...a story about migrating to Italy

Thursday, December 2, 2010

He would make people laugh through tears with his funny stories and jokes and make people fear for their lives with his angry glare.

Well here I am several months after my last relevant post, relevant to the name of this blog that is... but right now I'm not here to make observations and reflections about living in Italy. Though there is much to say about that. Like in my most recent poem, if any of you happened to read on Facebook: 'It's all good'. And it is.
But right now I am here to think and reflect about my father. Which I guess my last post reflected, in my little memory lane trip via the Augie March song 'Asleep in Perfection' in a sort of build up to where we are now with this post.
Dead people sort of get that invisible title. With all of our faults, worst mistakes, quirks and eccentricities, when we die, those who loved us or even liked us, remember us as some perfect soul. Even those who didn't particularly like us much in life, remember us for all of our positive aspects, even if those who disliked us had the smallest ounce of general respect and good manners.
But I'm rambling. I'm not up at almost midnight on a school night to write a polished piece or even something remotely inventive. I'm not even going to do a spellcheck.
I just need to empty my head and tell the internet blogging world thankyou for providing an avenue to vent and bare all. Because that's all I can remember wanting to do ten years ago. Well, it's almost the 3rd of December so it was 9 years, 11 months and 19 days ago, I think. I was never really good at math but please don't tell my student's parents that.
I felt the need to tell any person who asked even the vaguest question the story of how my father slipped away. I didn't want to spare any gruesome, sorrowful or heartbreaking detail. I would imagine people's reactions. But I rarely did tell the story. A few details seemed to overwhelm people with deep hurt, sadness and a level of uncomfortable and awkward that I would rather not inflict. So, most of the time I would reply with a few vague comments, a brave face and a positive attitude.
I was standing in our backyard, between the veranda step and the lawn, eyes fixed on my mother as she stood at the driveway facing our labrador Charlie. He was gazing at her, clearly confused and somewhat saddened as she sobbed to him that Frank wasn't coming back. He waited at the gate every day for weeks, ears pricking up and a hopeful expression every time a car drove up, only to sink back to the ground moments later with his head on his paws.
I opened the front to door to find my Uncle Peter, his Uncle Peter, only four years his senior and more like a brother, the first words he said to me was "He loved you so much" followed by a big hug and the first tears I'd ever seen him shed.
I thought of my cousin Vince back at the hospital, I could hear him but I was staring at the flowers my Aunty Carmen brought as Vince was slowly saying "Fuck. Fuck. Not him too. Fuck."
I remember the women who came to our house that I had never met before in my life, who sat in our loungeroom for an hour talking about death, one about her son who died in his twenties, his picture hung around her neck in a wallet size open locket.
I remember sitting on the footpath infront of our house in my long black skirts and, however ironically black, hippy shirts, smoking Cartier and my friends sitting beside me as I stared at my toenails and suggested to them that I should paint them purple, before my mum and sisters called me inside to ask me to write a poem to go in the funeral card.
I remember my cousin Lucy telling me about a song that made her and her sister sad everytime they heard it, before realising that it was because it was playing in the limousine between the church and the cemetary. The song was 'I hope you dance' by Leanne Womack and Lucy later bought me the CD single. The songwriter wrote it for her children. I really like the line "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean... and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance."
I remember my Aunty Shirley writing in the newspaper "He's ain't heavy, he's my brother" and Nonno writing that he lost the jewel in his crown. I remember seeing my Aunty Grace crying a lot for the first time in the funeral parlour, at the viewing.
I remember my big sisters tucking my hair behind my ears and giving me glasses of water.
I remember my friend Priscilla taking me for a drive and telling me to scream as loud as I possibly could. I told her I couldn't. I remember Jon and Anna and Tania there, like permanent fixtures on that footpath infront of our house.
I remember opening my Dad's wardrobe and pushing my face against his jackets and shirts before quickly closing the doors against the back of my head to keep as much of his smell trapped inside as I could, as I breathed it in.
I remember the hairs standing up on my arm whenever I sat in the loungeroom and wishing, willing him to appear even though the thought scares the shit out of me.
I remember my older cousin Vince looking down as the coffin was lowered into the ground as he said "Bye Frank".
I remember my Dad.
But not as much as I would like. I feel like the memories are fading and it scares me. It has been almost ten years. It will be ten years on the 12th of December, 5.30am-ish to be almost exact.
I can't remember his smell. I can hear his voice if I think really hard, though it echoes and rises and falls and I just can't seem to grasp it. It doesn't seem fair to have to go to so much effort. I can picture his face. But I can't recall every detail, the exact shape of his nose, his chin, every line, every crease, where exactly the ginger and the black and the white of his beard started and stopped and were his eyes really brown with a dark blue outline or did I just imagine it and were his teeth really thirty-a-day smoker yellow or were they not that bad and was his voice nasally at times, especially when he laughed and it seems almost not likely that he still had great biceps for a 50 something who didn't work out although I suppose he lifted car transmissions every day for most of his life, and did his fingernails always have grease under them from working on cars, because he was a bit of a neat freak or did I make that up. He wore blue a lot. And brown.
He used to laugh at his own jokes. He had a whole repetoire of bad jokes as most fathers do. Every New Years Eve, all of the family would say to him, "New year, time to get some new jokes". He fixed everyone's car. He invented things. He was a great storyteller, complete with accurate voice immitations to expression and gestures so he would have everyone in the room locked in. He really liked Christmas and he used to dress up as Santa for us and the cousins. He hated public crowds and waiting in lines. When he was annoyed, he would breath through his nose loudly like a horse. He loved movies and would watch his favourites on repeat. He most admired Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Bogart and Brando to name a few. He loved music, mostly 50s and 60s Rock and Roll and Country. He cooked a mean fritata with salami. If he made a trip to the deli, it meant he would come home with a big bag of fresh cured meats, cheese, olives and bread to share for lunch. If he went to buy something like an appliance or a tool, it had to be the best brand. He never bought himself clothes and we had to threaten him several times before he threw out his old haggered brown cardigan. He was a collector of philosophies and affirmations of peace within yourself, courage and reality as he saw it. He called himself a pessimist, ("A pessimist is a well informed optimist," he would say when I called him negative,) but I think he was just a realist. He was optimistic without being foolish. He was cautious and thought things through. He was both patient and impatient. He was both placid and hot-tempered. He was a jokester, a prankster, an actor and an artist. He would make people laugh through tears with his funny stories and jokes and make people fear for their lives with his angry glare.
He called me 'Mickey' and often said it in a sobbing Sylvester Stallone voice to mimick the scene in Rocky 3. He was Frank, frank... true to his name. He always told it like it is, he never lied and he never stole. When he was young he went to school every day, he did his homework, when he was older he went to work every day and got the job done. He always kept his word. He taught us manners, respect and self-worth.
Perfection? No, don't be ridiculous. He was real and he is real because he will always be my father. I get it, we only hold on to the positives because the positives breath air into us.
I suppose now after all of that, I think I can almost recall his smell. Cigarettes, and I mean the hardcore 16mg cigarettes, old clothes, engine oil and a vague scent of Old Spice and fragrant soap. I think that's as close as I'm going to get.

Love you Dad. Rest in peace. When I think about it, I really do hope there is a heaven and then I hope that you're up there with Uncle Peter, laughing your nasally laughs together and making Nonna smile. Oh and maybe kicking back with Brando on occasion, too. Mimick a few voices and quote your favourites.
Ciao for now.