I dreamed last night that my brother came to my house to go through mom’s stuff with me again. All the smaller items, like rings and sorority pins and my grandfather’s garnet ring, with the garnet separated from the setting, weren’t in their respective boxes where mom used to keep them–and where I keep them still.
She kept my dad’s fraternity pins in a separate box along with his 1928 USC college ring with his name, Don, engraved on the inside. I started to wear the ring about a month ago. In the dream my brother wanted my dad’s ring. I was distraught.
When I awoke, I felt for the ring on my finger and was relieved–and a little guilty. I don’t think he wants the ring, and he certainly wouldn’t wear it. But I felt selfish. There are still feelings around the loss of our father.
I was 14 months old and my brother was six when our father died in his sleep of a heart attack. My brother’s last memory of him was under a sheet on a gurney leaving the house.
They used to play together, throw the ball on the “green” where we lived and at Christmas they ran a train under the tree. My brother has painted railroad scenes through much of his life. He is one of three people who still remembers my father, including my 96-year-old aunt, and a cousin.
I have one photo of our family. My father is sitting on his haunches, holding me on his knee, looking at me. My mother is behind him smiling at someone to her left. My brother and I are also looking off to the left. I’m not sure who had captured our attention, but for that moment I had captured my father’s attention.
Mom was stricken when he died. She didn’t know how to relate to my grief because I was a baby, but she related to my brother because he remembered his father. Whether or not I consciously remembered, I’ve missed him my whole life.
I also missed my mother. When a parent dies, the child often loses the surviving parent to grief. With three months she remarried and moved us to a new city.
The family was stunned by her decision. Her brother told her to take her time. But she didn’t. We saw our maternal grandmother once or twice a year but the stepfather didn’t like us to spend time with my father’s family. My aunt, my dad’s sister, was mad at mom for five decades for taking us away.
I didn’t know what I was going to do to support you, she rationalized.
Their mothers knew each other. He was a high school friend. He said he would love you.
I tried to understand her decision. My father’s death cast mom into uncertainty and fear. She had been out of the workforce for seven years. At the onset of the Depression she quit college to support her mother and brother. She married in 1935, but worked until she was pregnant with my brother in 1941. My father was making enough money as a dentist to support the family. Her job at the Broadway Department stores was the last job mom ever held, except for volunteer work. When my dad died seven years later, the new slacks he planned to wear to the grand opening of his children’s dental practice hung in the closet. They owned a sailboat and property overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
But he didn’t leave enough to support her children.
I interviewed potential babysitters, but none were suitable, she said.
Instead, she left us with the stepfather.
I thought God sent him, she wrote in a letter to me in her late 80s. I still do, she added.
But if God sent the stepfather to her, what did that say about us? I would ponder.
I won’t completely understand until I stand before Whomever I get to talk to on the other side and I can ask, “Really? What was that all about?”
What I knew growing up was that my father wasn’t there to protect me from the man “God sent.” Nor was my mother.
It took a lifetime to find her and nearly as long to forgive her. My forgiveness worked itself out by taking care of mom and in the end, we found each other.
As for my father, I never found him…except in the small things left behind. The one photo of the family, his journal of their trip east, his dental college notes, business cards in a leather case, a marble inkwell. Small treasures that link me to him. But the ring I now wear reminds me that he, not the stepfather, was the man God sent.