Selective memory from high in the sky…

I am a mother to my children, a daughter to my parents, so even though I am an adult, as long as my parents remain alive I will be a child. Because of this dual role, I recently became acutely aware of how what we hold close in memory may well depend on how old we were and what emotional significance the initial experience had for us at the time. What memories we hold close to our hearts as parents, may be of little relevance (or reverence) for our children, and vice versa.

I suspect if I asked my Dad what his favourite or most deep-seated memory was of me growing up, he would say my birth first and foremost. I have often heard the story of my arrival repeated by other family members. In his euphoria upon learning he had just become a Dad (remember back in the early sixties the father remained outside the delivery room waiting for the doctor to come out and announce the birth), he immediately called either his parents or my mother’s parents. When they asked: “What did she have?” My Dad’s excited reply was “A BABY!” Of course what they wanted to know was whether the baby was a boy or a girl. His reply affirms my belief that he was just as happy with my arrival as he would have been with a son.

Most parents would say that their most vivid memory was a child’s birth, especially if it is their first born, or in my father’s case, his only child. Then, the next most memorable part of my childhood years I am guessing he would say might be our trips when we spent two entire months of summer camping across Canada, or the two times we drove to California from our home in northern Alberta. Of course I do not remember my birth. I do, however, have many cherished memories from those long distance trips as well as camping trips at lakes a half hour or so drive from home, but one of my most recurring flashback memories of my Dad probably holds little space in his mind.

Not recalling exactly how old I was at the time, I do know this particular memory was definitely from the early 1970s. My Mom was not a morning person, and on weekend mornings she would sleep in as long as possible. When I was still too young to be left at home unsupervised while Mom slept, Dad would take me with him to do errands or I’d have toast and orange juice at the hotel cafe while he had Saturday coffee with other men from town. I still remember watching the advertising signs for local businesses that were attached to the clock on the cafe wall flip over and over. I spent the time mesmerized, predicting which ad would appear and flip over next.

One Sunday, our little municipal airport with its nine private airport hangers hosted a Fly-In breakfast. The event was to welcome pilots from other areas, inviting them to “Fly-In” for camaraderie with fellow pilots, check out the airport, and enjoy a pancake breakfast upon arrival. The event was also open to the general public. I assume it was a sleep in day for Mom having gone to Mass the evening before, so even though by this time I could have stayed at home with Mom, I was looking forward to having pancakes for breakfast with my Dad.

Soon after devouring my pancakes, I discovered one of my best friends arrived at the airport with her family. By this time, I also discovered plane rides could be purchased. Approaching my Dad to ask him if I might be able to go for a ride, he said sure, and did my friend and her older sister want to go too? I was overwhelmed with the possibility of the three of us girls going up for our first plane ride together. He said he would pay for all three of us; they just needed to go ask their parents if it was okay. In what seemed like two minutes flat they found their parents in the crowd and returned with the news it was a go.

My Mom was not there to voice approval or disapproval, and there were no such things as consent forms yet for such excursions, so after Dad paid the fee, all we had to do was wait for the pilot to land back on the runway, and pick our seats in the four seat plane.

The flight did not last long. I am guessing maybe 15 minutes total, including take-off, passing over St. Paul, then turning around to head back to the airport. Usually we were a chatty trio but once in the plane we were quiet, all was silent except for the constant hum of the plane. I loved seeing town from the air, the Catholic Cathedral steeple towering above everything else. The buildings, the vehicles, the streets down below were familiar to us; from above all seemed both minuscule yet magnificent. Each dog in a yard, person on the sidewalk, cow in the field, a tiny part of something bigger. We were excited to see our school, then my house, then my friend’s family farm just past the outskirts of town, as the pilot made a wide turn to return us back to earth. What a thrill it was to see our world from the sky above. On that day I thought my Dad to be generous and extravagant.

(Sadly we have no photos from that day, but here is a recent one of my Dad about 45 years later. Thanks Dad, for that first time in the sky. Love you.)

First Wheels!

In honor of Father’s Day, here is an early memory of my Dad. This is how I remember it, which of course, may or may not be as my Dad does.

My First Wheels

As my Dad proudly came around the house with my first set of wheels, my elation quickly turned to disappointment. I had hoped for a brand new bicycle, instead he pushed along an obviously well used CCM bike.

The color of the bike was the biggest disappointment.  Dried blood reddish-brown was not an attractive color in my opinion. The seat was tattered and well-worn.  Uncertain if it was part of his original plan, or if he sensed my disappointment, my Dad quickly said, “I will paint the bike and get a new seat for it. It will look like brand-new!” I had my doubts, but tried to appear excited as I did not want to hurt my Dad’s feelings.

Within the week my Dad had made good on his promise. He painted the bike a beautiful medium Wedgewood blue color, and installed a new white seat. Without consulting me, he had accessorized the bike with a metal wire basket on the front.  Dad lowered the seat and handlebars as low as they could go, so I could begin my bike riding lessons up and down the sidewalk on our block. At first Dad helped steady the back of the bike holding on to the rear of the seat, but soon as I was off on my own, my Dad hollering instructions from behind me.

After hitting the neighbour’s concrete retaining wall a few times as I swerved back and forth, I learned to keep my hands steady on the handlebars and eyes focused straight ahead. A couple more days of picking myself up off the cement sidewalk to get band-aids on my already scabby knees and I was a pro!

Getting that bicycle was the beginning of independence and freedom for me! Living in a small town certainly had its advantages, as I was soon allowed to ride my bike all about town, including to the public library every Saturday. I had fears I would be subject to ridicule by the neighbour kids for having a basket on my bike, however once I realized how many Nancy Drew library books I could fit in the basket I did not care.

167Love you Dad, Happy Father’s Day!