Daisies, Dahlias and Dad

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”

Lauren Bacall 

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Happy Birthday Dad!

This man, my father, just celebrated the completion of his 93rd year and the start of his 94th year, and that’s no small feat for anyone, and add to that- he’s a self-made man. Born in the oil fields in central California in 1920, and shuttled off on his own at the young age of 13, he enlisted in the army and then jumped rank from soldier to  Full Colonel in the Army in WWII, and stationed in the South Pacific for the duration of the war. Upon returning to the US post-war, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and pursue a career in optometry. This consisted of walking onto the Berkeley campus in the late 40’s and signing up. And then showing up. [When I applied to colleges and universities decades later, he didn’t quite understand the admissions angst…]  He was THE optometrist in our small town and ran a successful practice until he retired. He’s a depression era make a difference in the lives of others kind of man. He’s a walk-the-precincts to get everyone registered to vote kind of guy.

We affectionately call him the energizer bunny, having survived more surgeries and near medical misses over the years; including open heart surgery and more nights in ICU than we can count. We are convinced that this man does not know there is an option but to keep on going.  He’s not perfect, more than complex, suffers from dementia and the craziness that brings out in a person. But without question, this is a good man. Trustworthy. Solid. Responsible. Respected. Funny. And he loves chocolate. I mean, the man LOVES chocolate.

And martinis.

Upon arriving in my childhood home, my first inclination was to curl up on the couch for a little cat nap.  My brother and father indulged me and made themselves scarce for what turned out to be nearly an hour and a half. When chided about that not really qualifying as a cat nap, I simply, and admittedly a tad bit ‘snarkily’, in that bratty little sister kind of way, said, well, it was a cheetah nap, you know a big cat!

I had to take my usual walk-through and survey this house, my home, where I spent nearly my entire childhood. It’s filled with the smells and feelings that only a place known so well can evoke. Things are the same, and yet not. I am still that little girl inside, peering into the room where she learned to read and wrote secrets in her diary. And yet, at the same time, now a woman who has been freed by sharing her secrets, a sister who’s bonded with her brother in ways neither probably ever expected. A daughter who misses deeply the mother who raised her here in this home and who now so much more deeply understands and accepts this father turning 93 in this moment.

As I made my way around the house, I had to inspect the backyard; my father is an amazing gardener. He always has been, and it’s a deep regret that in my silly, impatient youth, I never let him teach me this art. For when you ask him, ‘how does your garden grow?” all you have to do is take a sweeping look through his yard for the answer. Which he still cares for daily, as much as he can.

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Roses…

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Daisies…

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Dahlias…

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Evidence of a garden being tended to…

We moved on to happy hour, and in my house, that’s a long standing tradition. My parents, of the WWII era, always knew how to enjoy the evening and friends would stop by and enjoy cocktail hour and appetizers; it was a regular occurrence. Being the youngest and not always having a playmate, I wanted to keep myself busy and more than likely, avoid the boring adult conversation, so by the age of 10 or so, I had learned how to make all the regulars – martini’s, an old fashioned, scotch on the rocks, and others. I knew which drink called for the little white onion, the green olive or the maraschino cherry. Hold on, before you call children and family services, be assured that just because I knew how to make and serve the drinks didn’t mean I drank them!

That came later.

So, we started our evening with a cocktail and spent some time catching up.My father sat himself down, ever so gingerly, and once settled in front of the crackers and cheese, he patted the seat on the sofa next to him, indicating I should sit myself down next to him. We talked about my son, and fussed about how to deal with the sliding door so that I could try and snap a shot of the hummingbird who frequents the feeder just outside on the patio.

We never did get that right.

The conversation turned personal and I received the first of what I decided to call Dad-isms, little gifts to me, even though it’s HIS birthday!

Dad-ism #1:

Me:  Dad, you know that my life has changed a lot lately, right? I know it’s probably a lot to think about.

Dad:  Yes. You have my blessings. You’re a good person; things will go well for you.

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My brother makes a most perfect Manhattan

Over dinner, the conversation was entertaining at best, especially with my father acting like a child about not getting to have as much wine as his kids. When the conversation turned to talk about ages, years, and remember-when’s, I asked  my father a question.

Dad-ism #2:

Me:  Dad, do you remember how old I am?

Dad: Yes. Pause. Yes. You are four years younger than me.

Me:  Wow! That’s got to make me the best damned looking 89 yr old around! 

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A martini with brunch? When you’re 93, sure!

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Never too old to joke around!

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The brother.

Dad-ism #3:

On the way home from our celebratory brunch the next morning, I said to my father,

Me:  Dad, you’ve lived a lot of life in your 93 years. If you could give out some advice, knowing that others would take your advice, what would you tell them?

Dad:  Have the attention of someone who’s personality you like and can grow with. 

Me:   Gulp. Silent.

