BY NANCY BOYCE
Copyright is held by the author.
IT’S AMAZING my parents ever allowed us to marry. It was the first meeting between my family and my boyfriend. My mother thought it would be nice to have “my young man” over for dinner. Sean’s overactive metabolism made him constantly hungry and he accepted the invitation eagerly. He took my parents’ interrogation in stride, joking about everything and leaning over and pulling me close to him and kissing my cheek whenever something was particularly funny, which made my father stare at him even more. His name made my parents assume that Sean had been raised with a proper Irish Catholic upbringing and my father bestowed a great honour on Sean by asking him to say grace. We weren’t the holding hands type of family, but we bowed our heads and waited for the customary grace.
“Father, Son and Holy Ghost; who the Hell can eat the most?” Sean said and then dove immediately into his mashed potatoes. My mother’s jaw dropped.
“What the Hell was that?” my father asked.
“Only grace I ever knew,” Sean said, chuckling. “My mother was an Irish Catholic with a sense of humour, she was, but she raised us Protestant on account of my dad.”
Protestant was bad enough. Even swearing was acceptable, but my father wouldn’t stand for blasphemy. He was not a fan of using the Lord’s name in vain, so preferred the “f” word. I never understood when I heard it being referred to as the “f bomb” on television. Bomb? I heard it every day as I helped my dad in his car repair business. My mother would not allow it at the dinner table, so my father refrained from using it on this occasion. My father had his principles too; he refused to use the “f” word before noon. That’s what he said, but I heard it many mornings, normally soon after the shop opened.
Sean and I hadn’t been dating for very long when Dad offered Sean a job as mechanic. Dad was happy to take Sean under his wing and teach him a few things. Sean, who hadn’t any formal training, was a natural mechanic. He said it was from all his years of building and racing go-carts as a kid and playing around with dirt bikes. It wasn’t something Sean had ever considered as a career until he met my father.
Dad seemed to be falling in love with Sean almost as quickly as I was. As a wedding gift to us, Dad made Sean a full partner in the business. Dad wasn’t easy to work with, but Sean’s affable personality smoothed out Dad’s rough edges.
Working in the business was a perfect job for me as well. I looked after the books, made appointments, ordered parts and got to know a thing or two about car repairs, although numbers were more my forte. I was able to work part-time while we raised our son Conor. My dad wondered where we went wrong when Conor decided to study accounting instead of coming into the family business. Conor may have inherited his father’s red hair, but his lack of mechanical ability and love of numbers and logic was all me.
When my mother passed, we tried to convince Dad to live with us, but he wouldn’t hear of it. When we suggested that we buy a bit of acreage together on the edge of town, he warmed to the idea. We bought the nine acre property with a big farm house that made up for its dilapidated plumbing and outdated electrical with loads of charm. Dad had a large bedsitting room with a balcony and his own private bath. He took all his meals with us, since Sean and I loved to cook. We did our best to ensure that Dad kept his weight up, which became more difficult as he aged. Dad got pneumonia every year and it was taking its toll. Dad enjoyed eating his lunch on the deck as he watched the horses on the farm next door. Dad said watching horses was as peaceful as looking at water. I think sometimes he felt like he was back on his childhood farm in Saskatchewan, but this time with a few rolling hills.
Dad’s breathing never quite cleared up between bouts of pneumonia, but I worked with him on breathing exercises and Sean would percuss his back. We tried to convince Dad to wear a mask or at least a scarf over his mouth on really cold days, but he never liked to do that. Dad wasn’t feeling all that strong, but he and Sean would still go to the farmer’s market every Saturday morning. We’d feast for lunch on fresh Kaiser buns, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Dad liked his with a couple of slabs of cold butter, lots of mustard and a few slices of pastrami; topped off with a hot cup of tea, of course. Dad still wasn’t much for blasphemy, but he’d hold up his cup of tea in a toast to Sean and say, “Who the hell can eat the most?”
I’m having difficulty holding the photo of Dad and Sean in my hands; my hands keep shaking. It was taken last Saturday when Dad and Sean had returned from the market. Their backs are to me; they didn’t know I was watching them. The snow was falling in big fluffy flakes and landing gently on Dad’s straight, broad shoulders. It was Dad’s last market; his last snowfall; his last week. He finally succumbed to the pneumonia.
I make myself a cup of tea, wrap my hands around it hoping to stop the chills and shaking. I look out the window at the horses and I manage to raise my mug, “Here’s to you Dad.”