I walked along the mountain river this evening in the dusk, the almost full moon behind me tapping me on the shoulder with each step I took. The water gurgled softly. I reached the place where a small stream tumbled wildly and loudly down huge boulders and rock outcroppings into the river. The sound of the rushing water overcame the gentle murmur of the old river. Youth and age, I thought. I am no longer young- yet, yet… There is such a bittersweet longing.
When I turned to go back, a soft mist had settled on the river and across the banks like a wispy bridal veil woven together by the evening whispers of wind. The mountains rose around. The moon shone brighter. My heart swelled with sorrow and gratitude. Sorrow that in twenty-one days it will be forty years since my beloved father died. My gratitude washed over my sorrow like butter on a warm finger swiping a taste, gratitude that I am still alive and have so much beauty around me, that I can see it, that I can hear the birds sing, cherish the early spring breeze, treasure my sweet family. So far, I have lived three years more than he. I notice the wild Rockets blooming along the river bank in the fading light, their petals mirroring the moon. My Papa is the one that taught me the wonders of nature.
I was 30 years old reeling from the suddenness of his death and grieving that my three small children would not get to scamper through the woods with him marveling at every tree and mushroom, not see how busy he always was, not see how he helped people, anyone that needed help, not hear the stories of his youth in the Pennsylvania countryside. I had his strength, his energy, and years of living ahead. And now, forty years have passed and I still miss him every day. How is it that the love of a good parent can never be replaced no matter how many other kinds of love come along?
It perplexes me, that I, long grown and so long without him, still deeply miss him. Can we be fully adult if we still long for our parent? And I a parent myself. Sometimes I find myself dwelling in the sadness of knowing I can no longer remember the sound of his voice, the depth of his eyes, his laugh. How I could forget I do not know; but, then, neither can I remember my babies’ first laugh, the sounds of their first words. I do remember the dimple in his chin having studied it often with fascination as a child even though I had one myself. I remember his strong hands, his digging in the garden and sifting the dirt to get out the rocks, his integrity about his work. Perhaps, the voice like notes of music is too effervescent to be held in memory.
I once had a lover that was the age my father was when he died. I thought about it at the time and think of it now- oddly, strangely. Did my father, my mother and he estranged for many years, long for a lover? In my youth, it never occurred to me. There are so many things I never knew about him that I would talk to him about if I had another chance. The not knowing of so much of him is another piece of the sadness and longing that is nestled in my heart. When we are young we are like a coppiced tree not knowing which way to grow new branches. When we are old we have grown our branches and reached to the sun but some of our branches became brittle and fell along the way.
I cannot believe it has been forty years since my dear Papa died.