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Dad’s harmonica

Before I left that afternoon, I ducked into his room to change my clothes for the ride home.  I noticed something on his dresser and was compelled to investigate…it was something I had never noticed in all my years of snooping around in my parent’s dresser [so many fun little things in there!]. I opened it up and see an old black and white photo of a beautiful young woman. I asked my brother who it was he said he didn’t know and neither did Dad. I went directly to the source and tried to jog his memory, but with no luck. I asked him if it was an old girlfriend, or his cousin, and he just couldn’t remember. What struck me, the hopeless romantic, is that he’s had it all these years, tucked away. I found myself wondering what it would be like for that young lady to know that she’s been admired from afar all these years…

The mystery girl...

The mystery girl…

And the final Dad-ism of the day:

Happy Birthday Dad!

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30 thoughts on “Daisies, Dahlias and Dad

  1. ♥♥♥
    your words give me much needed strength and add more and more to the admiration I feel for you, as a woman, a mother, a sister…and not the least…a daughter. The questions, the answers, the mystery, the magic, the pain, the love, the memories, the unknown and yet the known. It’s scary as hell to know the day is close at hand for me….makes me want to run now and ask ask ask…fill myself up with him as much as I possibly can…before it’s too late. But, this give me a new hope Bon…it’ll never be too late, he’ll always be there, he’ll always be here with me as yours will always be with you. The answers to the questions never asked don’t matter…if they had been, I would have asked years ago….all I want now is one thing…to make sure he knows he’s the most important man in my life and always has been.

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    • Rhon….wow, what do I say, when thank you doesn’t seem enough. I can appreciate how this would raise all kinds of emotions to your very surface and while one part of me thinks to cringe ever so slightly knowing the bittersweetness of your reality, even more so, the sweetness of savoring every bit of every bit. Memories. Moments. Just More Time. Fill yourself up. This was a trip of more importance that I realized not until AFTER writing this…amazing really. It’s so complicated, but, it’s what we have. Make sure he knows. xo

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  2. This brought tears to my eyes, Bonnie. What a beautiful post and wonderful tribute to your father. What an amazing man he is (although, I’d love to know who that woman is!)

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    • Dianne…wow, it’s amazed me, the impact this has had. I think I was just so in the moment, it took stepping back from it to realize all that transpired. Thank you for being part of that for me…

      And yes, I am dying to know who she is…had to be someone special to keep her photo all these years!!

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  3. Awwww my Bon Bon…..where to begin. Beautiful post that brought tears to my eyes. Each “ism” is perfect. And I know where you get your amazing heart and your mysterious side, too. ♥ My many thanks to your dad for his service to our country. ♥

    And then there’s the harmonica…..that one really gets me. So special…..and reminds me of my grandpa. Thank you . Thank you. Hugs

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    • Oh PSB…thank you so much. I am so glad you loved the harmonica playing, I made sure to get that photo and record him playing with you in mind! He was happy to oblige and we had about 6 takes..which are of course all on my phone!

      The isms….such unexpected gems, and so sweet. It’s not always easy to have conversations with him so to focus on one question at a time was sweet. I didn’t expect such an emotional response from everyone, I went back to re-read it with that perspective, so touched to have such a warm response. Hugs to you ♥

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  4. I think dad’s 93rd birthday celebration with us, his friend, and his caregiver gave him a second wind for the garden. For the last two evenings he has been out fussing with his roses until 8:30PM. On the one hand I wanted to turn the back yard flood lights on for him, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to encourage him to stay out there past dark. Besides taking care of dad, I now have a new mission…must find out who the mystery woman is. He recently produced that photo which must have been tucked away under something in one of the dresser drawers. He asked me if I knew who she was. Such things make HIM a bit of a mystery man. Maybe another martini will jog his memory.

    I enjoyed your post and perspective…sometimes I don’t see the forest for the trees being with him daily, but was reminded just yesterday that he can still be a big-hearted dad. I had gone to the health clinic to get treatment for a swollen eyelid. While I was waiting in the exam room one of the staff told me there was a man outside that wanted to come in. I looked into the waiting room and there was dad with his caregiver who told me he was worried and wanted to see how I was doing. In the midst of so much time having to be the adult in caring for him, I found myself in sheepish sigh mode, “Ahhh, DaD?!.” And he stayed until the doctor finished her pronouncements and prescribed an antibiotic for an unspecified infection.

    Later that evening I asked him what he wanted to do for his 94th birthday. His dry remark, “I don’t know…get drunk?” Sure, as long as I don’t have to be the adult.

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    • We have got to find out who the mystery woman is…would be great to find out and see who she is and why she was important to dad. Pour another round of martinis and loosen up some of the cobwebs!

      It is hard to see the forest for the trees, even for me when I am not there everyday. Being able to write about the time together gave me great perspective and more peace about Dad. I am glad he was there for you at the clinic.

      I can’t wait for the 94th celebration, if we are all getting drunk! 😉
      love ya JoBro!

