Sunday, July 4, 2010

A photo story

It's been wild around here the last few days.  The Finn flew in guessed it, Finland, and the giant from the Yakima valley drove over to help celebrate Independence day with Grampie and the rest of us.  It's a crowd.  To tell the truth, when those three very tall men who are Beve and his taller, larger brothers are in a room, you don't need many more people to feel like there's a crowd.  They just displace so much air.  I understand why Beve's mom didn't like having help in the kitchen--their bodies were just too large to work around.  And my small kitchen is about a quarter of the size of her large country-style open room where they grew up around an extra large round table, laughing and eating copious amounts of food.  I'm pretty sure my weight problems began when I tried to keep up--at least I'm happy to blame it on them.  I mean, might as well.

But with all these giants taking up air and space and needing food in our house, I haven't had much time to myself in the last several days.  I'm way behind posting here.  So you'll have to bear with me while I back up a couple of days.  See, two days ago was my Dad's birthday, and several months ago, when I was conscientiously purging my books from bookcases, I ran into the three photo albums my Aunt gave me several years ago from my dad's babyhood.  I decided then that I'd scan and post a few pictures on his birthday.  They're such representative pictures not only of his life, but of the world of the 30s.  The car, the way of living, dressing, camping, etc.  So when I finally had a few moments to myself this morning, I uploaded them, and will allow them to tell you a picture story.  Dad was born and spent the first nine years of his life in Colorado, and in the summers went up to the mountains to their 'camp', where they had a cabin but lived in large part outside--cooking, washing up, etc.  My dad actually started his life doing what he always, always loved--being in the out-of-doors, in the mountains, cooking on open fires, and washing up in metal pans.  Amazing to think of!

Look how pleased this little boy who would grow up to be my dad looks at the wood he's gathered for the fire?

This looks like a child of the depression, doesn't it?  Dirty clothes and old pan and all.  Except that this little boy, at 3 years old, is wearing a watch, a ring, and is at his summer home in the mountains.  His father was an engineer, his grandfather a pharmacist, his great-grandfather a judge. Sure, even they felt the burden of the times, but not like those who had to pack up cars that looked like this one (but were broken down and tied together with rope and tape), and carry everything they owned away from the dust bowl in hopes of finding life.
And he had a dog.  This is actually remarkable to me, because in my memory, my grandmother didn't like dogs.  My father had a china dog collection because he never had a real dog--at least this is what I thought.  But here's just one of many pictures of my three-year-old father with a dog that must surely have called "Spot."
My grandfather and father.  Senior and Junior.  In the odd way of genetics, when I first saw this photo, I saw a cousin in my grandfather's face, and even the long, narrow panes of my own.  My grandmother always claimed I looked exactly like my mother's family, but I'm here to tell you, my nose, my mouth, my face are just like this man holding his son.

A much later photo of my dad, right there in front with the white hat on his head.  A hike during my high school years, with my brother, my father's namesake, standing in the plain white T-shirt.  I'm the one female in the photo, acting goofy for the camera.  I wasn't what you (or my dad) would call a very good hiker.  Hated it, is more like it. But we'd just conquered a steep 'hill' here, climbing up these crazy boulders just to reach the top.  I was so glad to be sitting, I was about to kiss everyone...except that we had to go back down!
Pay attention here to my Dad's hair. That's all I have to say.

This is Dad's Eagle Scout portrait.  Again, notice his hair, combed exactly the same way, except to the other side.

This is the portrait taken of Dad when he retired for Scouting, two years before he died.  Again, notice his hair.  His whole life, he only had one hair style. Come hell and high water, no matter what, Dad combed his hair the same way. 
A Daughter's Ministry
I take a blue, heavy-toothed comb
To hold over my father's steely gray hair,
Brushed straight back, a caricature
     of the side-parted and gently-flipped
     water-smoothed style
He's worn as long as he'd had hair to comb.
I take the comb from the out-stretched hand
     of an undertaker,
Who has rouged my father's always pale, milk-white face
     a bad sunburn on a man who'd never been that rosy.

I take the comb to minister,
As my grandmother had, 55 years earlier,
Dressing her grandmother on the worn,
     round kitchen table, where meals and laughter
     and wine and bread had been served,
Now a mother's body also sacramentally laid out, offered up.
My mother, eleven years old, wide-eyed, face-to-face
     with death, watched steadily,
A Kansas prairie reality, a daughter serving,
preparing this final loving ministry.
My grandmother washing, brushing, setting, setting,
Sending the child from the room, because
     the brutal, loving act of breaking a rigid leg
     had to be done, to fit a body to a box.

Two generations later, I take the comb,
thinking of Kansas death and Grandma Mac,
In this sterile, plush, flower-filled funeral home,
wishing for my family table, and well-worn life
to lay my father out naturally.

Instead I take the comb,
The ministry I can do, touching his full hair,
soft and smooth, like my newborn son's,
Restoring the familiar shape to my Daddy's head,
A sacrament in this empty room
This is his body, despite the artificially-colored face
     and coldness of skin.

I spray some water,
     my sisters crowding in to critique and direct.
One presses her hand to the wayward strands
     to hold them firmly
The other takes the comb to fix what I've begun.
We climb over each other to make him look
     himself in this box he's too still in,
Participating in his holy space.

Then we step back,
And tears come.
With the hair right,
The stranger in the box has become
Our Daddy, our beloved Daddy.
And there's nothing left to do for him.
But we are glad, grateful
     to have taken him back,
In satin-lined coffin, to a kitchen table,
A laying out and offering up.

This was ours to do, this small thing,
a combing of hair,
a daughter's ministry
As it was 55 years ago, on that Kansas prairie.


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