Monday, March 29, 2010

A long and rambling blog post about nothing and everything.

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My dad, Terrence Mathews, circa 1970, mugging for the camera.



My Father died on December 3rd, 1985, when I was nine years old.

To most, losing a parent in childhood is a certain tragedy, but now almost twenty-five years later, this event has become something far less emotional.  It is a fact of my life.  I have black hair, Ukrainian roots, like books, have one sibling, and have spent more than two-thirds of my life without the presence of my father. 

There are very few occasions now, where I feel obliged to reflect on his absence from my life.  To have grown up without  him is simply what I know.  The anniversary of his death passes pretty quietly, with only the silent observation of the events that took place years before.  Usually it involves a quick calculation to figure out how many years it has been since he passed from this life…. there have been too many of them now to keep track of.

Sometimes though,  I am startled to feel the unfamiliar fingers of grief grasp hold of me.  Sometimes there is a sense of longing that overtakes me when I think that the parent, whose bequest to me is one half of my genetic makeup,  is no longer.  Usually these pangs coincide with momentous events in my life:

The death of my grand-mother Violet, his mother.

My wedding day.

The birth of my children, and especially that of my first son, Malachi Terence, who was named after his grand-father. (Spelling errors aside.)

At those times, I was surprised to feel his loss so keenly.  To wish he too could share in the joy and sorrow of my life.  I wondered what he would think of me as an adult.  Would he be disappointed?  Proud?  Would he like my husband?  What would he think of my children?  

When my dad’s sister, my Auntie June who lives in Barbados, sent me this photo via email the other
day, I regretted so strongly that I don’t know more about my dad.  The memories I have of him, are scant and pretty fuzzy around the edges.  Most of my opinions of him are formed and shaped by what I learn of him from others.  You would think that my mom would have her own stories to tell, but to be perfectly honest, memory of the past has never been a strength for her, and usually I feel like I remember more of my childhood than she does.

And so I depend on my dad’s remaining siblings, and the friends of his I know, who even now, still talk about him like they just lost him yesterday.  I hear about how funny he was.  About the goofy tricks he used to play, and how he was always the life of the party.  He was completely charming and a friend to all.  I know that he was also especially particular about how we presented ourselves to the world.  Aside from the color-blindness that often made for some poor clothing choices, he was immaculate in his appearance and expected the same from his wife and children, and had very high standards for our home.  With those expectations however, was a deep sense of graciousness and hospitality.  Guests were treated like royalty in our home, and we entertained often and well, my mom’s lack of memory being more than made up for by her amazing talent in the kitchen.  Above all of these things, no one doubted either the place God had in my dad’s life, or in our home. 

With all I have heard about him over the years, I do know there is this tendency we have to esteem someone who we have lost so highly.  To place them on a pedestal, to gloss over their short-comings, and ignore the fact that they were human and had faults.  Often times, this is how I feel about my dad when I hear others say things about him like, “ He was the best man I ever knew.”  “ He was my best friend.”, and so I often temper what I hear about him, with what I know was also real.

He was a little bit of a black sheep.  (Or maybe “brown” sheep would be more appropriate in this instance.)  He didn’t always conform to the expectations placed upon him, and he sometimes made choices that I’m sure those that knew him, and loved him, would have questioned.   Because I too have felt this way in my life, it is this side of my father that intrigues me the most.

While I love hearing all the memories others have of who my dad was, what I wish more than anything is that I could have known him for myself.  To understand the world as he saw it.  To hear about the events, circumstances, thoughts and feelings of his life in his own voice.  I would love to know what it felt like to be an immigrant in a new country.  What it was like for him to stand out amongst his new peers simply because of the shade of his skin.  I wish I knew what it was about my mom (aside from the fact that she was a stunning beauty) that drew him to her, especially when in those days inter-racial dating was rare and not particularly well-received.  I wish he had left something more tangible for me to hold on to, than memories which fade into obscurity. Occasionally when I come across a note or letter, document bearing even a snippet of his own elegant handwriting, or see a photograph I have never seen before, (like the one above, of him being his trademark goofball self) I feel linked to him across these many years.  It helps me to understand who he was, and oddly, who I am also.

Lately I have been researching my family’s history on Ancestry.com.  It is absolutely fascinating to me to trace my roots back centuries and centuries to times and places in history I have only heard of.  My maternal grandfather’s family has roots in the United States right back into the pilgrim days, and before that I have traced our bloodlines in England all the way back to the 13th Century… in fact right back to the year 1200 A.D.   These people have lived through some of the most formative times in history.   Through the years of the great Kings and Queens.  Through countless wars.  Through the discovery of a new land, and the pilgrimage to make a new life for themselves. 

As I discover where and when my family came from, I wish, as I do with my own father, I could know them too.  What was life like for them?  Where they poor or rich?  Earls or peasants?  What was their passage to America like?  What did they think about new world?  What part did they play in the United States’ dark history of slavery?

Realizing that I have so many questions, most of them unanswerable, has led me to some clarity about the place keeping a blog has in my life.  I have kept a journal my entire life, so blogging was a natural transition for me.  But I have always struggled with what to say, how much of myself to expose and if I should keep the blogs I have (three!) as separate entities, or merge them into one.   (Changes forth-coming.)

What I have realized in thinking about my dad and all I know and don’t know about him, and the new discoveries I have made about my ancestry, which has actually presented more questions than it has answered, has made me feel like I want to document my life with honesty.  I am very aware that there is nothing particularly special about my existence (to exist at all is pretty special in itself, non?).  I have not done anything note-worthy, deserving years or centuries of memorial.  But knowing that I myself yearn for the connection that comes with the revelation of the everyday thoughts, struggles and joys of those that have come before me, I feel obligated to leave something on record for those that are coming after. 

And so, I have discovered, this is why I blog.  For my children and theirs.  For generations to come. To preserve the history of our family.

My hope is that in being faithful to this endeavor that I will also have done something for myself.

8 comments:

Gavan Brown said...

Great post wife. Makes me realize that I have to start some sort of blog. We are the first generation in history who's able to keep a complete log whatever they do constantly. When looked back on in a thousand years, we will might be seen as the beginning of modern "internet" history.

Anonymous said...

love the pic! i want to know your dad too... great blog girlfren !

Mike said...

Your blog has been recommended to us as a interviewee's favorite blog!

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The Zhush said...

What is special about you, is clearly your writing...your lucky chilren, can you imagine!? Yes! Exactly...a link, and how well they will really "know" you! Perfect.

Lanita Larson said...

I keep looking at that picture and wonder if the lady in the back in the green dress is my mom. It looks so much like her. Do you know where the picture was taken?

sharmilla said...

Hi Lanita! It very well could be your mom. This photo was taken in Edmonton I think, but I know it was at Wilf and Bernice Stroud's wedding. Let me know if you find out if she was there. I would love to know who some of the other faces in this photo are.

Lanita Larson said...

I found out that the lady is not my mom. I do know that the man standing by the guy holding a camera to his eye is William Anderson and the lady standing beside him in the white dress looks like Joan Hoogers.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. Sharmilla your dad was funny and charming and a fine man. Nice you have some good memories of him and are even finding out more. Sandi Olson

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