A year’s mind, and a letter from my dad

Yesterday marked one year since my dad died.  As the date approached, I thought of a term I first heard a few months ago from my friend Zoe: “a year’s mind.”

March 1, 2008
Dad, with his youngest great-granddaughter

It means a remembrance, as in the one year anniversary of someone’s death.  And as October 21 approached, I’d been thinking about my dad.  I had considered writing something here on the date, but decided against it.  Or had decided, until this morning, when I read Karyn Romeis’s poignant post in which she marked her own father’s birthday.

So I’ve decided to talk about one of the ways I remember Dad.

My mother asked me to give the eulogy at his funeral, and while I was working on that, I found an image I’d made years before.  He’d written me a letter about ten years ago, when his parents’ house was torn down, and for some reason I’d scanned the letter.  I’m glad I did, because there’s so much of him in it.

Dear Dave,

A letter from homeHope the shock of getting a letter from this end won’t be too hard on you.

No one who knew Dad would be surprised by the wry humor.

I cut this out some time back and forgot where I put it until today.

“It” was a two-photo feature from my home town newspaper.  The big, cream-colored house that his father built in 1923 had been demolished.

I have a lot of nice memories about life in (the) big house but my fondest memories are of the Red Rows where I was born.

My home town was a coal-mining town on the western shore of Cape Breton Island.  The mine built dozens of little duplex houses, all painted red: the Red Rows.  Dad said one time of his family’s place in the Red Rows (a home for his parents, six or seven children, and his grandmother), that there was so little room that “before we went to sleep they must have given us something so we’d sleep, and hung us up on hooks.”

I was to a dance in Windsor Saturday night.  Buddy MacMaster played and the place was jammed.  Music was excellent.  I got home about 2:15 a.m.  I went with Alex and Muggsy.  It was a nice evening as I saw a lot of friends both young and old.  It was a trip to Cape Breton.

Dad and Mom were living in Dearborn, Michigan,  a suburb of Detroit; Windsor, Ontario is just the other side of the Detroit River.  Alex and Muggsy are part of  the vast Cape Breton diaspora that for decades has out-networked Facebook.

As for Buddy MacMaster, he’d have played tunes like these and these, though the clips are from a concert in Boston, not a dance like the one in Windsor.

I read the paragraph about the dance at Dad’s funeral–and I added that if not for the date on the letter, he could have written it any time from 1951, when he moved to Detroit, till 2009.

Weather here very nice, a little frost each morning.
All the rest of the family OK.

I don’t think I ever had a letter or a phone call without his asking about the weather.  I’ve come to see this not just as standard conversation, but his way of connecting more with someone in another place: what’s it like for you?  Here’s how things are for me… and for the people around me.

Hope you can make out the writing.  The old hand is getting pretty shaky.

I suppose it was shaky enough–but every week, Dad would write a letter to his older sister. Like this one, I’m sure they rambled from topic to topic, but they were as much a part of him as sitting in someone’s kitchen with a strong cup of tea.

* * *

And those are some of the things I’m remembering, some parts of this year’s mind.