My parents threw a party last night for Californians at Vassar – a “Break the Winter Blues” party to introduce folks with a California connection to each other. It was inspired by a new faculty member who was having a hard time adjusting to her first gig in the east. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and it may turn into an annual event.
I was a little concerned being the only non-Californian in the house. A few other “adopted Californians” were supposed to attend, but couldn’t make it at the last minute – leaving me to fend for myself. I got a bit nervous when I was cornered on three separate occasions by important faculty at the college who voiced concern about job-related crankiness, but I managed to calm concerns (I hope) and turn the conversation back to their California connections.
The highlight of the evening for me, making it a very special night, was talking with my father. We rarely talk about anything but current events and non-personal topics. We started small-talking about music – I expected, as usual, that he would walk away, but instead we got talking about The Beatles. Turns out he’s a fan. He went on to talk about their performances in Hamburg, and how he in Germany at that time while he was in the Army (a time of his life he has only mentioned, and briefly, in the last few years.) I pulled out the iPod and put on a few tracks. He told me how he had followed their career, intrigued by how their popularity in England was sparked after performing in Germany, and not the other way around (something I’m going to look up.) He mentioned a documentary coming out he’s excited to get. I had no idea.
That was it. The rest of the night was small-talk only, but that moment was very cool. A door opened.
I’ve been worried about him. He seems to be acting, as I imagine I will when I get to the winter of my life, to be cataloguing his papers and memories. He’s been digitizing photos and slides from years ago, and sorting through things in general. I can’t shake the gut feeling that he’s preparing for something — that he doesn’t think he has much more time. He had a stroke two years ago. He is doing well now, and turns 70 next month. That’s enough for anyone to get some things in order, but he’s doing it in an extreme way – a massive undertaking.
For years I’ve been resigned to the fact that I will get to know him only through the diaries he leaves behind. When I moved back to the area, almost ten years ago, I hoped that would give us the opportunity to get to know each other, but his private tendencies have continued to shut me out. I have accepted that. I know I tried –I didn’t go with my gut and cut him off, run away. I do admit that my time in Montana was an intentional move to run away. But as some of you know, that backfired, for the best. I found out his family had settled in Montana so I did some research on the family while I was there. That helped spark a couple of short conversations. I’m trying to gather some things together and try all that again now that he may be more receptive. I think the thing that keeps me trying is that I’m just as stubborn as he is – and I know I got it from him.
We continue to surprise each other. It’s been difficult, but last night I felt like I got to know him a little better.