My Dad died early in 1997 at eighty-seven years old. I really miss him. I am glad that in the 5 books of true short stories I have written, I did include a few stories about him or, at least, he was a character in my stories. Although I had considered including the story that follows in my first book “The Show Must Go On”, I changed my mind for fear of hurting my Uncle. He died many years ago and I feel I can now share this story. I am including it here, pretty much the way it originally was. With the age of the computer, it is easy to save all our writings.
“That’s the second time that you have reneged! I am not going to continue to play with a person who cheats!” Dad exclaimed, jumping up off his chair, as he grabbed the cottage card table and overturned it into my uncle’s lap!
Cottage neighbour Dave, Mom, and my uncle, the target of Dad’s anger, spontaneously righted the table, grabbing what cards they could before they scattered on the floor.
Mom called to Dad as he stamped towards the door, “Howard, come back and sit down. It’s just a game.”
“I have no time for cheats or liars!”
By now Dad had put on his hat, the hat that he always wore even when just going to the cottage’s outdoor privy, and was turning the doorknob. The door slammed loudly and then there was silence within, a very awkward silence.
It had started out as one of many nights spent playing euchre. Sometimes the players were guests who were visiting us, but often the participants were neighbours who had dropped in. The kettle was always on the woodstove, ready for making tea to go with a lunch when the game was over. Like all country women of the fifties, Mom always had baking stored in various containers, ready to treat whoever dropped by. Tonight, there probably would be no lunch. In a corner of the room, curled up on the couch, I had been reading a book but the ruckus had distracted me.
After what seemed forever but was probably less than a minute, my uncle mumbled his apology, pushed back his chair and headed for his bedroom. I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for him. He was actually my great uncle, at least ten years older than Dad, had been a lonely widower for the last twenty years and welcomed being part of our family on weekends, even though that meant a three hour drive from his city home.
Dave picked up the cards from the floor, but before he left he said to Mom, “Don’t be upset with Howard. He was right, you know. It spoils any game’s fun when someone cheats. We’d spank kids for doing that.” He looked in my direction and smiled.
I was sitting in disbelief. In all my thirteen years I had never seen my dad do anything even remotely violent. Dad was a man who enjoyed listening to classical music, sang in the church choir, fed the birds, fussed over our cat when it was sick, and loved the quietness of the lake outside this cottage where he fished whenever time from his duties as reeve of our small village allowed. Raising his voice was reserved for a triumphant cheer or a groan of disbelief whiled he listened to a ball game or hockey game on the radio. Dad took a great interest in sports and coached both a girls’ and a men’s ball team. He abhorred foul language. Others might have resorted to that in this scenario tonight, but not Dad.
Although mesmerized, I did think to myself, “Boy, I’d better not cheat in any of our family board games! Come to think of it, I would not even know how to cheat at crokinole, Chinese checkers or monopoly!”
In the morning, tranquility had returned and no one mentioned the card game episode. In fact, Dad and Uncle went fishing as planned. I’m sure Uncle was not anxious to open up the subject; as far as I know, there was no follow-up!
A few years later I had cause to flash back to this scene.
“Heather, come here a minute,” Dad called from the bathroom. I went to the door, wondering what he wanted.
“Did you use my razor?” he asked, holding his electric razor in his outstretched hand.
“No,” I said.
“Heather, I’m disappointed. Don’t lie to me.”
It would have been totally out of character, but I think I might have preferred that Dad had slapped or at least yelled at me. I was ashamed of the hair on my legs and had tried to get rid of it with Dad’s razor. Now I was even more ashamed that I had lied to him. The upsetting of the card table and Dad’s “cheats or liars” rebuke replayed in my head.
I’m still not sure how Dad knew. Maybe the razor was still warm.
“Sorry, I did use it,” I confessed, feeling the fire in my cheeks.
“O.K., that’s better. If you must use my razor, ask first.”
That was the end of the conversation; no lecture. Dad returned to his shaving.
I never again lied to him nor did we ever talk more about this. Why after more than 60 years, do I still recall these events? It’s because they impressed upon me the importance of honesty. Honesty governed Dad’s life, whether it was at home or in the council chambers. He expected the same of others.
There is another incident that made a life-lasting impression. It was years after the “shaving”. I had become a wife and a mother of two by then. On a visit to Mom and Dad’s, I was complaining about everything. To me, I was the only competent one and others, especially my husband and my children, caused my problems. Dad was quiet all through my tirade. Finally, when I was fully exhausted, he said, “You know if you’re not enjoying life, it could be the fault of the liver.”
“The liver,” he repeated, emphasizing the word “the”.
Now, finally understanding, I felt a twinge of anger to know that he was not sympathizing with me. Later, I had to admit that Dad was right. This time I had not lied to him, but I was guilty of lying to myself. It was time to take a good look at what I was contributing to my own unhappiness and do something about it.
As always, Dad did not preach nor in any way “keep on my case”. We enjoyed our movies together that weekend, played cards, attended church, went visiting and talked about things other than my problems. When I returned to my own home, I felt relaxed and ready to cope. Dad’s “liver” comment had prompted me to reflect and think things through, especially on the drive home.
This liver is healthier and happier today. I miss Dad no longer being here on earth, but his example and expectations continue to inspire me.
Heather Campbell is the author of the following true, short-story collections:
The Show Must Go On
Dear Hearts and Gentle People
Because You Asked
Sunny Side Up
Heather’s Musings and More
“Heather’s Musings” (Weekly Column for “The Bancroft Times”)
Heather’s books are available at Joanne’s Gallery, Hugli’s Blueberry Ranch, Necessities Retail Store (Bancroft), Ashlie’s Books (Bancroft), Ormsby Gallery, Wilno Crafts & Gallery, Porterville Diner (Lake St. Peter), Prince Street Books, Pembroke and directly from Heather ($15.00 + $4 postage).