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  • jolwajda

Dad.



When I decided about six months ago that I wanted to move to the west coast, going up to Thompson to spread my dad's ashes was not even on the radar for me. I have a lot of trauma tied to my teenage years where I grew up. A head filled with horrible memories. When I left at nineteen, I left with two fingers in the air promising myself I would never set foot in that town again. And for sixteen years, I kept that promise. After my dad passed though, it was something my family would talk about. What it would be like to spread his ashes where there were good memories of the four of us as a family way back when - before everything started going sideways. As I started to map out my trip to British Columbia and look at my stops along the way, I realized I would have a stop in Manitoba. And I would have the time to get to Thompson if it was something I could bring myself to do. If it was something that I could pull off. It was up to me though, to decide if I could find the courage to do it. I spent a lot of time mulling it over, trying to go over every possible scenario that could accompany that particular part of the trip. In the end, I decided to do it. After the last few years I've endured, I'm not putting any more of my life on hold based on fear, or anything else. When I knew I had settled on a definite yes, I started reaching out to people from my past. As a family we spent a lot of our childhood with the Mossips: Terry, May, Candacemay, Michelle, and David. They had a remote cabin on part of paint lake called Penis Point. I was positive it was a nickname that Terry and my dad came up with, but when I started doing my research and asking around, I was wrong. It was in fact a place multiple people knew the whereabouts to. I thought it would be the perfect spot to lay my dad to rest. Terry and my dad were very close for years. They had a falling out shortly before my parents made the move from Thompson, but I knew how much my dad still cared for him. Terry was the greatest guy. I remember walking into my kitchen one time, probably thirteen, maybe fourteen years old, and Terry and my father were sitting at the kitchen table. The two of them were both smoking, both drinking, both swearing. They were bikers and miners so it was pretty par for the course. Most afternoons, if they weren’t underground, that's where I would find them. Terry always with a Budweiser in hand, and my dad - always vodka Pepsi. Terry was wearing a super worn in black Harley Davidson t-shirt, I imagine at least twenty years old. You could almost see through the once-upon-a-time strong cotton fabric. I told him I liked it. “Ya, you like it? It's yours.” He stood up, pulled the top over his head, passed it to me, and sat back down bare chested for the rest of the visit. That’s the type of guy Terry was. He would (literally) give you the shirt off of his back. He passed away over a decade ago, in a car accident. When my family got the news, we were devastated. We reached out to May and the rest of the family. We talked about their family often. The news hit us hard. I thought the Mossip’s old cabin would be a good place for him to have a drink with Terry again. I had arranged the trip to Penis Point with Bonnie and Barney, parents of my childhood best friend, but a few days before, I messaged Bonnie to confirm, she said she was really sorry, but the boat was out of the water. I was disheartened by the news, but I knew it was a long shot to begin with. The season was over. I had a backup plan though.


