“I have traveled extensively in Concord, Massachusetts.” –Henry David Thoreau
This is the first of his birthdays since May 29, 1930 that my father will not himself be present to celebrate. We are having another memorial of sorts. How fitting that his birthday often falls on Memorial Day. Though not a Jewish family–or so we have been led to believe–we have borrowed and slightly altered a Jewish tradition: We light candles next to a photo of our family members on the days of their birth, rather than the day of their passing. We borrow, in slightly altered form, the yahrzeit candle tradition of reverence and love.
Today I lit a candle by a photo of my parents together, earnestly hoping (“very superstitious,” I know) that this would bring no harm to my healthy, youthful mother. No sooner had I left the house, than I remembered that I had turned off every light at home, but forgotten to blow out the candle. Ironically, I was with a friend who lost her home to a house fire caused by a similar seemingly harmless act. We had a quick whispered discussion, and decided that since it was a tea light in a tea light holder, my home was probably safe for a short while.
I have been sleepless and obsessed, searching through photos of my father to bring to our family dinner tonight. It hasn’t been easy. I have no photo quality printer at home, and have no printed photos from later than the year 2004. My hope was to find one of him with each of his two children and five grandchildren. Almost every photo of my father is with my mother. He was not only a faithful, but an adoring, husband. Perhaps he took his adoration to an extreme, but my mother never minded. Nor did she complain about the last six years of being homebound with him. Though exhausted and sad, she did not even complain much about the weeks in surgical suites, months visiting a rehabilitation center, and finally, long days in the hospital room. At the very end, she crept into his hospital bed and sang him to sleep.
My father was a fortunate man, who had no need to look far for happiness and pleasure. The little goslings wandering across a field were his great joy while in the rehabilitation center. At home he loved “all creatures great and small.” He was overjoyed by the sight of birds at the feeder and even the (pesky!) deer eating the farmer’s crops and my mother’s flowers.
One of his best friends took his family on a sailing trip with an unknown destination and ended up in Tahiti for seven years. My father was quite content navigating his small sailboat back and forth across the lake closest to his home town. The world around him, the people with whom he lived and worked, were sufficient. A professor by profession, a devoted reader–especially to his children when they were small–a musician in earlier years, and music aficionado later, and lover and learner of foreign languages, he was content with a drawing his circle close.
When we were small, my father read great works of poetry and literature to us. Small-minded he was not. The literary works to which he introduced us were mostly selected according to his age and gender, so I became quite familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling,and Charles Dickens as a child. My brother’s favorite was Edgar Allen Poe. But I was also treated to Alice in Wonderland and My Secret Garden. It was my pleasure, later in life, to introduce him to The Chronicles of Narnia, and his favorite, A Wrinkle in Time.
If not visionary, my father was kind. If not entirely able to understand a growing and grown daughter, he was encouraging of her endeavors. Though he did not read his mother’s Bible, I have read it “in part.” And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity (Corinthians 13:13, KJV). Though unengaged in the maneuvers of “principalities and powers” (Romans 8:38), he embodied the values of faith, hope, and charity in his actions towards those close to him.
The poems from the Wind in the Willows were among our favorites when I was little. Ratty’s “Ducks’ Ditty,”with “Ducks’ Tails, Drakes Tails, Yellow feet a-quiver” was a special favorite. Just now, I looked up to see a rabbit slowly, casually hopping by. While I am a bit concerned that Cottontail is hopping around my one unfenced garden bed, father would have been delighted to see the little creature.
What a lovely tradition, to light a candle that way. May it bring only fond memories of the good times.