I think at the end of a life, it is the little things you remember most. The seemingly inconsequential moments become indelibly written on our minds and hearts. Oh sure, every relationship has big moments. There are marriages and births, graduations and new homes. And every relationship has good times and challenging ones – even tragic moments. But I think we are hard-wired, fortunately, to remember the good things and we are blessed to be designed to hold the little things closest in our hearts. As my dad’s life has come to an end, I am flooded with these little things. They catch me off guard, my heart clenches, my breathe catches, and I am transported back in time. Sometimes I am moved to laughter and other times to tears but always I can feel these moments like they happened yesterday. Like the other night, I was playing cards with my husband and daughter. As we are Irish and bilingual in sarcasm, the game was hilarious (This is a relief as our chief concern when we were pregnant was that our child wouldn’t have a sense of humor- turns out she has two dominant humor genes). Will the Circle Be Unbroken came on the stereo and tears flooded my eyes. It was like I was a child again. My dad loved bluegrass music and this was his favorite album. Soldier’s Joy came on with Earl Scruggs picking on the banjo. I instantly remembered the time he took me to hear Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs play in Seattle. My love of Bluegrass music, especially the banjo and the fiddle, started that day. The chords plucked out in rapid succession, clear and loud, pounding in time with my heartbeat. I could feel it propelling my feet and filling my heart. My dad gave me such a love for music of all kinds. To this day, traditional Irish music and Scottish pipe and drum bands move me to tears of joy. He loved the words as well and I remember he kept the lyrics to John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads thumbtacked to his bookshelf. I remember the time he took me to see Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge and they sang Me and Bobby McGee. My favorite line was But I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday. I didn’t get it back then, but I do right now.
I remember all the things we made. He liked to make things. He lived in a house he built with his own hands. He ate at a table hewn from wood he dragged across the country twice before he figured out what it was going to be. He sat on a chair perched on feet he carved himself. My daughter rocked on a horse he carved and sat at a desk he built. But it’s the little things he made that I remember most. I remember one time we went all the way to Pike Place Market to buy a chunk of blue cheese, so we could make blue cheese dressing from scratch. I remember the time he found a recipe for mint chocolate pudding in the New York Times and together we melted Junior Mints to mix in. He taught me to cook. He taught me that I could learn to do anything.
I remember Sunday mornings, he would let me work on the New York Times Crossword with him as long as I found one across for every one down that I figured out. I remember him reading “Child by Tiger” and “Chicago” to me and asking what I thought. I remember our camping trip in Montana where we hiked into Flathead Lake to fish. It was such an adventure. He taught me to shoot a gun and cast a fly on that trip. I remember going with him to Patrick’s Flyfishing shop in Seattle and watching him pick out feathers and thread. I was fascinated listening to him and the other men talk about what the fish were biting on. Later I would watch him tie flies and he would tell me about the exotic places and animals that the pieces came from. Then he would tell me stories about his own dad fishing.
I remember the time I found his shaving cream next to his bathroom sink and tentatively pressed the cap. Living in a house full of girls, shaving cream was new and exotic. The foam came out with ribbons of blue and green and it was so fun that I kept doing it until I used up the whole can. Of course, I lied about it fearing I would be in big trouble. But it was just him and me, so clearly he had me. I remember he told me that the day would come when I would want him to trust me and that trust was built on days like this. I confessed (I always confessed).
In the end, our memories are made in the tiny, very real moments two people share. They define and shape our lives. The little things are the big things in our relationships. Blue Cheese Dressing and crossword puzzles were so much more than that. They were the moments when we talked and laughed, we learned about each other. They were the moments when I asked the big questions and got the honest answers- whether I liked it or not. They were the moments when I learned where I came from and developed the dreams for my own life.
I chose these pictures of my father and each of his “Shea Girls” for this post. It seems like I have a million pictures of the man but none of these are mine of course. It seemed fitting to remember him holding each of us in his heart as we are holding him in our hearts now.