The day for me to travel to Thompson finally arrived. At the start of my journey driving across the country, I put in effort to not dwell too much on this particular task at hand. It was always at the back of my mind eating away at me though. I managed to keep busy with other things. Being in different places, finally getting to embrace friends I wished to hug for so long. But as I turned out onto the Provincial Trunk Highway 6 the morning of, I knew I was out of time. I had to face it - the plan was in motion. I hadn't talked to my dad recently. I would often when he first died, but it had been several months, maybe years actually. I was nervous. There were things I needed to say to him before I let part of him go. I'll talk to him after I grab a coffee in Ashern, I thought. But that came and went. After I fuel up at Grand Rapids Reserve. But as I pulled the car out of the parking lot of the gas station, my mouth wouldn't move. I got to Ponton which used to be a Restaurant and the last place to stop before the final stretch to my hometown so far up north, but it burnt down a few years ago. It was the last turn before I would get to Thompson… only a few hours away now. I couldn't put it off any longer. I slowed down while I passed the empty lot that used to be Ponton. I put on a song that reminds me of him, I held the steering wheel tight and I started to sob. I let the tears roll down my cheeks and onto my lap. I didn't even wipe them. What was the point? I continued to cry until the song finished, and when it did, I turned my music off completely and said ok, let's talk. I told him how fucking silly I felt to talk to a box that was sitting on the passenger seat beside me, and then I told him I felt silly for having that feeling. I apologized to him for the length of time that has passed since I had last checked in for a chat. I told him that I felt more afraid than I imagined I would be for what I was about to do. I told him that part of me didn't want to leave part of him behind when I left, even though I knew I was doing the right thing. I talked to him about the fucked-up things that happened in our family in my adolescent years, how it still affects me so strongly to this day. How damaged I still feel from it. How I hated always living my life in fight-or-flight mode. But that I was letting it go… that all was forgiven. I told him that he went to soon, that I wish his addiction didn't overtake his life and cut it short. That I wish he was still with us. I told him mom is more beautiful than ever. I told him that it was time to visit Cole. I told him that my plan was to take him to Penis Point to be with Terry, but I wasn't able to make it happen. I apologized and told him I tried. I really did try. I told him that I was going to go up to Paint Lake where we camped as a family so long ago, find our old lot and spread him and Hunter there. I told him finally after all these years, I was taking him home. One of my favorite things to do with my parents, was to listen to the stories from the time when they were young. Whenever I was in New Brunswick for a visit which was not often, maybe once or twice a year, we would sit around the table having drinks while we cooked dinner, dinner always being forgotten until hours later. Maybe 12:30 or 1 o'clock in the morning we would finally sit down to eat. It always fell by the wayside, us always having too much fun in each other's company, relishing in the fact we were all together again even if we had limited time. To this day anyone that knows me knows I still have this habit. Food always comes last when I'm with people that I love. Too many stories to tell, too many laughs to share. I find that part more important. My parents would tell me stories of the time my dad hitchhiked out to Vancouver with a girl when he was thirteen. Sold his eight string guitar for a full sheet of acid shortly after, and dropped out of high school when he was fifteen. When he was seventeen, he met my mom. My mother had just moved from New Brunswick to Thompson with my grandpa. My grandfather was a carpenter and had found work way up north. She went along for the ride wanting to broaden her horizons. The first time she laid eyes on him was at an underage club everyone hung out at back in the day. She looked over at him from across the room. My dad had his arm up a cigarette machine trying to steal a pack of smokes. She was enamoured with him immediately, and stayed that way even after his very last breath. After everything they went through for all those years, she intensely loved him. I understand why. My dad was a tough motherfucker, and I'll tell you a story to prove it. When I was eighteen my dad had a massive heart attack. My brother Cole lived in Nova Scotia by then and my mom was out of town for work. I didn't live at home, but my boyfriend at the time and I stopped into see him before we headed out to a friend’s for the night. He was in a horrible mood, which was nothing new. My dad had a window: if you caught him around four thirty or five p.m., he had just around the right number of drinks in him to be talkative, charming, witty, funny. But if you missed that window, he was bitter and he was mean. We missed the window. I usually pushed it and fought back when he would turn into that person, but for some reason that