The Memory That Holds Sorrow at Bay
“A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.” Phyllis Diller
We had several family gatherings over the holidays, part of which was spent in Calgary with my dad. We were either at his house or my sister’s or out at his favourite Greek restaurant. When we gathered, a family that used to number five, could now be up to seventeen. It is during these times, mostly, but not solely, he often leans over to me and asks, “Where is she?”
When he presses and I have no other choice, I say. “You know, Dad.”
“Mom is gone.”
I see the grief rise in his eyes, his face collapse. It’s as though I’m giving him this news for the first time, every time. And the broken man he was eight years ago when my mother died is stumbling again, wondering how this could have happened, how he wasn’t there to protect her, how could he forget she was gone.
“Dad, aside from the last few times she was in the hospital, there was only one other time Mom wasn’t by your side. So if she’s not here, it’s because she’s gone. Right?”
He doesn’t bother to look at me. He’s somewhere else trying to figure out where she might be. “Maybe she’s at the store,” he says. “Or the neighbours.”
“Remember Dad, there was only one other time she wasn’t home.”
He shakes his head.
“Remember when she had to do jury duty?”
He stares at something behind me and I wonder if she is there or if he sees her. “The jury couldn’t come up with an agreement on whether the defendant was guilty or not so they were sequestered for the night in a hotel. Mom went to the security guard who was watching over the members of the jury: ‘I have to go home,’ she said”
My dad begins to recognize the story, turns towards me, waiting for the punch line.
“’I’m sorry,’ the security guard told her, ‘you have to stay here for the night.’ Mom then told him she had to go home to take care of her husband. ‘He can’t take care of himself.’”
Dad begins to smile now. “Oh, that woman. She was right. I could never take care of myself without her.”
“Then what did the security guard tell her?” I ask my dad.
“’Your husband is going to have to take care of himself for one night’,” my dad says and laughs. His memory reignited, his sorrow held at bay, his world set straight for now.
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