Friday, December 19, 2008

However you view the holidays...

...describe one of a possible many that you remember the most or that had most meaning to you.

I have a number to choose from. Ones from my youth in a small southern town are among the contenders. As teens, we would gather after Christmas morning and go from house to house. The town was small enough that you could walk it end to end if nobody had a car. Cookies and punch were always available. We would ohh and ahh over the tree and what our friend got and sit under the tree for a while. One present was the standard then and nothing very expensive, a way of doing Christmas that seems to have faded over the years into excess. Perhaps with harder economic times those days will return. A charm bracelet as the 'big' gift and perhaps and new nightgown was pretty much par for the gift course. Another possibility is when my husband and I went caroling in Boston on Beacon Hill, fog coming out of our mouths the air was so cold.

Another very special time, for multiple reasons, was when my father was dying. He was in a hospital bed at home under Hospice care. I'd been flying up since lung cancer took him to the floor four months earlier. My father, so strong into his eighies. My home town rallied around him that season. I flew up before my husband did because of his work. 'Santa' came to visit, a man from the Fire and Rescue Squad that my father had contributed generously to over the years...then carolers. They came into the bedroom and sang several songs. Children and adults from the church. When they sang silent night, my mother stepped in with the group and joined them. She had a beautiful alto voice. I'm glad he was still aware, even though his speech was garbled at that point. He died the day after Christmas. This post is for you, Daddy. (and yes, Southern gals still refer to their fathers as daddy forever).

I wrote the following poem in 2001. I could probably do better by him now, but...for better or worse, it's below. Thank you, Dead Mule, for publishing it.

my father

My Father's Many Funerals

My father,
superintendent turned gardener
in his retirement,
attended nearly every funeral
over his lifetime of losses in our
small southern town

'We must pay our respects,'
as bulletin in hand,
he sang farewell hymns
passed down from generations
of farewells chainlinked before us.

At age 83 he joined them,
the dry, warm seeds
for that spring's
planting, abandoned

A thumbnail of mourners,
I told myself.
No gathering suitable for
final respects he cradled
as diamonds in value.

The limo snailed up the steep hill
towards that tiny brick church
where my father
had taught Sunday School,
served as elder,
taken communion,
bowed head in prayer
Front pew
Same seat every Sunday.

Edging over the rise.
the limo offered first
steeple, roofs.
Hundreds of car roofs.
A garden of color spilling
from parking lot into field.
Standing room only.

Respect, my father's winter harvest.
Our town's final gift.

Later, at my parents' home, I tucked
my father's seeds into pocket
to carry to my own home
for next season's planting.

I feel sure that he knew.

Pris Campbell

Published in The Dead Mule, An Anthology of Southern Literature,
Fall, 2002.


sam of the ten thousand things said...

This is a fine piece, Pris. Thanks for the post.

JimK said...

The missing always seem to appear
to us in memory before Xmas.
Very nice...I like the symbolism.

You asked....well, odd bits..
..1984 New Year's, the roof of
an apt. building near the Pru.
..~1967, the massive Xmas at
Uncle Howie's, multicolored
wrapping-paper bonfires in
the basement fireplace.
..driving through the decorating
neighborhoods in town, looking
at all the big light displays.
That's almost every year now.
..the giant tree and the rides at
Brickstone Square. They are
gone now.

The way the night got brighter
last night, after the 1st big snow.
The taste of breakfast today after
an hour shoveling and snowblowing.

Middle Ditch said...

This is beautiful Priss, I'll bet you wish he could have read it. He sounds a wonderful father, a father I wish I could have had.

Pris said...

Thanks, Sam.

Jim, Yes, the holidays do ride in on memories. I like yours, too.

Hi M,
Yes, I do wish he could've read it. It's been forever since he died and yet only yesterday. I wish you'd had a better experience with your own father, but so many people don't.

Anna G Raman said...

I really like this one.

I wonder if the funerals made it easier for him...I'm sure we all wonder about passing on and after-life and we have mixed thoughts...sometimes too ready and sometimes just the opposite. I read a book called "On the shores of eternity" - a translation of Tagore by Deepak Chopra and it shows Tagore's way of preparing for death. The thoughts in there are amazing. If one reads that and Anne Sexton, for instance, it is love/readiness for death but from different perspectives...

Pris said...

On the Shores of Eternity sounds like a book I would like to read. As I begin to age, myself, I think more of facing that day. In our youth we feel as if we'll go on forever.

With my father, I think it was a mixture of motives and one of them, I do think is what you questioned. My father had a passionate commitment to the value 'honoring others', whether it meant by keeping his word to them, their confidence, or being there at the end. My father never spoke about his own death, even when he was dying. It was as if he pulled a veil over that thought and was more curious if mother had his seeds set aside for his spring garden. Yet...he woke her up one night talking about a white light and asking if she saw it. The day before he died, he talked nonstop in a semicoma and what bits I could pick up were conversations with people I couldn't recognize.

Thanks for commenting.

esk said...

What a poignant poem! This poem made me think of my father. I especially liked the ending about planting your father's seeds. Keeping him and what he loved to do alive...

Pris said...

Hi Esk
Thanks. I'm glad the poem was meaningful to you.