was about an old man whose curmudgeon-like ways belied his big heart. The dinner was picnic fare, cooked over charcoal. I’d had two glasses of wine. The drive home, after dark and guided by the light from the head lamps, was alone a rarity for me. The route along Barney’s Lake was one of Dad’s favorite drives. I’m sure all of these things contributed to his presence last evening. Whatever the cause, it was a welcome visit!