Guest author Lynda Allison’s poignant memories of reconnecting with her estranged father in the twilight of his life
By Lynda Allison
People say that life’s a journey, along which we enjoy fleeting moments where our lives juxtapose, before we move on.
My siblings and I caught glimpses of our estranged father on Sunday afternoons in the damp basement of an old church. We’d curl up like cats on the rectangles on the carpet where the sun streamed in. Dad’s oversized frame weighed heavily on the little chair he sat on while reading us snippets of the stories he pulled off the shelves. Noah, caring for an ark full of animals; David, slaying Goliath with a single stone; Daniel, shutting the hungry lions’ minds. While Dad read, we’d suck on the milk chocolate squares that had been mysteriously infused with caramel and cut the sweetness with ginger ale that he’d brought.
Then, for years he was gone.
My sister looked up our dad once when we were adults. Dad and I took walks. Or should I say Dad took walks and I ran along behind trying to keep up to his long strides. But soon mild dysplasia huffed and puffed and blew his house down. Like a fourth little pig, he lived amidst the confines of a skeletal home with thin white sheets to cover his opaque skin.
On my visits I’d prop Dad up in his specialized chair and wheel him outside of the nursing home for fresh air. The sweet fragrance of lily of the valley and lavender seemed to open the closet doors of his mind just a crack and his skeletons slipped out. He asked about someone I didn’t know. Talked about someone he’d known intimately and shouldn’t have. Bragged of the fist-fights he’d won handily.
Occasionally, he spoke of my mother, sometimes affectionately as a lovely, long-lost love, other times in anger, depending on the door that opened.
“She left me and took my children,” he told me like I didn’t already know.
Not knowing what to talk about made visiting him strained. I couldn’t ask him about his life. His life had changed. He no longer watched Hockey Night in Canada, read books, or listened to Jail House Rock. He never spoke of such things. They had become taboos of polite conversation. So I no longer spoke of them either.
Instead, I read to him. Snippets from the Bible I found in the drawer by his bed. He asked about heaven, so I told him what it said, hoping it would dispel the hell that was his life. How heaven was like a mustard seed planted in a field, like yeast mixed into large amounts, like a treasure hidden in a field, like a net full of fish, like his Father’s mansion with many rooms, a place God was preparing for him.
Years prior, Dad had sold his little home in Toronto and bought a new one in “God’s country.” The distance made it more difficult to visit. But it gave me time to piece together a fractured past on the long, lonely drive home, sorting my thoughts into alphabetical files before arriving home to hug my own kids.
On my latest visit, I endured uncomfortable pauses between his one word answers to my questions, then, I resorted to discussing the brutally cold weather and road conditions. The roads were bad so I had not come for a while. The roads were good so I came today. Didn’t know when the roads would be good again but I would come when they were.
I knew it distressed him when I got up to leave. He needed to rest and I could not stay. Loving a stranger was hard but it was the right thing to do. I hugged him, kissed his forehead, and said, “I love you, Dad.” And somewhere deep inside I knew it was true.
Driving home, I focused on the empty wrappers and cans in my purse and felt a twinge of panic. Was Dad allowed to chomp on chocolate caramel bars and swig ginger ale? For some reason it took me back: in this moment I am young. My siblings and I run through the hose as Dad sprays us and we dry out in the sun.
Soon after, I received a call saying Dad had died in his sleep. I imagined his death. Nurses came to tuck him in and found him without breath. He was smiling. Chocolate and caramel drooled from his mouth, down his chin, and onto clean white sheets.
About the author:
Lynda loves exploring and sharing the writing process. She writes in a small writing community once a month at Upwords, a writing circle of the Writer’s Community of Durham Region. Her passion is encouraging young writers in the classroom and at writing workshops and camps.
Currently, Lynda is having her first novel in the Summer Triangle Trilogy critiqued in an online group. Her short stories have appeared in Signatures, lichen, TK06, and her story “Out of the Ashes” is short listed in the WCDR’s Pheonix Short Story Contest.
Lynda teaches English and literacy at Durham Continuing Education. Two of Lynda’s three adult children now live in Panama and she, her husband, and third adult child often gallivant around the country sharing the adventures and misadventures of travel there.