Perspective. Is having my father handed to me in a white box, respectfully but rather unceremoniously, through my car window. UCONN Health Center appreciates my father’s contribution. Thanks to my father, to me, and my family. A handshake. It was heavier than I expected, though, I realized, it was the remains of a 140 pound man reduced to ashes. Not quite sure what I was expecting – maybe a walk up to someone’s office. Forms. Handshakes. Ceremony. Salutes. A Priest. Something. I don’t know.
I put Dad in the front seat beside me. And drove, though, It wasn’t until the next morning with him still there on the passenger seat, that I drove past our old house on Wells Road. Once yellow, now green. And a shed on the side lawn. Apple tree no longer there. Slowly by family friends just down the street and down at the other end. All the old houses still there …. The Bornhofts, the Bowens, the Messengers, the Pullmans, the Browns, the Manning's, and Rayes, Mrs. Wells old farm, the Menches, the Grinolds, Joan Duzak … all the way down the street to the Semjen's and Wells Road School. Part of me has never left that street. That was OUR street – and always will be.
Eventually we made our way down Day Street following the last trip Dad and I had when he was alive and we were just driving around town reminiscing. He would talk sometimes when we passed an old familiar place. Sometimes he’d just look off into the distance. And, there were some things he would just not remember at all – they were just familiar. I would glance over and he would look lost, trying to remember. The light was fading – and he knew that. But he did his best, always.
We drove into the old Granby Tennis Club. Gate was open … no one was there. That old deck has not changed. There is still a Grill at one end and the old green bar at the other. Plenty of tables. Plenty of old voices of the families I grew up with, our parents, our siblings. My Dad would laugh and drink with the best of them. Grills, drinks, tennis, swimming, and, yes, the old changing rooms upstairs, the wall between the men’s and woman’s rooms replete with small “ventilation holes”. Plenty of burrowing animals back then.
And there is the old abandoned road off of Hartland Road just a few hundred yards east of the intersection of Route 216 … It is now Fox Road and I was told it was a section of the old Hartford Road that went all the way to Hartford.
The first ¾ of a mile was still in use, at least when Mom and Dad where living near there about ¼ mile east of Fox Road. There were only two houses on it – one on the left just off of Hartland Road, still there and in use …. and an old farmhouse ¾ of a mile up. The part of the road that remained was mostly dirt, plowed flat every year. After the farm house, a trail followed alongside where the road use to be. You could see a deep, rutted, gulley where once was a paved road, now impassable by car or by foot. Several years ago, Mom and I had walked the length of this abandoned section from Hartland Road all the way down to Dalene Road – then had come back by way of Pederson Road and Hartland Road – an easy hike though several miles long.
Whenever I visited Granby invariably Dad and I would hike the uphill trek toward the farmhouse and downhill all the way back to Hartland Road. There was an older couple living in this house – the gentleman could be seen every morning walking down his road, then right on Hartland Road down to the West Granby Post Office and back home again. Dad seemed to know him – though not well.
Coming back from a quick visit to my parent’s old Hartland Road house, I drove up Fox Road hoping to get a glimpse of that farm house for old time sake. However, a few hundred feet in, found the road was now blocked with a gate. So I got out and walked. I passed the spot where the old hunting lodge was, on the left, ½ way up the road, vacated sometime in the 1930s, somewhere back in the woods that I could not see. But it was there, once. Years ago my uncle had crawled through the window to see what was inside … found some old chairs and bunks, old 1930s Esquire magazines, kitchen stuff and an old record player. Dad and I would talk about that lodge every time we passed. We would talk about the garden he had in the back of the house …. or some trees he was trying to clear along the river … or some guys he encountered in town that he use to work with …. He’d ask me about work, about my family, about my house – and we’d talk about that for a bit.
Coming up on the end of the road, it was apparent all life had vacated the house, shuttered and unlived in for years, the lawn overgrown, all of which, of course, I had assumed by the presence of the gate at the other end. The house was still in good shape; the barn, not so much. I walked around taking this all in and then headed back. It was time to move on.
My Dads’ favorite walk from his house in the Gables was down a dirt path behind his place that led to Salmon Brook Park, then around the park, and onto the bridge over the river behind. He would take Ethan there whenever we visited. And, more recently, Winslow, my beagle, if I’d brought him along. Ethan would sometimes hold on to Granpa’s hand as the two of them walked along, or he’d walk Winslow with Dad close on his heals. Both would go and stand on the bridge throwing pebbles into the water … and Dad telling Ethan where to get “the good pebbles” or maybe just some of his old jokes. As bad as his memory got, Dad would always remember that path, the park and the bridge over the river. Branches of that same river ran behind our house on Wells Road; through the property on Hartland Road, through the Tennis Club where we all spent so much time …. and this became Dad’s favorite spot to walk to from the Gables.
I thought of this when I sat on the bank of that river for several minutes, upstream from the bridge, watching kids, and dogs, and parents, wade and play in the water. All of them dispersed after a while … and I waded down to where the current was strong just before the bridge and sent Dad on his way. Here, he will never be alone, and in a place that made him happy. Part of him settled on the river bottom and will remain part of his favorite spot probably for as long as that river flows. The rest floating like a white cloud, almost ghost like, made his way down stream and under that bridge. Much of him will go with the river as it flows through the countryside and make its way to wherever this river goes. And back to the sea where we all began.
Back in the late 1980s, I sat in a bar in Chili’s in Falls Church, Virginia within walking distance from where I lived. Crowded, the only seat left open was the seat next to me … promptly taken by a guy in his late 40s wearing a suit and a friendly smile. Talkative, we chatted a bit about what we were doing, odds and ends, and eventually got around to his service in the Vietnam War …. and his missing left leg. He had watched friends die in the same blast that took that leg.
“Do you believe in God” he came around to saying at some point … I shrugged. Agnostic at the time and had not really given it much thought, and said so. I asked him what he thought … what “was real”.
“I believe when it’s over, it’s over, death is the end” he said, “I’ve seen to many bodies spread across the landscape. When the time comes, that’s it – this life we have here is ‘real’ … what you have in front of you”.
Walking back up the path that Dad loved to walk and around to the edge of a field that he always passed – I stopped at one, old, knurly tree that stands alone on the edge of that field – Dad would often remark “the stories that tree could tell” …
A man named Steven Cave talked about “The 4 Stories we tell ourselves about Death”. Steven Cave was right, of course, about the stories. They’ve been handed down for thousands of years – but I find with every story, there is a grain of truth. But where those grains lie within the story, I don’t know. If the truth was meant to be known …
There is one point that Steven Cave made that I would like to repeat –
“I find it helpful to see life as being like a book. Just as a book is bounded by its covers by beginning and end, so our lives are bounded by birth and death, and even though a book is limited by beginning and end, it can encompass distant landscapes, exotic figures, fantastic adventures, and even though a book is limited by beginning and end, the characters within it know no horizons. They only know the moments that make up their story, even when the book is closed. And so the characters of a book are not afraid of reaching the last page. Long John Silver is not afraid of you finishing your copy of Treasure Island. And so it should be with us. Imagine the book of your life its covers, its beginning and end, are your birth and your death. You can only know the moments in between, the moments that make your life. It makes no sense for you to fear what is outside of those covers, weather before your birth or after your death. And you needn’t worry how long the book is, or whether it’s a comic strip or an epic. The only thing that matters is that you make it a good story.”
I love you Dad, I’ll be re-reading those pages for a long time coming.