Dad was brilliant today!
Amanda sent word that Dad was up and feeling chipper. So I stopped by to see if he’d like to go for a drive. He was finishing breakfast when I got there, but he soon had his alpine hat on his head and his shoes on his feet, and was moving (at a rapid pace) towards the door…
My original thought was that I’d swing by the Sisters Espresso for his shake and then take him up to Bayview State Park for a quiet sit on a bench. But on the way to Sisters Espresso Dad said he thought he remembered a painting he had to finish at my home. So I got him his vanilla shake and then brought him to my house to see if he wanted to work on the watercolor of Rainier he’s been painting since last winter.
He settled into a seat at the table. I pulled out his paints, sponge, watercolors, brushes, and his latest watercolor project, and he set to work.
He had his hearing headset on today, so we could have a conversation. His hearing headset makes all the difference. I had my camera with me and recorded some of our conversation. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. There were times when he would say the most profound things – but I hadn’t been recording – so then he’d have to repeat himself for the recording. Sometimes there were things he said and did that were so precious to me I decided I didn’t want to remember them as a recording…
Karen: You’re not a prejudiced person. You must have had good parents. Where you grew up – in Los Angeles – did you live in a part of town with people from a lot of different cultures and backgrounds? Was there racism where you lived?
Dad: There was racism in Los Angeles – but (smiling) we lived in the opposite part of Los Angeles. I grew up with mostly Japanese farmers. Most of my friends growing up were Japanese.
Karen: Daddy, tell me about the part of Los Angeles that you were raised in.
Dad: Are you recording this?
Karen: Yeah. Is that okay?
Dad: (nodding his head) Yeah. I lived in southwestern Los Angeles – which was mostly related to the Japanese truck farmers. We were kind of on the edge of the developed part of Los Angeles city, so we just walked a couple blocks and we were out in the fields.
Karen: Most of your friends were Japanese?
Karen: So you grew up in a place that didn’t have a lot of prejudice?
Dad: Yeah. There are places that I’ve never had an interest in visiting because…
…they are still very prejudiced and the Civil War is still in their blood.
(I watch Dad paint for a while.)
Karen: You’re 100! That’s crazy!
Dad: You tell anybody you’ve got a father 100 years old and they’re going to think you’re just…
Karen: When you paint do you know ahead of time what you’re going to paint in the foreground?
Dad: (shaking his head) No.
Karen: So it just evolves?
Karen: What are you going to do with this one? What do you see?
Dad: Over here I’m going to paint some trees. And over here an island of trees. And up here a sub-ridge of the mountain. (Thinking) You kind of want three points of interest, but not one dominating.
(Of course I hadn’t recorded any of Dad’s thoughts on painting – so now I make him go through the whole conversation again. He is very patient with me.)
Karen: Daddy, I really love spending time with you.
Dad: (brings his head up and smiles and gives me the focused, penetrating look of someone who is really listening) I was going to say the same thing to you earlier. I love the drives we take together.
Karen: Were you the only artist in your family?
Dad: In my immediate family, you mean?
Karen: Were your grandparents artists? Were your parents artists?
Karen: (laughing) How did that happen?
Dad: (thinking) I’ve always enjoyed drawing. And I enjoy drawing foregrounds for mountains.
Karen: What is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled?
Dad: Paradise Valley.
Karen: Wow! Mount Rainier. Was that better than the Alps?
Dad: Well, the Alps have more history…
Karen: But Paradise Valley is the best.
(I watch Dad for a while, debating with myself if I should ask what I want to ask…)
Karen: Daddy, I want to ask you a hard question…
Dad: Okay. I may give you a hard answer.
Karen: Do you think we’ll see Mom again?
Dad: (thinking) I don’t think Mom is really gone.
Karen: Do you feel her here?
Dad: (thinking) I wasn’t surprised that she was gone. For the last year or two she talked about friends who had died, and I think she knew… I think she was trying to prepare me.
Karen: Yeah. I think she knew. When you were both in the hospital she didn’t want to leave because she loved you and wanted to take care of you. You didn’t want to leave because you wanted to take care of her.
Dad: (smiling sadly) I was shocked when you told me she was gone… but I wasn’t surprised.
Karen: (feeling sad for him, and guilty, and unsure what I should do) Would you rather I not tell you Mom is gone when you forget? …Was it bad of me to tell you?
Dad: (emphatically) No! You need to tell me. And I need to deal with it.
Karen: We carry Mom around in our memories of her, don’t we? She’s always with us.
Dad: (nodding) Yeah.
Karen: I’m glad we’re neighbors, Daddy.
Karen: I love you.
Dad: I love you.
Dad is tired now. He’ll come back and work on this painting another time. Right now it is time for his afternoon nap.
As I’m helping Dad get into the car, he turns and looks at me and reaches out to give me a hug. “I love you, Karen,” he says.
I kiss him on the cheek. “I love you, too, Daddy.”
Youtube clip of the conversation with Dad.