Monday, March 1, 2010

Some family history

Although he drinks Tim Hortons, my father accepts the Starbucks I insist on as we travel east to Belleville, then Kingston, to visit my godmother, who is dying.

We read to each other during the trip, something neither of our spouses will ever willingly do. First from my father's choice, The Shack, a book so overwritten I cannot disguise the sarcasm in my voice at the paragraphs dripping with adjectives and mixed metaphors. Of course I feel my choice is better, but the letters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society are probably easier to follow by sight than by sound.

At the hospital, my godmother can't really sit up and she drifts in and out of conversation, but she knows who we are. Well. She knows my father and through him, remembers me. I am uncomfortable in this room, with this woman I don't really know, but my father talks and weaves a conversation, asking questions and, if necessary, answering them. Where is so-and-so living now? You remember, Jack's wife. That's right. Is she still in Belleville? He includes us both, my godmother and me, though neither of us say very much.

The oncology resident comes in with news that they want to begin some radiation treatments. They are thinking five should shrink the tumor, reduce her pain. He wants to know what she thinks? Should they go ahead and set that up?

My godmother is clearly in no position to make this decision. When the resident asks her again, anxious to get things arranged, it seems, my father lets him know that her son has the power of attorney, and should be contacted. When the doctor leaves, my father reminds her that it is her decision. It is up to her what is done, now.

When the nurse comes in, we retreat to the cafeteria for some mediocre coffee. My father answers my questions, filling in my gaps of knowledge about their relationship. I know he lived with my godparents and their children, became like another son to them, but I don't know the chronology.

I find out that he first boarded with them in Belleville after dropping out of school in Grade 11. (My father - the principal - dropping out of high school?) His dad offered to get him "a good job" in Belleville, away from his own family in Stoco, working at an A&W. His only day off was Wednesday, so his dad told him not to bother coming home. And then he had the accident where he dropped a vat of hot oil on his foot (I have heard this story), went on Worker's Comp for a while and convinced his dad to let him return home and to school.

He lived with my godparents again after high school, when he worked for the bank in Belleville. I know a story about the bank, too, when my father "worked the door" of a party for some of the bank's best clients. While reading in the lobby, he moved a curtain that was letting in the glare from a streetlight and inadvertently sent a signal to the police that there was trouble at the bank. The police stormed the bank, breaking up the not-so-legitimate social gathering.

He lived with them one more time during his early teaching career. During this period, my godmother discovered my godfather was having an affair. She convinced my father to drive her (and her mother) over to the woman's apartment building, where she was able to catch and confront her husband, in the moment. Although they ended up staying together, my godfather kicked my father (and his mother-in-law) out of the house.

He has a long history with this woman. I have come on this trip mostly to be with him, so he doesn't have to be here alone, so he has someone to tell these stories, share these memories.

Her dinner has arrived when we get back upstairs. My dad continues the conversation as he feeds her: some mashed potatoes, some tomato soup. A few peas? No? Some applesauce? I know some of your grandchildren are coming by on Saturday, so that will be a good visit. Have some more potatoes. That tomato soup looks good. How about this cranberry juice. Oh no, you don't care for that, do you? I will talk to the boys later, and I will come back to visit again.

No comments: