Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Bag Gets Lighter.....

Houston, Texas. My father lives here. I never planned to visit Houston; in fact, it was the last place on earth I ever would have gone. But, for reasons I cannot yet fathom, I changed my mind and my carefully planned itinerary, and took a long detour and drove to Houston.

I was born and raised in Chicago, but spent a good part of my “formative” years in Houston. You know, the really pleasant teenage years….bad cloths, loud music, rebellious. I was a willful and stubborn kid. Its possible I had some positive qualities too…they were just hard to come by given my preoccupation with asserting my independence and wearing a sort of “smarty-pants” attitude on my sleeve. No doubt it was a real challenge living with me. But the real problem in our household is that there were two of us…nearly mirror images of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Physically, I look more like my mother, but I think and act a lot more like my Dad. As sure as the sun rises every morning, there would be a clash between my Dad and me. “A clash" is of course an understatement, friction eventually came to define our relationship. As the child, I was the recipient of my Dads often harsh and immovable positions. At the ripe old age of 17, I packed up my bag of hurts and left home. I finished high school, became a single mother and put my self through college…all the while stoking my internal drive with the mantra of “I can do this...he'll see”. I was hoping to earn some love and respect.

Fast-forward 30 years. I now have a great family of my own, my career took off, I live in a charming town in New England, I traveled all over the world, and have a circle of friends whose company I truly enjoy. I love my life. The only thing that has slowed me down is the weight of that damn bag of hurts I keep dragging with me. It actually got a bit heavier over the years. Over a relatively short period of time, I lost my mother, my younger sister Cindy and one of my older sisters, Linda. I stuffed all that tragedy in the bag too. I keep that old ugly bag mostly hidden away in some dark corner of my soul. I think no one knows about the bag...but I'm not so sure.

I wasn’t sure what I would find once I got to Houston. I hadn’t been back in over 5 years. Silly me, I was even a bit nervous. For moral support, I called a few of my old friends who still live there and made plans to visit with them. I even looked up a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years and also made plans for a visit. As I drive down the street where I used to live so many years ago, I thought the place looked great. The trees were much bigger, lawns and gardens more mature…it was all very pleasant. I made my way to the cul-de-sac where I saw my Dad waiting for me. I was pulling the trailer and he was there to help guide me up the driveway (hopefully without taking out a mailbox or tree). My Dad looked the same, yet different. He was older….86 years old now. He’d had back surgery a couple of years ago, which didn’t do much to alleviate his back problems, and he limped a bit. Time was marching on for my Dad. As I considered this, I realized time is marching on for me too, and my time with my Dad. He walked me through the house and the yard. A hurricane had recently visited its wrath on Houston, and we surveyed how well his property had survived…a few branches down, and part of a fence in ruins, not bad, not too bad at all. When we went into the house, well that was another story. It looked like the hurricane had hit the inside, with a vengeance. It hadn’t, my Dad just doesn’t like to waste his time on housekeeping. A vacuum cleaner stood in the middle of the family room as testament to an attempt to tidy up a bit. My Dad opened the door to a spare bedroom for me to use and then winked at me and said “this was your room, wasn’t it”…yes, indeed. Memories flooding in like the falls I’d seen in Yellowstone several weeks earlier.

Dad, Tony and Family 10/2008

I won’t take you through a blow by blow of my visit. I was only going to stay 3 days, and I stayed a week. I found a mission in returning my Dad’s home to some sort of order (I’ll admit, this required professional assistance). My husband Scott, flew to Houston to join me and was promptly put to work on mending fences. My Dad delighted in all the fuss. I got him his first cell phone..he loved it as he loves all new gadgets. We had dinner with my sister Linda’s son Tony, his wife and children. My Dad hadn’t seen Tony in quite some time, so it was a bit of a reunion…for all of us. I met with some of my Dad’s friends and watched as he held court, taking center stage and entertaining everyone…something that used to drive me nuts as a kid, I now found pleasantly endearing. One evening, as we sat on the sofa to watch TV, I observed that his favorite things to watch were also mine….science, nature and the arts. What started out as mission or obligation, unexpectedly became a labor of love.

I spent some time visiting with my old friends. Whether we were reminiscing about the past or talking about the here and now, it was as though the years disappeared and our camaraderie was as easy today as it was 20 years ago. I was having a really good time, my first in many, many years in Houston. Thank you Barbara, Kelly, and guys are great!

During my last night, I talked (and laughed) with my Dad until 3AM. It was unquestionably the best conversation I ever had in my life, with anyone. It was filled with the really important things; our life together as a family and our relationship, the will to leave a lasting legacy, the importance of friends and being the best person you can possibly be. Forgiveness and generosity in all things were visited...frequently. It was honest, raw and filled with the wisdom and reflection of two people who have walked many paths, too often without each others company. I will never forget our talk, not in all my days.

When the time came to leave, I dawdled about…finding things to do to delay my departure. The truth was, I didn’t want to go. Still, I packed up the car, kissed my Dad goodbye and pulled out of the driveway. I looked at him in the rearview mirror and saw a man that I loved and respected….he was always there, I just never looked with my eyes completely open before.

I checked in on the old bag of hurts, it weighs a lot less….


Anonymous said...

It's a blessing to realize you really can put down that big bag of hurts and re-invent relationships as needed. Seeing people as they are seems simple enough, but... . I've shared such moments with both my mother, didn't have the chance with my father as he died at only 55 years of age, and I think I am having this type of experience with my nearly 20 year old son.

Thanks for sharing this.

Steve said...

Great post Kathy. My father moved out of New England down to Florida a long time ago and our relationship has never really been the same. This post inspired me to do something about that!

The PharmaSherpa said...

Great posting, Kathy. Kudos on lightening your load.