night I didn't. We left and as we were walking out the door, I said, “Bye dad, I love you.” He replied with, “Ya, you better.” Yup, sounds about right. The next morning at my apartment, my boyfriend and I woke up to someone banging so hard on our door it sounded like it was going to come down. He got up to answer it, and all I heard were two words: Paul and stroke. I was frantic. I was the only one in town. We rushed to the hospital and a nurse sat me down and told me part of the story. That he had collapsed on the floor, was pronounced dead. It happened while the hospital staff were in the middle of a shift change, so there were double the staff. They used the defibrillator and were able to bring him back to life. The whole story though goes as: my dad woke up in the middle of the night in the middle of having a massive heart attack, and instead of calling an ambulance, he chose to scrape off the frost from the window of his car and drive himself to the hospital, stopping at every red light on the way. Parking the car in the hospital parking lot. Walking into the ER and declaring, “I'm having a heart attack”, to triage. The nurse handed him forms to fill out. He repeated “I'm having a fucking heart attack.” And then promptly died on the hospital floor. Like I said, he was a tough motherfucker. Months after he was released from the hospital, he started losing his teeth. When they used the defibrillator on him, for whatever reason, it killed all the nerves in his gums, so he would be eating dinner every now and again and just lose a piece of tooth. It kept happening over and over, until there was not much more to lose. So, he gave in and got the rest of them pulled. But he didn't always wear his dentures at home, and when he would be sitting on the couch watching TV with his face relaxed no dentures in, his face shape would change completely. Shrunken into half of what it normally was, I would say his name and he would turn to look over at me. I would burst out laughing, “Your fucking face!” And then he would laugh too, because he knew how ridiculous he looked. My brother and I both have hazel eyes. My mother’s eyes are the deepest pools of brown, almost black. We get the hazel color from my dad, who’s eyes were an intensely light shade of green. They were so vibrant. So bright. After my dad’s first heart attack, he was on numerous medications. I’d say he probably took over half a dozen pills daily. But that didn’t stop him from drinking. Old habits die hard, I guess. I had never seen anything before like this and I’m sure it sounds exaggerated. But from the beginning of the day, until the end of the night, his eyes would change multiple colors. I know. I know. It doesn’t sound possible. But I swear to you, it happened. They would go from intense green to intense blue to sky grey. I would stare at him often throughout the day and inform him when it happened. Always flabbergasted at how that could possibly be. “Dad, look at me… They’re blue now.” And a while later, “Now they are grey – go look in the mirror! Go look!” He would reply to this with, “I don’t know, Jo. They’re just my eyes.” I’m sure that strong prescription – drugs mixed with vodka – was the culprit. I gotta say, though, it was a cool party trick. Man, oh man, could my dad play the harmonica. Like, I mean, really play. I don’t know how he did it after all those years of heavy smoking, rich Hungarian food, heavy drinking, and not to mention, the shit he used to breathe in underground. I don’t know. His body defied the laws of what he should have been capable of doing. Eventually, of course, it all caught up with him. But those years he was able to play, he absolutely ripped. On those rare nights in my twenties when I was home for a visit, just before our 1:00 a.m. dinners, after multiple drinks, and a joint or two, we would coax him to play us a tune. Him always objecting. “Jesus Christ. No, no. I can’t play anymore.” We would carry on round the table, drinking, laughing, the rest of us not noticing that he quietly got up and excused himself. Until we heard that first familiar note from the hallway. “Ayyyyyye!!” we’d exclaim, as Hunter, our chocolate lab, barked like mad beside him. And he would just wail on that harp. I gotta say, out of all my memories of my dad, those sit at the very top. My mom bought my dad a ring when he was seventeen. I’ve talked about it before, but humor me as I tell you about it again. It’s a gold banded ring with etchings throughout the gold and a shiny ruby oval at its center. Every memory I have of my dad has that ring attached to it. He wore it always. Forty-four years that ring sat on his finger. When he passed, after much conversation, we decided as a family it would be mine to keep. I was elated, but also petrified. It was the most important thing to my name. It still is. For so long, I let it sit in a box with his ashes, taking it out on occasion, but always too scared to make the move to get it sized to my finger. Right up until a few short weeks before I set out on this journey did I finally bite the bullet and go through with it. I asked my mom what I should do. She looked me square in the eye and said, “Jo, you need to get that sized. You need to bring it with you. This is important.” And so I did, getting it back from the jeweller only days before