Today is the anniversary of my father’s death. It’s the fourth now so it doesn’t come with the same shock and trauma that the first did. I was born prior to birth control being a common phenomenon (why are you trying to send us back there, American Republicans???!) so my parents weren’t even legal to drink in the USA when I was born. I figured that would work in my favour in that I would be REALLY old before I had to experience the death of a parent.
My mother is cooperating! And my father did wait long enough that I had a number of friends who had already been through it so I had some reference points. As one of my friends said when I saw him shortly after the funeral, “welcome to the club no one wants to belong to.” But we discovered we were both wearing our father’s watches and it added one of those bizarre additional chunks of cement to our friendship.
From him – and others – I had learned that the toughest days were usually anniversaries – the anniversary of the day the person died, the parent’s birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, whatever family holidays where you expected the person to show up and wondered what was keeping them. The first year the Christmas presents were unwrapped and my dad wasn’t sitting in his chair was tough for everyone in the room. I think if we’d been a little smarter – and had better arts & crafts skills – we would have made a life size cardboard cut-out of one of his photos and propped it in the chair.
People will tell you consumerism is bad and objects are meaningless. Consumerism IS bad. And too many objects distract you and make you forget how important objects can be when purchased in the right way. The right way, people, is to think poor. Only a half century ago, even in the developed world, we didn’t have cheap labour in China (and Vietnam, Turkey, etc, etc). Goods cost a lot more – and local people made them. So people didn’t have a lot of objects. And when they chose them, they often saved up for years and bought something that would last for a long time.
My father came from that time – and taught me how to buy things. And the chair to which I am referring was one of those things. I don’t know if my father had a leather recliner when I was a very small child. I think he didn’t because he couldn’t afford it. My father spent his life doing jobs that required a lot of physical labour so when he came home, he wanted to sit in a comfy chair and read, watch some carefully chosen television, or talk to the rest of us. At some age that I was too young to recall clearly, that chair became a leather recliner.
In the fall of 2007, my mother noticed that my father’s recliner was on its last legs so she decided she wanted to get him a new one as a Christmas present. We wanted to get him something of the proper quality and it was going to be expensive so I said I would go together with her on the present. I wasn’t there to witness its arrival or see my dad sitting in his new chair but when he died, I immediately thought of it and said, “at least he had a few months to sit in his new chair.” I know he would have loved that new chair. A well-crafted leather recliner was one of his things…
When he died, I collected two of the expensive watches I gave him when I got old enough to afford such luxuries (he and I shared an obsession for quality when it came to watches and pens), a wool sweater I had bought him in Scotland on my first trip to Europe (still going strong 20 years later) and my favourite of the many caps I had given him. It was from my trip to Botswana – I put it on after I made my speech at his funeral introducing My Way – “if Ray was here today, this is what he would tell you”. The cap was one of my dad’s signatures – standing there wearing it while Frank sang as though he had known the inner workings of my dad’s mind was as close as I could come to reincarnating him for his adoring crowd.
So don’t believe it when people say objects have no value. Just don’t do all your shopping at Walmart or H&M. Find your objects. Develop a point of view. My father had caps, watches, a leather recliner. I have cashmere cardigans, show-stopping shoes and enormous leopard print throw pillows. My father taught me well… and I hope there will be purple balloons at my funeral… one for every year I made it through… a mix of helium and air… to distract people and cheer them up… that’s what we did for the hundreds who attended my dad’s funeral… but that’s a whole ‘nother story 🙂