Over the course of this week, as we prepare to celebrate my dad’s life, we have all been poring over pictures. And I remember so much of what I forgot. And I see things I didn’t know but they are so obvious to me now. We know our family members because we have these long relationships with them. We see some of them every day. We eat with them. We live under the same roof. We work with them. We love. We fight. We heal. And we form this picture of who they are as people. But it’s not complete- even if they are our spouse or our parent. The truth is we see people like we are looking at them through a keyhole. We see that focused bit of who they are right now, but we can’t see the whole picture. Oh sure, it adds up and we think we have the whole picture. But really a person is like a jigsaw puzzle and, no matter how hard you try, you are never going to find all the pieces and where they fit together. There are always going to be things we don’t see, or misunderstand, or are absolutely sure about and absolutely wrong about at the same time.
I should have known he was once a goofy little boy who probably annoyed his sisters regularly- you can see it in their eyes as they lined up for a fancy picture in their Sunday best. I wish I had asked more questions about his childhood. He was a tough guy but he also had a soft side. I found several pictures of him through the decades crouched in a child’s chair, daintily holding a tea cup while playing tea party with his daughter, and later his granddaughter and great niece. (Although I have to say there is zero chance there was actual or imaginary tea in those cups. Coffee. Black. I guarantee it.) He loved his babies and grandbabies. He never missed a chance to hold one or toss one on his shoulders. As my youngest sister reminded me this week, the view was the best from there. I wish I had asked more questions about my childhood. Why did he love dogs? And what was the deal with Basset Hounds? Who taught him to fish? How was it that he could just talk to anyone (seriously, he could carry on a rousing conversation with a rock)? I know a lot. Don’t get me wrong. We talked. But I wish I had asked more questions, assumed less, relied less on my keyhole vision. Found the missing puzzle pieces. Maybe that is always the way. We think we have time. We think we know. We think we have talked about everything we needed to talk about.
Here is my challenge to you: pull out that old album, scrapbook, or box of pictures. Look at them. Really look at them. Think about this person you have known forever and who they are in total. If you are lucky and they are still with you, call them up and ask them about the time that… Ask them who is in that picture. Quit looking through the keyhole and open the door. My experience is that people love to remember and we should not forget. But someday they won’t be here to tell us.
More than three decades apart, my dad had mad tea party skills.