I left. It took some time to get used to wearing, constantly grabbing it with my left hand to make sure it was still there. But now, it sits on the middle finger of my right hand, a part of me, just like it was a part of him for all of those years. He has visited me in my slumber a few times, but the most vivid dream I have had of my dad since he has passed was five short days after he died, on Christmas morning. My mother, my brother and I woke up early in the a.m. None of us had an appetite for obvious reasons, so we decided on breakfast Caesars instead. I fell back asleep on the couch shortly after and I dreamt of him. We were sitting around at a kitchen table. Not ours, but it felt familiar. He was sitting across from me and even in the dream, we both knew he was dead. But we spoke anyhow. And he said to me, in the exact same way he would have spoken if he were alive, “You know, Jo, when a parent dies, your mom or your dad, it’s hard. It’s sad. I know. But you gotta keep going. That’s life.” He said it with the mannerisms he always used. Shrugging his shoulders as he said it. It felt so real. My brother woke me up. I was crying in my sleep. I said, “I just dreamt of dad. He said, “Oh, Jo” and hugged me. And then he called my mom over and said, “Go hug your daughter” and she did the same. I don’t know if it was my lack of sleep, my broken heart, or if it was actually my dad telling me it was okay. But I like to believe it’s the latter, because I choose to believe it. And it makes me the happiest out of those three options. For a long time after my dad died a remembered him the way that he looked when he passed -small, frail, beaten down. A shell of what he used to be. But as time went on, that slowly changed, and the image of what he really was came back into frame. He was a miner. He provided for his family by working a dirty, dangerous, unrewarding job, thousands of feet underground, sometimes going weeks in the winter not feeling the sun on his face. He was a biker with long hair in a ponytail down his back. His black leather biker vest, and beard, a pack of Du Maurier cigarettes always in his breast pocket. He was an alcoholic, and sometimes not a good dad. But most times, most times he was. I love him dearly, the good and the bad. I was spreading my dad's ashes on a Monday. That morning, I woke up to the sun shining bright. I rolled over and checked my phone. I had a message from Bonnie. It read, “Barney is nuts, boat back in. He will be here at five to take you to Penis Point.” Well, I'll be damned. I checked the time. It was early. I decided I would do both. Go up to Paint Lake to spread his ashes as well as my family dog Hunters at our old campground. And then out on the boat to Penis Point in the evening to do what I originally came all this way up north to do. I got to the campground at 1:15 pm. The park was closed which I originally wasn't worried about, but the gate said Personnel Only, with a few service vehicles scattered around. I started to panic a little. What if they tried to stop me? Question me? Tell me that I wasn't allowed in? I decided that I knew the park well enough, and that I could lose them if I had to. I knew for sure that this was happening, it was just a question of how difficult it would be. It turns out, there was no need for the nervousness of it though. No one was actually there; I had the park to myself. I set off on foot, my dad in my backpack, making my way to Bay 4. My brother and my mom were both fairly certain it was lot 22, but I wasn't sure. I would know it when I saw it. I started walking up the road, the air brisk , nothing but the sound of my breath, the crunch of my boots hitting the gravel, and the wildlife rustling around in the trees that surrounded me. I walked the twenty minutes or so up into bay 4, deciding to take the long way round, passing every lot, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. As I passed each campsite, memories started rushing back to me from when I was a child. Running around carelessly with friends. Riding my bike to the marina. Lot 6. I kept my legs moving. Lot 12. I picked up my pace a little. I passed by the public washrooms and showers. Lot 18. My heart started to thump. Lot 22. I stopped. That wasn't it. My mom and brother were wrong about the lot number. I walked a little further, stopping at lot 25. I stood and stared. That was it, I was sure of it. But just to be certain I closed my eyes, I envisioned the tent set up at the back of the lot, our small camper trailer to the right and the firepit with chairs around it to the left. I envisioned where the public bathrooms in bay 5 were on the left through the trees - something I didn't look for when I first arrived on the lot. If they were where I envisioned them when I opened my eyes, I knew I was in the right place. I blinked hard looked up and then left. There they were. I was where I was supposed to be. I walked into the campsite, gently placed my backpack down, and got to work. I started by rolling over a stump and setting it up right where the sun was shining down, and then another. One for me. One for dad. I took two rocks glasses out of my backpack, filled them both with ice from a Ziplock bag in my pocket, poured a mini bottle of Smirnoff vodka into each one, and then topped them off with Pepsi. I