I never realized exactly how special my father was until later in my life. One in a million. I miss him. He’s been gone for years, yet I still catch myself, lost in thought, turning on one foot to point something out, ask him a question, or gain his opinion.
A red-haired, green-eyed Irishman, he was exuberant, big on nature, respecting of life, insistent on education and taught us natural law. (Physics in a way you understood.) Gravity was an undeniable force of nature–and the unavoidable result of ignoring his telling us not to climb the tree with the rotten limb. Equal and opposite reaction– as applied to trajectories– is the reason why you don’t shoot your BB gun at things the BB’s could ricochet from. You didn’t throw snowballs at the longest dripping icicle clinging to the eaves of the house to knock it down without gaining a lecture on solids, liquids and gases, as well as projectile force overcoming resistance at an unpredictable rate. Those ‘X’s’ representing unknown quantities in equations took on real and sobering meanings at that point. Wisdom imparted, all while he iodined and bandaided the resulting ice-chunk gash in your forehead.
When, as small children, he had to tie us in a line to cross the frozen surface of Michigan’s Milford Pond or Kensington Lake because we kept getting separated by being blown away, he explained sail force. And how wind, like water, literally eddies and swirls even though it’s unseen. But he described it in terms that brought it to life and appealed to your imagination. We watched as the wind danced with the snow in a sweeping, glittering Waltz; joyously threw itself into gorges to free-fall into the sky, or spun and snaked through trees shivering in their meager leaves. To me that was his greatest gift: true, detailed, artistic observation.
He taught us freedom of thought, the main concept being we must never dismiss another’s idea or opinion because it differed from our own. And if we did find another’s idea with enough merit to use it, to ask permission and give credit. Because anyone who would steal an idea, would be as quick to steal a wallet. Thievery was unacceptable in any form.
But his biggest thing was no matter how bad a situation, one could always start new. He taught that each day is a gift, unblemished and pure. An opportunity to use to its best benefit. So it wasn’t surprising when I took a psych class in college and encountered Locke’s philosophy of Tabula Rasa, or clean slate, that I found it a familiar concept. Dad taught that one from childhood. Yes, I know Locke applied it to infants and their emotional development, believing environment and conditioning overruled genetics. Dad just took it a little further, and applied it to every day.
As young as three I can remember the excitement of waking to the first snow of the year. We’d peer out the window as dawn painted things pink, then gold, then rays of full sun burst through to illuminate iced limbs and hoar-frost until it seemed the entire world was made of glittering crystal coated with diamond dust. I wanted so badly to dance across that untouched field and be part of that mystical scene. Dad understood. He’d carry me outside in my flannel nightgown, and set me barefoot in the snow. I swear I never felt chilled– I felt like some blessed magical creature. I was amazed at the sensation of powdered ice on the soles of my feet, how something so cold could burn like fire!
But it was his words that stand out today in my memory. Just before he set me on the ground, he’d sweep an arm around us and say, “You know, the world is just like this. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s untouched and it’s yours. It’s only waiting for you make your mark on it!” He’d put my feet in the snow and I’d take off, laughing and dancing. That first snow was our tradition until I just got too big to lug outside any longer. But even after that he’d keep an eye out for Mama, give me a heads up when the coast was clear, and ease the door open for me to slip outside.
We don’t often have snow here in Mississippi. But we do have heavy frosts! We had one this week, and yes, I regressed to childhood and danced in it. The texture is different. The frozen grass crushes under your feet, crackling like spun glass. After the dance it’s a little harder to find the hearts, initials and smiley faces in frost rather than snow. But if you tilt your head just right so the light spills across the ground, they’re there. Frost has taught me to look until I see.
Just like when Dad and I did it together, I came in, wrapped my feet up in a towel and sipped hot chocolate while I reveled in my adventure.
I feel that same first snow sense of anticipation when I sit down to write. The blank paper of my pad, or the computer screen an inviting field of white; untouched, untracked. It becomes even more special when, on occasion, I hear Dad’s voice again in the back of my mind.
You know, the world is just like this. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s untouched and it’s yours. It’s just waiting for you to make your mark on it . . . .