Yesterday my dad was back. I made beef stew for dinner, a delicious deep brown batch, first in my new la crueset pot, gift from the day care families in cassis, really purple, identical shade to my cabinets. In the stew, after the cubes of chuck had browned in olive oil a good long while, simmered two hours in broth, I put carrots and onion and parsnips, and then I added potatoes. Normally I have a bag in the cupboard, but lately, they’ve been sprouting. This week I made chicken stew on Monday, first batch of that in my purple pot, and I used up the last of the sprouting lot, as well as some from the small container we had grown and picked and washed with the day care kids this summer. It was the first time I had grown potatoes since I was a girl, last time I remember digging them since I dug them with my dad, probably at age five. So I wanted those potatoes to be appreciated. I took photos and pleasure as the kids and I dug our treasure. I took more as two young ones scrubbed off the dirt in dishes of water with small vegetable brushes from the Small Hands Montessori catalogue. We didn’t do that when I was a girl. Back then we mostly peeled our potatoes. I can remember still my mom at the kitchen sink in our first house, sink full of peelings, slicing me a piece of raw potato to eat while I waited for dinner. My son Jonah likes those, too, when I remember. In the early fall when we dug the potatoes, we ate half the batch in the day care with butter. The kids were pleased. I put the rest away for my family, and didn’t get them out again til now. First half went in the chicken stew on Monday, which I ate for dinner, my kids ate for snacks and lunch all week long. I saved back a few for my vegetarian guy, but last night, they met their suitable ending not in his mouth, but in the pot of beef stew.  I never have made a batch without potatoes, and so they needed to be there. I cut the small guys into cubes, feeling the skin split, the flesh give way, and the odd shaped, uneven sized guys were only home grown, were much like the guys in the ten gallon bucket we filled with my dad and ate from till they were gone, saving aside the babies for special attention. I saved the smallest babies this time, too, put them on my kitchen window sill in a porcelain tea tray holding a tiny tea pot, gifts from Macky to my girl, settled here for me to admire at dishwashing time.

The stew was delicious. The broth was tasty. The vegetables held their shape. I left out celery and had no regrets. The dumplings were plump and soaked up the gravy as they should.

After dinner we watched a movie, Sunshine Cleaning. I had thought it was going to be about cleaning. It was. It was also about two young girls, now grown into adults, who lost their mother young. Perhaps I’ll reveal too much, but the women become cleaners of crime scenes and as they take on this work, they find themselves entering the stories of the crimes, wondering if two lovers loved each other before one shot the other, wondering what happened to the daughter whose photos they find wrapped in ribbons, early childhood through adult stacked neatly one upon the other in a house so full of chaos and stench the women cleaners vomit before going to work to clean it. At one point, they enter the scene of a suicide and I saw their childhoods flooding back, girls running happily through a sprinkler, finding their mother, back in the sprinkler again.

Later they reminisce about the funeral of their mother, where the younger girl wore shoes too tight and the older sister remembers how that sister never took those off. I realized in that moment I hadn’t a single memory of my dad’s funeral, not a one, no idea what I wore or what he did, who was there or what was said. It is a blank, as are so many other things. Later in the movie, the women see their mom on tv, in a short clip they had referred to earlier, a one liner she says and they are told about but have never seen. Made me want to see my dad again. Then the older sister talks to her mom, as her son had talked to god, by speaking into the CB radio, where the dealer who sold them the van told him his voice would go into the ether. I remembered that, too, that talking to my dad in heaven, though not on a CB radio, but in church, or in a sort of prayer, and I wondered when that ended, noticed how the adult didn’t know about the heaven thing, but still kept on wishing her mom could hear her. They got it right.

Afterwards I watched the VCR tape my mom made me several years ago of home movies from my childhood. My dad and I were there, along with my sister, my mom, my friends from the old neighborhood, my grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins, many of them long gone. My grandma was in her sixties and strong as a horse. I had not remembered her that way. In her final years she was thinner and smaller each year until she faded away at nearly one hundred. My Uncle John was there and my Uncle Tom, all my cousins from the farm, now grown and far away. My dad and aunts and uncles were drinking beer from those short fat bottles I had forgotten about, too, and some smiled at the camera each time they took a sip, so young.

The photography was dark and shifted. My dad was in the corners of most anyplace he was, not the center, as I wished him to be, so I could get a good long look. We were the center, my sister and I. We were everywhere in our footed pajamas and school and party dresses, in our striped pants and pink pull on shorts. We were at the Zoo. We were at Marineland. We were at Story Town. We were riding a steam train. We looked for eggs and baskets and toys on Easter, opened our gifts, hugged our dolls, climbed into our doll bed on Christmas after Christmas. We blew out candles and opened our presents on our birthdays. We smiled and danced and waved at the camera, where my mom or dad captured every move we made, duck duck goose, swing set, swimming pool. And in the corner of the yard, there was a patch of big green leaves, which I assumed as I watched, were potatoes. They might also have been green beans, which we planted and picked and ate.

Then there was Easter, and my dad looking like death. The last picture of him is one I hadn’t remembered, wearing what looks like a red sports coat that hangs off his thin frame, walking delicately down the front step to the sidewalk where we were. It was hard to look. That Easter he sat in the chair and I think I could see pain quite distinctly, but only looking back. The little girls race around the house looking for baskets and eggs, bring them to him in utter joy. How could we not have known he was on his way out of this world?

The next frames after the red suit jacket are of what looks like a painting party in the addition I thought I remembered him enjoying, but he must have died before it was finished, then my sister’s fifth birthday party. He’s not there, but we smile and laugh and mug for the camera as though he might have been. How is that?

I’ve taken care of many children in my life, but never has it been harder than when a parent or close relative has suffered with cancer, or died. In Sunshine Cleaning the older sister goes to a shower where she hopes to impress her high school friends. When they ask what she does she tells them she cleans up when there has been a crisis and makes it better, or something like that. Family day care is like that for me. I’m not a doctor or a lawyer or a principal or a professor or a child psychologist or even a public school teacher. I take care of children. I teach them what I know. That’s what I do. Too much information in this piece perhaps. I felt like writing it and I did. Now I’m off to do my chores.

p.s. In the movie, one or two Christmas’s before my dad had died, there is a child’s snow shovel. I wrote here earlier that I had never shoveled snow with my dad. It was nice to see that shovel there, and wonder if maybe in fact I did. I’d like to think that some of the pleasure I take in shoveling my drive and working with my kids could be traced back to time I spent with him.

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