pulled out the box with my dad's ashes, and cut the zip ties I had around it for safe keeping with a pocketknife. I took out my favorite picture of him and I, taken when I was just two or three. I pulled out his harmonica and a joint I brought to leave. I placed them all on the stump and then sat down on mine and had a drink with my dad. I talked and talked and talked. This time it was much easier. I told him things that were going on in my life. I talked about old stories of us that made me laugh. I played harmonica for him (horribly) and then put on a video of him playing harmonica from so many years ago (wonderfully). I closed my eyes and pretended he was there with me physically, rather than spiritually. I opened my eyes back up to watch the birds flying so close over head from tree to tree, completely unfazed with my presence. I got up and gathered some of his ashes and spread them where the sun was shining. “So you're warm”, I said. Because he was always so cold. I spread them where our camper used to be set up. “So you can lay with mom.” And I spread them around the fireplace where some of my earliest memories of us as a family were formed. Then I did the same with my family dog – Hunter’s ashes. I sat back down, wiped my tears and took another sip of my drink. I looked over at the tree behind where I had set up my dad to "sit" and I decided I should carve something. I walked over and started hacking out a "P" and then a "W" slicing my finger open in the process. I thought about the time close to thirty years ago when my brother did the same thing with a pocket knife, carving into a tree as we camped at the very same lot. I stepped back and looked. It was missing something. I went back and added an " H" for Hunter and then a heart for good measure. I placed down the joint at the bottom of the tree, finished my drink, and poured his around the campsite. I said it was time to go. We still had more to accomplish. And then I noticed the trail directly behind the campsite. G.I. Joe trails, we used to call them. Trails that intertwined through all of the bays in the campground. They were one of my absolute favorite things growing up. I checked my phone. We still had time. I said out loud, “Let's see where it takes us.” And so, we were off. I stopped every two or three minutes to take it all in. I realized quickly that this particular trail was taking us right down to the water, to the beach at Paint Lake. The sun was making the water dance. It was almost too much. I stopped so I could remember as much I could about this moment. The smell of autumn leaves, and the sparkle through the trees. We got to the beach and as I stepped over a dead log, my left foot went deep into the sandy bank. I swore and then I laughed. I had to walk down to the water and wash it off. It was a blessing in disguise, for if my boot wasn’t full of mud, I would have never sat down to take in the view. It was time to go. It was after four. I got to Bonnie and Barney’s place around twenty after four. I made myself at home like they told me to. Their place looked exactly the same. Beautiful cabin overlooking the lake. Bonnie got home shortly after with pizza in hand. We hugged. It was so good to see her. We shared a glass of wine. Barney walked in the door about twenty minutes later and soon, it was time to go. Bonnie said she was going to stay back. It was just me and Barney venturing out on the lake. We grabbed a few drinks and headed out. I talked to Barney on the way about life, memories I had of them growing up. I thanked him for making my childhood so wonderful, for always having me at their home, out on the water. Just like this moment, we pulled up the boat to the spot I asked him to bring me - the exact spot, actually, where Terry, my dad and my mom went to spread my uncle Ron’s ashes so many years ago. Barney idled the boat. The sun was just going down. I sparked a joint. It seemed fitting. One last puff with my dad. I brought my hand to my mouth, kissed it. And with the same hand picked up the glass of ashes I placed my dad in. I took a breath, I closed my eyes, and I let him go. The next morning, I woke up to a message in my inbox from Michelle, Terry's daughter. She works with Bonnie. She said that she had heard I was able to make it out to their old cabin to spread my dad's ashes. She said that that place made her miss her dad so much and that it was so special to her. She said she could still picture Paul and Terry sitting by the fire out there, and how much they both loved it. She said she sure does miss them. She told me she wasn't sure what prompted this big adventure but that she thought it was really brave, in a really cool way, and that she thought my dad would be proud. She said she hoped the day was magic. And it was. There were sprinkles of it when I walked up to our old campsite. There were sprinkles of it when I carved his initials in the tree. There were sprinkles of it as I walked the old G.I. Joe trail down to the beach, and there were sprinkles of it as I sat in the boat on the water with the sun setting directly in front of me. I'm not sure why the universe chose to align so perfectly for me that day. But dad, thank you for one last day of magic. It was the perfect way to say goodbye.


JW

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