Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dad - 3

I know Mom loved Dad. She loved him with all her heart.  They had arguments.  Sometimes they'd yell at each other. It wasn't very often.  Rarely indeed when you think of all the time they were in each others company.  I know too because I was at the center of many of their arguments. There'd be a frost in the house sometimes for a day but never more than a week that I can remember.  Possibly that was what church was for. Maybe then Mom and Dad would forgive each other. A new week would begin just as each day would begin anew.
I loved my Dad not like my older brother loved him. Ron loved Dad with his whole heart like Mom did.  With me Dad kind of grew on me.  I warmed up to him slowly.  He was the biggest and most important man in all my life but I didn't really like him near the end of my teens. We had a fight to end all fights and I walked out on him. Then he let me come home only because my mother and brother asked him.  And I went away again.  Forgetting him and regretting him only to one day need him again.  I phoned him then and he was there, as always.  That was the thing about my Dad, I always knew he would be there, that I could call on him and he'd come or welcome me. I was the prodigal son and he was the father.  It took me years to love my Dad like my Mom and brother did.  He grew on me that way.

I'd have serious inklings of what he meant to me by the way I behaved.  I heard his voice in mine at times. I had some of his gestures too. I even saw his face in mine. Mostly I lived by his principles. He taught me by example. I became in many ways the man he was, not as good by far, and not as successful in all the ways he was but in my own way something special.  I knew I was special to my Dad.  We had a love hate thing for a while there so very like the love hate he had for his own father and his brother.  He'd say I'd broken his trust when I was young but then when I was older he'd forgive me.
It was hard for him to forgive and it's the hardest thing for me too.  I didn't forgive him for years when I was young and then somehow one day I just let it go.  I realized then that I'd grown up. I remember too how he had talked harshly about his father when we were young. That was despite the good times they shared.  But then when his dad and my dad were older there was that dinner we all shared at the top of the hotel restaurant.  Grandad and dad were so close and loving that I could see a tear in my mothers eye as she watched them too.

My brother Ron visitted Dad's brothers and took pictures of them. There's a photograph of all the northern men, cowboys, loggers, businessmen, standing together.  It's something I cherish.  Family is important.  Yet when I was a teen ager I thought  I was all I needed.

Loving Dad has been a lifelong affair. It was the same with him and his Dad.  Mom loved unconditional from the start but I made the old man proove his love. I wasn't the kind of lover my family was.  They were generous with love whereas I only loved so much. Dad did the dance with me.  All the way.  Me saying that I love you, I don't.  I'd phone and he'd answer. I 'd visit and he'd be there. I thought alot it was on account of Mom but then one day he drove across Canada to be with me.  And then I got another inkling that I loved him.  Not only was he there when I went looking for him, he came and found me when he wanted to be with me. I realized when we were older he probably  wanted to be with me more but I was sometimes just too hard to be with.  My brother was more gracious that way though Mom told me they'd argued too.  Dad was the kind of man who you could argue with, slam the door on and come back to, and he'd be there, ready to take up where we left off, ready to see you through whatever.  My dad was reliable.

He also had a sense of humor. Boy did he have a sense of humor!  I can still see him tickling Mom in the morning, playing with the dog and laughing with us kids.
We were the only kids in Fort Garry who had a turkey in our garage too.

