I wake gently in the morning, even those days that begin with the beep of my BlackBerry alarm. I lay in the same position in which I awake, keep my eyes closed and I breath out slowly and evenly. I let the last vestiges of the dream sink into me, running it through my head like a film. What does it have to tell me? What am I telling myself?
Last night’s dream leaves me feeling particularly good because my dad came to visit me. Mornings after a visit from my dad are always better. Like all my dreams I seem to drop into it in the second act and my friend Darlene is working on some kind of project with my Dad – which involves meeting up with him.
I’m not jealous but I’m wishful. In the dream I’m telling her stories about him (I can’t remember which stories, just a feeling that I was sharing memories of him – like one would if you had never met the person – which was kind of weird since she was spending time with him) although at this point in the dream my Dad was also kind of Robert Redford…..it wasn’t clear if she was doing a project with Robert Redford or with Dad….they were kind of both the same person. I smile at this. I don’t usually think of my dad as Robert Redford, he’s more like the father in The Waltons.
I ask her what they do, and she gives me an old photo album. Big with a worn, brown leather cover. I slowly and carefully, almost reverently, turn the pages of this heavy book. The pages where the photos would be is like a threadbare corduroy, a dark mustard brown colour, the fabric pulled tight, the corduroy in rows almost – like double furrows down the page, the fluff of the fabric worn almost completely away. There are no photos, just the little corner pieces left to indicate where the photos were at some point. My dad/Robert Redford has taken the photos out of the album so that Darlene may use it for the project.
I turn the pages wistfully and comment on how cool it would be to see the photos that were once here. A couple more pages and there, lying loose, close to the inside binding and almost falling out of the book, are two photos. I pick up one of them, a strip of four photos like those received from a mall photo booth. They’re brown sepia toned pictures of my Dad at about ten or twelve years old. I hold them gently as it’s obvious they’re very fragile. Only two pictures remain and those two are in danger of disappearing – the emulsion has peeled away from two pictures at the top of the strip and pieces are loosened on the remaining two, like sunburned skin or the loosened paper label from a jar put through the dishwasher.
I hold it carefully and look into the eyes of my father as a child and smile. “I wish you could have known him,” I tell Darlene. Oblivious, in that dream-like way, that she is the one meeting with him in this dream. And then, almost as soon as I say this, something in me softly realizes that I can see my father too, I simply have to ask.
And just like that I’m in the front seat of the car and we’re waiting for my Dad. We’re picking him up, like teenagers heading out on a Friday night. It’s dark and Darlene, my sister Shari and my son Patrick are sitting in the back seat. I’m in the front passenger seat, which is oddly covered with a slight dusting of snow, which spreads a light one inch blanket across the entire front seat area – passenger seat, centre console and driver’s seat.
We’re parked in the driveway of our farmhouse on Harbell Road in Salmon Arm, just slightly ahead of the house, facing away from the road and toward the big barn at the end of the long driveway, so that I have to turn my head and look slightly over my left shoulder to see the back door of the house. Up ahead to my right I know the machine shed is there beside the old outhouse, although I can’t see them through the dark night.
Looking and waiting for my dad to come out of the house I notice the shadowed shapes of the life-size reindeer, silently lined up as if to pull Santa’s sleigh, although it’s nowhere to be seen. Big, blown-up birthday candles jut out of the top of each reindeer’s head – are they lit? I look at these stranded, frozen, flying reindeer with fond, melancholy recognition, thinking “Oh look, there are the Christmas reindeer of my childhood. If only you’d been there when….” In my real childhood we had no such thing. No lawn decorations of any kind. But in this dream the memory is just as real as the snow I sweep from the seat of the car.
Then my father is jogging toward us, his arms full of packages meant to be used in whatever project he and Darlene are working on. He runs through the dark, heading to the driver’s side before he remembers with a barely there “Oh, right, Darlene drives during these excursions” and he changes course and heads for the passenger door. I’m smiling as he opens my door and greet him with a “Hey dad!”
He smiles back, hands me the packages and then wordlessly circles the car to get into the driver’s side, not surprised at all to see me sitting in the seat he thought he was to occupy. I brush the snow away from the console and put the packages down.
We’re driving down the driveway, which is now paved and morphed into a narrow road. “When did this happen?” I think, “When did our farm driveway become a road and where does it lead?” To our left I know is the house where Bubba Bland lives, down the paved road past the side lawn and the big tree with the tire swing.
In real life there is no such road. In my real childhood the lawn spreads from the back porch to the summer house – a small, screened-in out building that we children used to sleep in during hot summer nights, the mosquitoes buzzing around our heads despite the wire mesh screens meant to keep them out. Too many children opening the doors with unthinking abandon.
Walk along the grass away from the driveway with the house on your left and the summer house on your right and you’ll see the large maple tree with branches low enough to climb and big enough to settle into to read a book. Hanging from the biggest branch is the big tire swing. Lay a folded towel to protect your soft stomach from the hard ridges of the inside circle of the big tractor tire, dive through with your hands above your head and position yourself just so, finding the perfect balance point, and then push off, arms and legs dangling, long hair flying to just sweep across the top of the lawn and the hay field that the big maple borders.
Only in my dreams is Bubba Bland’s house where the alfalfa grows, his driveway paved over the grass of reality. In fact, Bubba Bland’s brother now owns the farmhouse of my childhood. The house where my dream father lives.
So we’re driving along the narrow, paved driveway road, Bubba’s house somewhere to our left, the machine shed and then the old chinchilla house to our right. Then we’re driving between long rows of parked cars, under a large white tent. It’s a car lot. “Wow. Progress.” I think. “Our farm has turned into a car lot?” I ask my father. “Yep.” He answers, both hands on the wheel, his attention focused on the road ahead of him.
Then we’re at our destination, the no-longer-a-barn at the end of the now long, paved driveway. We park the car inside the large cavernous building and then we’re sitting at a desk or table with a large, over-weight man dressed badly in drag, a large “beauty” mark on his right cheek. He’s removed his wig and his balding dark hair is messed. Is he smoking, or is that the filmmaker in me adding details to complete the dream picture? He looks like a mafia man wearing make-up.
My dad has the photo album on his knee. My son Patrick sits beside me. We’re here to talk to the mafia man in a satin spaghetti strap dress about a job for Patrick. Go figure.
And there my dream ends. My dad, me and my son in a scene from a 1930 gangster movie, minus the guns and danger and with the added colour of a man in drag.
I’m left with the lingering memory of my father who died suddenly on September 22, 2004. At the time of his death I was just entering into the possibility that my husband was having an affair. Double death.
I cherish these dream visits from my father. An unexpected welcome to visit with him once again. During my entire adult life my dad was one of my spiritual teachers and he continues to be so in death, the wall between worlds disappearing in dreams.
My dad working at his wheel.