Tuesday, March 8, 2016
This is a picture of my dad playing the ukulele. I suppose he learned to play in the serrvice - he served in the 1960's in Guam. He was an officer in the Navy, and he made some of the best friends of his life there. They were the Drones Club, pulled from P.G. Wodehouse's books. He talked of golf and cocktails, exotic trips and movies. For all my life with him, I knew about his Navy buddies. Christmas cards yearly and a few face-to-face meetings. Later in life, I learned more about his time there as we found letters and notes he had written home and left for these friends, My sister, living in Japan at the time, traveled to Guam on vacation not long after my dad died. She wrote a letter to one of the Navy friends and asked him the places they had gone, the views she should see. We all so despearately wanted to feel like there was still a way to connect to my dad. He wrote back, and sent letters Dad had sent him. He sent mementos from the Drone's Club. We sat and read them all.
My dad played the ukulele. He played on the front porch on summer nights. He played at the kitchen table where we sat every night and ate dinner together. He sang too. I remember Sweet Betsy from Pike, Sloop John B and Goodnight, Irene. We would sing and giggle. The lightning bugs would flicker. Cats in the shadows would slink under the fence, into the pasture and stalk their prey. Mom would sit and rock in the chair, her cigarette just an orange orb in the night. Bedtime soon followed and we were all tucked in, light left on please. I didn't like the shadows and how different the room looked in the dark.
When we were cleaning out my parent's house after mom went to the nursing home, we found a lot of cameras. Dad liked picutres and video. He is seldom in vacation or holiday pictures because he was the cameraman. One of the last things I remember we all chipped in to get him for Christmas was a digital camera. This picture was on the camera we found. My sister had them developed. There were pictures of my children as babies, toddlers, primary school scholars. There was also this picture of dad, playing the ukulele. We bought him a new one for Christmas. His old one was out of tune, beat up. He played for his grandchildren. We sang along, and our childten didn't know what to think.
What I love most about this picture is that it is not just a picture of my dad. This is a picture of a time, a place, a way of life. I see that kitchen from my childhood home and know I will never find another place like that. I would walk in the back door, and there would be the kitchen table - the same one where dad played the ukulele and read Little Orphan Annie to us. The same one where my mom sat alone after dad died, and did her sudoku puzzles, even when she didn't remember how to play and just filled in every square with fives or twos. Behind dad in the picture is the clock he bought in Japan that would chime the hour. That kitchen holds so many echoes of talk, and laughter and singing. Some of it is happy, and some is sad. I watched a show the other night and a child explained heaven as the place where each person was happiest. For me, it has to be in the house I grew up in, my parents at the kitchen table, the soft murmur of their voices while I lay in bed, searching for sleep.
This blog is called Muse of Reading, so here's the book. Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase. It is the story of a British family who visit their Cornish estate in the summer. In the summer of 1968 when Amber, the narrator is 14, a tragedy occurs. The book is two stories - Amber's and Lorna's, who has visited Black Rabbit hall in present day and wishes to have her wedding there. The plot was predictable for the most part, but I really didn't care because the writiing was so beautiful and real that I couldn't seem to get enough. I loved the Gothic setting - the crumbling old house with hidden secrets -but in the end what I really remember is the story of a a family and a time and a place. A way of life. The ending of the story certainly brought a sense of closure to the characters. Amber's and Lorna's stories combine in a satisfying way. But the end of their stories is not the end of the book. Chase includes one more short chapter, and in it captures the timelessness of all stories, the ubiquitous neverending story that each of us face. I very much enjoyed this book, and the final chapter ensured for me a universally pleasing theme - the very fleeting nature of life and the beauty and sadness that intertwine to become who we are and what we remember.
So like I said, call me morose. I contend that in the end, we are all just people looking for those times and places that cannot be forgotten, that are the core of who we are. These moments of people, places, things - a kitchen, a ukulele, a clock, my parents - are often more of who I am than are the clothes I wear or the titles I hold in life.