Another brief break from politics and social issues.
November 22, 2017: my mother died 49 years ago today. I must admit I was so young I hardly remember her, but I can still give thanks. I’ve written this before. Being a topic I love, I’m sure I will return to it again and again. Consider it a “review,” a new take on an old topic, or maybe I’m just still learning to swim…
When parents die feeling alone: swimming in a more empty, endless, sea, is not unexpected…
I know Chip Kiefer from school, and performing in Old Forge for over 10 years. It’s been a tough year for the Kiefer family. Early this year Chip’s mother passed. I’m not sure if I ever met June Kiefer; if I did it was briefly. I’ve met Charles Kiefer: incredibly nice man. About a month ago Charlie passed too, so I understand some of my emotions there even though I didn’t know him all that well either. Yet, even when I heard about June, to quote a Fogelberg song, “I felt that old familiar pain.” Maybe it’s just me thinking of my friend and understanding this is something we all go through, at least until we escape through that final tunnel headed somewhere, anywhere… We find out when we get there.
Are those who have passed still with us? My middle name is Walter. I was named after an uncle who died when I was about 4. I was told he never could resist bouncing me on his knee. The all too final story told about Uncle Walter was his gruesome accident that was used as an example to force carmakers to install collapsible steering columns.
To this day I think about when I saw him years later. I was at Bisby Gate: gatekeepers Earl and Martha Carman guarded what once was the main entrance to the exclusive Adirondack League Club. Bisby was also home to the annual Carman family Thanksgiving dinner for many years. While the rest of the turkey, potatoes and stuffing were being put away, I stared down the deep dark hallway leading to the back door.
Then, down an equally dark side hallway that led to the pantry and the second floor bedrooms, I saw a figure made of light. He seemed to be playing hide and seek with me. I started whispering questions. He told me he was my Uncle Walter and he was making sure I was OK. My cousin Joyce asked me who I was talking to. To her credit she didn’t mock me, didn’t insult me. Even then I realized it probably had just been my imagination. It’s not like I’ve ever been lacking in that talent.
My mother died when I was young. She got cancer when I was four or five. She lived 7 more years, but to say they weren’t good years is a bit too kind. I feel I hardly knew her. Maybe that’s why I’ve never sensed her being around, or maybe she’s at the door but I can’t hear the knock.
My father lived about 20 years beyond that. To me he was both Mom and Dad. We became close, especially after I graduated from the same school he did in the Central Adirondacks. He died falling onto a flame shooting floor furnace at our Twitchell Lake Adirondack home, but not right away. The next few months were as gruesome as being pinned by a steering wheel column in some ways. At the end, because they were removing limbs that risked his recovery, I think Dad may have decided he didn’t want to live limbless in some nursing home. So he climbed up life’s final high dive and jumped; hopefully into the arms of my mother.
The day he died I was on the interstate when I saw a huge shaft of light shooting down though the clouds. A feeling washed over me: “he’s gone.” When I got the call I asked what time he died. The times matched.
That’s when I realized that the rock I didn’t even know I had been standing on was gone, leaving me swimming, treading water. I suspect Chip Kiefer might feel that way this year; at least a little. After all, who teaches us to swim life’s turbulent seas?
A lot of people must feel this way when people pass, and not just parents. The disciples must have felt this way. I find some comfort that the disciples saw visions, heard him speak again, felt his presence. People find rocks to stand on where they can, when there’s the need, when to others there may seem to be no rock at all.
About a year after Dad died I was on tour and staying in a resort near Lexington, Kentucky when I swore I heard his voice. I headed towards some bushes, but came back with nothing but a case of poison ivy. I could almost hear him laugh, “That will teach you… go… live your life.” Swim.
Over the years I have felt Bill Carman’s presence, occasionally. I have felt Janice Corrigan’s presence: my first girlfriend. Uncle Walter says little, but his presence seems undeniable. I know most; if not all, of this is probably imaginary. But as long as I understand it might all be my imagination, I don’t set up some temple, start worshiping them, or insist others feel the same, what harm could there be?
Time passes and eventually so do we.
I grow old
I grow old
I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled
Shall I part my hair from behind?
Do I dare eat a peach?
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each
I do not think that they will sing to me
-from T.S. Elliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Maybe, like my mother, Prufrock couldn’t hear them. Perhaps they too were knocking on his door.
I’m in my mid 60s now. Soon I’ll be as old as Dad when he died. I passed Mom a long time ago. But Dad is still here. Janice is still here, Uncle Walter is still here. Millie, my wife, doesn’t sense them, but I’m sure she still senses her father, her brothers Mike and Vin, and especially her mother Marilyn. Charlie and June are still here.
They teach us how to swim life’s sea.
And they are the rocks on which we still stand.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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