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  5. Ahhh, Bonnie, what a *gorgeous* post. I read it while trying to swallow around the lump in my throat and wipe away the stream of tears that flowed from beginning to end. Your father is clearly a beautiful soul, a trait that he has passed along to his daughter. You are blessed,indeed, to have shared so many wonderful years and memories. Looking forward to reading about the centenary celebration in a few years. 🙂 xoxo

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    • Lori….!!! it’s interesting, the perspective that comes from looking at things so as to be able to write – I think I was so much more present, knowing that I would want to capture some essence of this moment in time with my dad, family. Thank you for sharing the emotion it evoked in you, that means so much to me and helps me to stand back yet a little bit more in full appreciation of all that’s been shared in this little family of mine. And let’s see if we make it to the century mark! You are a true gem. xoxo

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      • Isn’t it amazing how much more keenly attuned we become when knowing that we want to communicate an experience to others? I completely agree. Rest easy in the knowledge that you did a stellar job–everyone reading this experienced the joy of your celebration.

        And I must confess, Bon, I admire your youthful restraint regarding the drinks at the family happy hours of your youth. It’s family lore that, much to their dismay, my parents found a five-year old Lori “making the rounds” after a cocktail party one night, finishing off little bits of Manhattans, Gin and Tonics, Martinis and Whiskey Sours that had been abandoned on low cocktail tables as the party broke up. I was, by all accounts, a very (ahem) industrious child… 😉

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        • To your first comment, yes, blogging/writing has made me so much more keenly aware of what’s going on around me and within me and thinking of how to best communicate those thoughts I want to share.

          And to your second..omg. I am laughing out loud! I love that story! I do have a ‘family story’ about perhaps having a little too much champagne at a family brunch, at oh, say around 11ish… What a fun(ny) little thing to have ‘in common’. Industrious, yes, that’s *exactly’* the word I would use to describe your little adventure! Cheers Lori, bottoms up! 😀

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    • Hi there..so glad you saw this one..thank you friend, for that. And didn’t mean to make you cry, but you know I love that it ‘got ya’ xoxo to you.

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  6. Bonnie, so beautiful! Glad to hear about your visit as I was wondering. What an amazing man. Love how you were bartender at such a young age. No one ever drank in my family, so I envy you your cocktail hours.

    Thanks for sharing the photos and other treasures. The dad-isms are priceless. “you’re a good person. Things will go well for you” is so powerful! It’s becoming clearer why you’re amazing, Bonnie 🙂 apple don’t fall far from that tree.

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    • HaHa on the bartender at a young age…maybe that explains why I have a secret little dream of taking a mixology course and why it sounds like way too much fun to tend bar at some swanky, hip spot, like once a week!? I mean, think about the interesting people you’d meet, and I’d love the challenge of the quick pace…for a short period of time. But as of now…it’s just a fun thing to think about. The dad-isms are just darling to me – it revealed more of my dad to me than I expected. Sometimes you just have to ask the questions, I suppose. You are sweet – thank you for such a delightful comment – made my day! 😀

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      • that’s it, Bonnie–your job with the Bon, Amb, Liz, et al virtual party throwing biz: you can tend bar! Because you’d better believe will will have a fast-paced and swanky environment packed with interesting people. Will you do it please please please? I’d be happy to be trained in just in case you need back-up as I’d love to have more cocktail tricks up my sleeve.

        Back to your original heartfelt post: I’m seconding what the others are saying–definitely brought a tear or two to my eyes.

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        • OMG! Yes! Yes! Yes! You had me at swanky 🙂 Perfect and so MUCH more fun than clean-up! That’s perfect, and now I better get busy learning a few specialty drinks, huh?! I have something at home I will need to take a photo of and send you – it will give me a little street-cred 🙂 And you can most definitely be my back-up! Now, I really want to take that mixology course!

          Thank you, so much, for letting me know that this post had an impact on you too…it surprised event me.

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  7. Oh, Bon!!! I love so much about this post that I don’t know where to start!

    First of all, I’ll say “ditto” to Mimi’s comment about the love and light that you’ve captured in your moments with your family. *sniffle* Thank you so much for sharing those with us.

    Second, I love that you came home and took a “cheetah nap”!! I do the same thing when I visit my folks – and now I have a cool sounding name for it 🙂

    Third – and you know we’ll be chatting about this one 🙂 – Dad-ism #3 had me talking back to my computer screen: “Yes!!! TIMES A MILLION!!!!” xoooox

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    • Amb,,,thank you so much! I think I see the love and light as I stand back from it all, realizing the importance of capturing all of this before I no longer can. Kiddo could not come with, and so someday he will be able to read this and remember too.

      Yes to the cheetah nap – brilliant, if I do say so myself. And I suppose there is just something about sleeping in the familiar environment of home. Please use
      ‘cheetah nap’ next time you visit!!

      Oh gosh, I know it, Dad-ism #3, sure stopped me in my tracks!! He’s not the super emotional type of man, so this sure surprised me! YES x 1,000,000 for sure!!! xxoxo

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  8. I love the perfect imperfection of these moments…they are so full of love and light and years of both. I wish your dad many more…xox

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    • I love how you put that..the perfect imperfection – for each moment was slightly sideways, which only adds to the charm of the moment and memory. My dad and I talked about ‘many more’ and in his *confusion* he said, ‘well, I’m a hundred and ninety-three…so…’ I wasn’t sure where he was going with that, but we had a good laugh on that one! xoxo

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