I write this late Friday night, hoping it will greet you with your first cup of coffee or tea on Saturday morning. I have settled myself, quiet now, after a pre-birthday-party birthday party for my dearest friend Penny Thieme, she of the silver hair and the shining smile. Her original birthday party has been rescheduled due to weather and many of us cannot make the new date, so we gathered this evening, on her "real" birthday, to insure that she knows we love her. Now I am weary, but feeling content. Tomorrow, the family with whom my son and I socialized all through his childhood will come for their usual Christmas celebration with us. My heart lies with these people, these friends, these dear souls who cradle my heart and watch my back.
In addition to being Penny's 50th, today would have been my father's 91st. The feast of St. Stephen, two days after Christmas. When I think of my father, I think of forgiveness. I traded comments with a friend online yesterday, about the pain and passion we meld with our writing. "I have to censor my blog," I remarked. "One or two of my siblings sometimes read it, and I can't say too much about my childhood or my father." I watched the dialogue window, waiting for her reply. A minute or two ticked past, and finally her words appeared on the screen. "I understand," she said. A sense of connection flowed through me, a flood of unbridled joy.
But now I think of the events that never make it to the page, and I see my father's face, always in profile. He sits in the recliner in my parents' living room, in a short-sleeved shirt with a crossword puzzle in his hands. His head tilts slightly; the paper trembles; he carefully marks a row of letters and pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. I sit on the couch and watch his efforts. He seems unaware of my presence, even though I am just a half dozen feet away.
My mother comes into the living room with a cup of coffee and sits in her chair, which flanks the table next to my father. I have come for Sunday dinner, in my second semester of college. Only the two youngest children still live here but they ate in sullen, teenage silence and have slipped off to their room.
In a few minutes, I will have to go back to school, to the dorm room that my boss in the financial aids office pulled rank to get me, last September, when I quarrelled with my mother and she told me not to come home. Now we have an uneasy peace between us. She will run me back to the city, and we will speak, quietly, without rancor, for most of the trip.
My father finishes the puzzle and lays the paper on his little table. He crosses his legs, and suddenly looks at me. A ripple of tension flows between us. My mother is knitting but lets the piece drop to her lap. I hold my hands still and my shoulders straight. My father opens his mouth and tells me that he is proud of me. My blue eyes meet his; and I feel a kind of flutter in my chest that I cannot explain. My mother takes up her knitting again and the three of us sit for a while, with only the sound of the six o'clock news breaking the silence.
On the way back to school, my mother touches my arm. "He really is proud of you," she tells me. "And I am too." I face forward in the car, thinking about the time I refused to let my father take me to a Father-Daughter dance. When he asked if he could, if I wanted him to, I look at him with astonishment. "Why on earth would I do that?" I gasped, turning away oblivious to the cost he might pay for my candor. In the car, driving down Kingshighway Boulevard, the rush of evening traffic surrounding us, I tell this story to my mother. "What I don't understand," I say, with a hollow voice, "is why he thinks it matters whether he's proud of us, after everything he put us through." We lapse back into silence as the siren of a passing squad car slices the brittle cold of the winter air.
Someone to whom I am close recently admitted to me that she'd had difficulties in her childhood. A raging, alcoholic mother. "But nothing as bad as what your dad did," she quickly added. I assured her that there was no competition, that the degree of chaos in my childhood had no bearing on how difficult it might be for her to move past her own pain. She asked me if I had forgiven my father for the abuse he levied on my mother, my siblings and me. I did not hesitate in my answer: "Yes," I told her. "I look at it this way: My mother forgave him, and she suffered much more than I did. How could I do any less?" She stared beyond me. "I never forgave my mother," she whispered. "She never asked me to." She turned and walked away, the tension of her unforgiving heart riding the rigid muscles of her shoulders. I pitied her.
The pages of another calendar will drift to the forest floor around us, just four short days from now. I'm gathering my intentions, and sharpening my pencil, to make my list of promises. When the fireworks flare, and the crackle of the firearms sound in the night, I will be ready to embrace my resolve.
Happy New Year to all, from your devoted Mugwump,