I have never had a close relationship with my father. I think that his inability to connect with his children may have stemmed from his upbringing (although I remember my grandparents being extremely loving – my grandfather, Poppy, would dance with us Sunday mornings to the polka station on the radio, eat wheaties every morning and always sing these old school jingles to us) or maybe it was the era. It was the time when the men went to work and the women stayed home and cared for the children. I have no memories of my father doing things with us until after my parents were divorced. Maybe he did, but I don’t remember.
I got a message on Facebook a week or so ago that my Dad wanted me to contact him about things that I might want that are in my grandparent’s house. He is planning on selling it. It is not the ideal place for him. There are two sets of stairs. He can’t take care of the property anymore. He is all alone save for his little dog when he is there. He is not healthy. I understand completely.
I have so many fond memories of that house. I loved going there. We would sleep in the guest room, my sister and me. It had this great purple rug and a giant, giant bed. I somehow ended up having some of that same rug in my bedroom in Centereach. My grandmother would make us “grandma’s soup”. It was chicken and vegetable but she did something magical to the chicken. It was my favorite. She always had it ready for us when we visited. She must have made it by the vat full and frozen it constantly. The house was always impeccably clean.
I was thinking about all of this when I called him to let him know what I would want from the house. It is funny because the things in the house that are actually worth anything from a monetary perspective are not the things that I want. I want the things that have more heart than money value, the things that mean something to me in a real way. The first thing that came to my mind was my Grandmother’s salt and pepper shaker collection. When I was young, it was always displayed on this rounded shelving in the kitchen. I loved it so much. We were barely allowed to touch any of it. When I mentioned this to my Dad, he told me that he had already given it away to someone, back when my grandfather had passed away. Gone, just gone. The second thing that I asked about was my Dad’s accordion. I have few vague memories of my Dad playing his accordion. I remember that he was happy, not a feeling I often associate with him. He has not been able to play it since he had his stroke when I was in college. He told me that he had the accordion with him and that he was going to take it back to the music store he purchased it from and sell it back to them. I took that to mean that it was off the table; a non-starter; unavailable to me. It was then that I realized that, in his mind, he had things that maybe I might want and that was it; that was all of the things that he would be willing to give me. He started telling me about a set of electric trains in the attic that he might like to give to my son; a set of trains that I did not know existed. A set of trains that hold no meaning for me. I can’t lie. After the salt and pepper shakers and accordion, I kind of shut down. Maybe that is the only reaction I can muster. I waiver between the guilt of the inability to have a relationship, despite the fact that I have the only grandchild that he will ever have, and just giving up. I am always on the precipice of just not making those painful calls anymore, not forcing myself to go on those visits since there is always little to no reciprocity; to reach out and just be dismissed. How much does one person have to take? When is it OK to just cut and run for your own self-preservation? And is there any way to not feel guilty about it? I clearly don’t know because I still have no answers.