As he walked home from the bus, a neighbour opened her door to call to him.
"Has the baby arrived, Jim"?
"Yes", he said, pausing for effect. "It's a female"..........
That was my introduction to the neighbourhood. He liked to repeat that short story over the years, grinning at the face I would make, knowing that he had redeemed himself many times since that first day in his role as my Dad. Perhaps he really did want a son, or maybe he just wanted to recreate the loving relationship he had with his father. But as years went by, he was the first to tell anyone who would listen how happy he was to have had a daughter as his first-born. Actually, he never did get that son, with another daughter arriving five years later. He seemed pretty darned happy about that too. An understatement. He was thrilled.
I grew up loving my Dad in so many ways. He was a kind, gentle father. He was always trying to tell me how to do stuff, better, as if he wanted to save me the frustration of doing it wrong. He would always listen, to anything I was willing to share. Then he would give me his opinion and advice. I rarely admitted I was listening, and I seldom followed his advice, unless it involved painting or fixing things or jazz. I think he knew I had to try everything my way. Dad was a curious man, and seemed to have a lot of knowledge tucked away, and even into his 90's we would all be amazed at what he knew and remembered.
Dad's goal was to teach me everything he would have taught a son. I painted walls and fences, from the age of about 5. I hammered, drilled, soldered, measured, refinished, and peered over his shoulder as he rewired some old lamp that refused to light. I often wondered about the chicken/egg aspect of my mechanical aptitude. We were both lucky, I think. To this day, as I try to fix something or paint the house I smile as I hear him telling me how to get it just right.
Dad loved to tell stories. Most famous in his arsenal were the army motorcycle stories. They were meant to entertain, shock, scare and otherwise warn his daughters away from ever riding one. Boyfriends, on the other hand, were told about the joy of riding fast down a highway on an old green Harley.
One story my dad would pull out to impress us was about the time he took a lesson in gliding - yes, in a plane with no motor. Surprising, for dad, because he really wasn't a daredevil or a risk taker (he wouldn't even try mustard because he thought it was hot). His happy memory of the lesson might just have had something to do with the infamous "Sunny" - the instructor shown in the inset photo. This must have been in the 60's. and I guess she was pretty... hot... as he used to tell the captive listeners. I found these pictures last year, in an album I must have missed all those years ago. I was surprised to see that she was indeed very lovely, and that the plane did exist. He wasn't above a bit of exaggeration when it suited him....
He was also famous for laughing at his own jokes - there was some rare Australian bird joke that would make him cry from laughing as he tried to get to the punch line, which never did happen. It was always the hit of every party - not the joke, just watching him laugh. He had a love of life that kept him young at heart in many ways. He loved to get goofy with his granddaughters, until they were too old to play along. He never completely lost the little boy inside.
Last week as I madly re-photographed all of my felt bowls in the glorious sunshine, I thought of him. Dad had an old Nikon and for many years he belonged to a camera club in Winnipeg. My sister and I were the grudging models for many of his assignments, ditto the dog and every still-life object in the house. It got him out into nature, and many of his best pictures were from that realm. Memories....the lower the f-stop number, the wider the aperture, the shorter the depth of field, he would say, as I tried to master the all-manual camera. I still find myself chanting this mantra as I fight with light. Think of it as a tunnel, long or short...narrow or wide. Memories.
As Father's Day approaches, I want to acknowledge the legacy of my Dad. Everyone had a Jimmy story, and everyone who met him in his later years, who didn't really know him at all, still commented on what a "gentleman" he was, how interested he was in what they had to say. He loved people, and people loved him. And of all the photos I have of Dad, this is what reminds me of him the most. Relaxing in the sun, letting the hustle of a busy world pass him by.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
Rain and knitting are better partners than rain and peonies. Vancouver and the Lower Mainland has been deluged over the last few days with winter-like rains. Cold temperatures too. Makes me want to pick up wool and needles and get busy, which is good.... However, my peonies are falling down like tired soldiers, legs too weak to hold up their heavy, rain-sodden heads. I feel the need to rescue them to a vase where I can revel in the fragrance and colour. Lose/win.
Yesterday I was working on a photo shoot of some newly completed felted bowls (a few posted on the felt page). The perfume of this beauty found its way across the room, begging me to record its short but stunning life before it began to wilt. I think this was the best photo of the day, hands down. Wool can't compete with the colour, subtle shading and velvet-soft petals of a peony. Growing up in Winnipeg, this was one of the first summer blooms to arrive, just after the spring lilacs. After the long winter, the peonies would reclaim their dominance over the garden, an amazing feat, in my mind. How could any plant come back year after year, braving the harsh climate? I remember my grandma arriving for Sunday dinner, bouquet of peonies in hand. They would be draped over the edge of the kitchen sink, waiting for the last of the tiny ants to exit their blossom home. I later found out that without ants, peony blossoms won't open. Is that why the small buds on a clipped stem don't change? Fascinating.
Amy dropped by as I was taking pictures. She was pretty impressed with Jon's light-box creation. She snapped this picture with her iPhone.
I think I am a better knitter than photographer. That being said, I have never been one to shy away from a challenge, and I am determined to make my product photos look as good as the real thing. So far, I have mastered peonies. Still working on bowls....
I hope to guilt Jill into helping me.
We are off to see Steve Earle tonight, so in preparation for the evening, he will be blasting out of the stereo all day today. He has a memorable stage presence... unimpressed with our ardour, honest in his stories about his life, talented beyond belief... like a favourite pair of boots. Toes a bit worn from kicking too many curbs, lots of creases and scuffs, but better with age than any new pair could ever be. Sorry Steve! Can't wait to see you!