Monday, December 19, 2011

Faces in a Crowd

Ghosts are everywhere.

In a flash, in a breath, on one tactile whoosh of heart.

I am adjusting a newspaper photograph taken at a children's Christmas party. The computer screen is lit up with squealing children dressed in their dime store best, sateen dresses with tube socks and scuffed running shoes; daddys' ties hanging crookedly under grinning freckled, dimpled chins; cheap, borrowed Santa suit, velvet rubbed off the elbows and knees, stomach pillow protruding beneath matted fake fur.

A woman in the background catches my eye. Smiling, middle-aged, with loose bleached blonde curls and dark roots, big-bosomed, blue frosty eyeshadow gleaming in the mid-audience gloom.

Aunt Judy.

Big laugh, terrible cook, huge heart.

Scrappy. Punched out my uncle's first wife at the side of a highway one day.

Grew up hard but knew the meaning of love. Survived a first husband that beat her and a fire that destroyed everything in her house but hope.

Forearms ringed with deep, ropey scars.

Had a thing for angels.

Never anything but wonderful to me.

Dead for five years; cancer. I went to see her on her deathbed. She was conscious, eyes sharp-lit with pain. Her children and grandchildren waited outside. I held her hand and remembered the time she made lemon meringue pie from scratch, only she forgot to add sugar and our mouths puckered up like they'd been slapped then turned inside out.

"I can't talk," she had said. So I talked for both of us, stupidly.


I am at the fall fair watching the horse pull. Surrounded by old farmers in suspenders and young bucks in John Deere ball caps, air redolent with manure, chewing tobacco and cotton candy. Sun too hot for autumn sweaters, tied carelessly around women's waists. Kids whine, kids puke, kids are kids. A swift breeze riffs through my son's still-10-year-old hair.

I see him in the crowd. Plaid long-sleeved shirt tight over a round Molson muscled belly. Black vinyl eyeglass case in his front pocket. Blue work pants, filthy cuffs. Silver hair, barely thinning.


Five years gone.

The blood thins through my heart in a fractured sigh.

Photos, from top: Aunt Judy and Uncle George at Christmas in our rec room in Markham, Ont., circa 1975.
Dad heading off to work at the Canadian Pacific Railway in Midland, Ont., sometime in the early 1960s.
Heading off to work again – this time from our home in Markham, probably in the late 1970s.
Mom and Dad on a trip out west, circa 1988. This was Dad's 'uniform' of his later years. Plaid shirt, suspenders, ball cap.
Dad on a snowmobile trip in the Haliburton area, sometime in the late 1970s. I love this photo of him. So handsome. My son, Angus, now drives this snowmobile, a 340 Olympic Ski-Doo.
I miss my Dad, so much. This photo brings me to tears.


  1. I'm with you girl.....this has been a rough Christmas season yes? I find myself so lost in time, captured in the past, living in my Dads words......"As long as the names are spoken and the stories are told we will never die.:" Tell the Stories my dear...tell the Stories.

  2. I think in your last post someone mentioned Angus's red hair and how much he looked like his dad, but for me, from the moment you could see the depth of the blue in his eyes, he was your dad. As long as you can look into Angus's eyes you will always have your dad.

  3. Yes.

    This is the season to remember, and to mourn. My husband said this in his sermon last week: "Grief is the tax we pay for loving someone." Not his words, borrowed from an anonymous other, but so poignant.

    I miss my dad, too. He died 2 years ago December 6 and I still see him everywhere. Peace...

  4. The season is hard when we miss those who we loved and cared about. Both my mum and dad are gone. We should raise a glass to them and bring their memories to life.

    My christmas wishes to you Cathy, may their always be laughter joy and peace in your world.

  5. Delores - such good advice. Thank you.

    Mark - I sobbed when I read your comment. Literally broke down and sobbed. You are so right about Angus' eyes. They look just like my Dad's. (I know you must miss your father, too.)

    Linda - It's bizarre that you lost your Dad December 6 and I lost mine on the 9th. It was Mark (Man Island) who told me, after his father died, that you think you're over it and then, WHAM, something happens that brings you to your knees.

    Helen - so nice to see you. My glass is raised to both your parents, to everyone's parents, who meant so much to us, who loved us and helped us in ways we don't even realize, who we will always miss and always, always treasure.

  6. You've captured beautifully your Aunt Judy and your dad. Memories like the lemon pie baked without sugar are so much better, and worth so much more laughter than had it turned out perfect. Loved the description of your dad. Don't be sad, just remember them well. Like you just did. Cheers!

  7. I think that everyone should have an Aunt Judy in their lives.

    Thanks for sharing the memories and the photos, my friend.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I can relate. The people and situations are different but the bittersweet memories are the same.

  9. Wonderful tribute ... Not a day goes by that I don't think of my own pop... Great write.

  10. My Dad is also 5 years gone (exactly at Christmas). It makes this season very difficult. Funny. People always say that time heals all wounds; I'm not so sure. I miss him as much now as I did when he first passed away.

    Thank-you so much for your tender (and well written, almost poetic) post.


  11. Whenever I think about my Dad, I always tell myself that it is because he is thinking of me that I am aware of him. I hope it is true - I miss him so much. I guess it is just because we love them.


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