It was fall when Dad brought the big Tom home.  Years later I'd raise turkeys so it doesn't come as a surprise to me to figure where that idea came from.
"What are we going to do with a turkey?" my mother asked.  She had a way of inflecting her voice so a question could be an accusation or a challenge.  Mom put volumes into the tone of her voice but Dad was a fast reader.
"I know how you like turkey for Thanksgiving." he said. And Thanksgiving was a favourite time for Mom. One of the celebrations.  Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, these were the family times of the calendar. She never forgot birthdays or anniversaries but the Biblical times of the year had a special significance.  We always had a big turkey, mashed potatoes, yams and corn or pees.  Dad loved the mashed potatoes with gravy. As kids we loved the turkey.
But this was a real live big bird, a squawking big bird in the middle of suburbia.
"Thanksgiving's not for months."
"I know, I'm going to feed him and fatten him up."
"In the garage."
"Well I'm not cleaning up after him."
"The boys will do that. They can keep him. It will be good for them. Like 4H. "  That's the first we heard about this.
Mom figured the turkey would last a week but Dad was adament he was going to raise the bird till Thanksgiving. Ron and I fed the bird. Mom never went to garage after that.  She'd hardly gone to that garage before and certainly didn't go when there was a great big turkey in there.
Turkey's poop alot.  A lot.  A real lot. Soon the garage was covered with white poop. Turkeys shed too , feathers every where. They chuck their seeds about as well and squawk more than they gobble.  They do gobble but it's the louder salutations that make them indiscrete.
The squawking and shreiking bothered Dad some.  The law said you couldn't keep fowl or livestock in city limits. Mom would tell Dad that the authorities would catch on to his keeping a big bird in the garage especially if it kept squawking. There was simply no way to convince the bird that 'calling for help' was likely to back fire as the more noise the bird made the more Dad was faced with slaughtering it sooner.
Every day and every week the turkey was near and nearer to death's door. Now all this was going on in a quaint little suburb of Winnipeg with all the genteel sensibility city folk have about being somehow superior to their antecedents. When later I'd work as a country doctor I'd realize the utter hypocricy of the city and know what difficulties Dad laboured with often. The turkey and his desire that his family should live healthy in reality was a time of great exasperation for him but he muddled on against rising odds.
I grew to like the turkey and considered him a rather tragic figure.   Ron and I even began to talk to Dad about killing him.
"I didn't get him so we could have a pet," Dad said.  But that didn't change the matter that we boys weren't looking forward to eating this bird that was fast becoming part of the family. As children we were encountering the limits of 'emotional reasoning' and how veritably this can cause a collective psychosis called the 'city'. Eating only truly okay if it was done in a dissociative trance, as a 'mechanical robotic' activity.  Dad was encouraging us to have a 'relationship with what we ate'.  Mom with her gardening had cured us of 'attitude' when it came to lettuce or carrots but Dad was doing his best to raise our consciousness regarding life in general.   Later I'd meet kids who couldn't eat carrots out of the ground even because they didn't come in a package.  I remember these city kids I took camping looking at me aghast when I ate raspberries off the vine.  I can't imagine what they would have thought of the big Tom that Dad kept in the garage, fattening up for Thanksgiving.
I 'd bring my friends  over after school.  Not many, because Dad didn't want anyone talking about the turkey. That made it the 'big secret".  But I had to tell Kirk and Kirk and then Garth and they had to see the turkey. And Scott had to too and maybe Keith. Frankly I don't remember how many other kids saw the Turkey.  I guess maybe a dozen kids were in on the "secret" just because of me. Ron showed the turkey to some of his friends too.  For all I know Mom even got in on showing the turkey. I know Dad showed the turkey to a couple of men.  The bird's squawking tended to make the neighbours curious.  Surprisingly, but reflective of the "community" of those days, no one called the 'authorities'.  People were respectful and neighbourly but the bigger the turkey, the louder it's squawks and the longer it was held captive in that garage the more eyebrows were raised.  Dad and Mom were talking more and more about the turkey the closer Thanksgiving came.
The garage was dark. When the door was opened the turkey sometimes tried to flee past to the outdoors and light.  It's not surprising without other turkeys about all it had to think about was plotting it's escape.   This caused me to have a turkey bash me in the chest more than once. The turkey was about three quarters of my size and the claws were fierce.  I almost lost the turkey outside one of the times I showed it to Kirk.  I took both of us kids all we had to keep the turkey from getting out in the yard.
In the garage it mostly just perched on the boat looking at us but sometimes it would get up in the rafters.  It was not a happy turkey by any means.  Since then having raised turkeys I can say they're not a particularly happy lot in general as birds go, dumber than most in fact, but this turkey as my memory goes was a particularly unhappy turkey.
I don't know how Dad killed it.  Maybe Ron was there.  I think it happened in the garage because there was an awful mess to clean up.  I can't remember if I was part of the plucking too. I did the plucking on the ducks we shot but this was different. I was attached to the turkey.  Dad was upset with me for all my sentimentality too.
Mom wasn't happy cooking that bird either. Thanksgiving that year was a very solemn affair.   Here was this big bird and all of us hungry but only Dad happy with eating his bird. He'd grown up on a farm and eating the family and neighbours was just what farming was all about.  City kids were aliens raised on cellophane and secrets they did to things in supermarkets and restaurants.  So my brother Ron and I just picked at the bird. Mom was fine with the bird, always having a healthy appetite and appreciating healthy food but unhappy now with us and blaming Dad for messing with her Thanksgiving.
Somehow we ate the turkey eventually. The cranberry sauce helped. Dad insisted. Mom was grim too.  The potatoes and gravy never tasted better. I was glad though I didn't throw up.
The next day when the turkey had been sanctified by refrigeration we had it in sandwiches.  Then it tasted so good. Mom was happy we were happy. Dad was redeemed.
"So you like the turkey, eh?" he said, more than once. We agreed at last.  Later I'd remember that was the best turkey I've ever tasted in my life. And today I can still savour the memory.

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