The Dining Room

My father may not have literally been born in this house, but he was a baby here, and grew up in these walls with his four siblings through the Dirty Thirties and World War II. Our dining room was also the dining room when he was a child. We did not eat in the dining room every day, but he must have eaten thousands and thousands of meals in that room, almost all of them cooked by his mother and then by my mother.

He never called any other place home.

He married my mother, Laureen Gowan, in 1957, renovated the house that his father had built, planted thousands of trees, raised cattle, grew grain, stuffed birds, restored gramophones. Impossible to summarize a life in a list.

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Dad died in the dining room, some of his gramophones around him. I can see the place where his bed was below the dining room window from my spot here at the kitchen table where I type these words. I was sitting here eating my supper when he died on Saturday evening, January 6th, 2007. My mother sat across the table from me. Neither of us had much to say. I got up after we’d finished and walked into the dining room to check on him, and he was gone, his glazed eyes open and his mouth frozen in a rigid contortion as if he were gasping for air.

I called my mother and she came in and we sat with him awhile, holding one another, quietly weeping, and then I called my brother Ray. Five minutes later he was there.

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This is my father’s house.

It’s impossible not to feel my father here at the same time as it’s impossible not to feel his absence here. Everything around me was planned and built by him.

I’m at the kitchen table, in the dead-end of the nook where I sat for most meals growing up. It’s breakfast time, but there’s no food in the fridge, none of my mother’s canning in the cupboards in the basement, no vegetables in the root cellar.

A thin layer of plaster dust partly covers the wood-grain Formica that covers the table. Someone, probably my brother Ray, started mudding a spot of water damage on the ceiling almost directly over my head; got so far as sanding, but it looks as though it needs more mud, or perhaps the water that damaged it in the first place is still getting in, and the job was abandoned until the roof is fixed.

I listen for my losses and my ears ring.