Fatherly Traces Left Behind

My dad’s ashes were scattered a few nautical miles off shore by a lighthouse, with some seals looking on with curious interest from a nearby rock. “Make sure you do it with the wind blowing away from you” he had joked. The idea of not being eternally stuck in one place appealed to him, and so my youngest son held the urn snugly in his lap as the open hulled wooden boat made it’s way out to the spot my dad, my sister and I had agreed on. On a day with blue skies and low winds, my dad’s fisherman friend had offered to be the captain and take us out on his traditional fishing boat with room for ten on benches lining the bulwark. We tried to remember my dad’s advice about the wind, but some of the fine dust still rose toward our nostrils and mouths when we gently shook the content of the urn toward the water’s surface. I didn’t mind the minute remnants of my dad clinging as they must have to my clothes and eye lashes while I helped my son and niece to have their turn scattering their grandfather’s remains in the Norwegian Sea.

He’d been living more or less off the grid after my parents’ divorce some twenty years earlier, and since I had moved to the U.S, I always regretted not having been able to spend more time with him. He was a fine man, and a kind man, although he had, until lung cancer got the best of him, smoked forty a day and could easily polish off a Johnny Walker before noon. Truth be told, he was a bit of a financial fuck-up, and his avid tax protesting and ever mounting tax debts landed him a stint in the mountains of Norway, in jail. The government always seemed to be able to find him for this or for that, despite his earnest attempts to go underground and not own anything they could take away from him. But his time, the government could still take, as they did in the summer of ’98.

When they divorced, my mom kept the apartment and the boat had been sold long time ago. The only reason he could keep his Citroen station wagon was because my mother agreed to have it registered in her name. The day he left his bourgeois life, only his clothes were stuffed into a huge duffle bag from his younger days in the army, and we helped him carry a few extra belongings in a big, black plastic garbage bag. Among them was a framed black and white photo of him as a little boy in the arms of his dad, just before the War. He later lost the content of this bag once he left it in someone’s storage space, when he was in-between having a place to live.

My dad’s story deserves to be told because he was an ordinary man who made some extraordinary choices, although I imagine he didn’t see them as optional. It was when he pulled out a Walther P38 handgun from a small cooler bag he used to carry around and waved it at some unfriendly young ruffians in an Oslo traffic jam that he acquired the nickname of Cowboy Gramps. (I was told the gun had belonged to a German officer during World War II and my dad’s friend’s father was among the Norwegian Army Officers who arrested the German and confiscated the gun when the war and the German occupation of Norway ended in 1945).  My dad was arrested on charges of carrying an unregistered weapon, and my guess is he wasn’t completely sober either.

Otherwise my dad was called Goggen among his friends, short for George, which was his middle name, his first being Roar, a traditional Norwegian name.

A bootlegger, tax-protester and everybody’s token outsider, he was an autodidact and passionate reader who was always interested in the Other’s story and would look you in the eyes and give a great handshake. He taught me how to press a shirt and how to make Béchamel, that creamy white herb infused sauce, and how to tie a scaffold knot and a cow hitch. He was equal parts the worst and the best for a role model, but most of all he was just a man who adored his two daughters and not much else. His uncompromising love for us is about the only trace he left, and some great friendships. That and a few good stories is by far the best anyone could wish for.

Today would have been his 80th birthday.

She Was Only a Bootlegger’s Daughter: In Memory of My Father

“She was only a bootlegger’s daughter, but he loved her still…” an old song goes.

***

I notice the mannerisms and instinctive moves I have after my dad who died two years ago today. I smile. I cry. I remember him in my body and soul.

This morning, in the shower, I turn the water off and before I reach for the towel hanging over the shower door, I run my hands over my body in energetic downward and outward moves brushing off the excess water.

He used to do that before drying off to reduce the wetness of the towel. Probably a trick he learned during his days in the army in Norway or from when my family spent weeks at a time on our wooden boat in the summer, sailing down the Oslo fjord. Smart.

I am in my car with one of my sons next to me in the passenger seat. I instinctively reach over and hold his leg, by the knee, and stroke it, gently yet firmly press on it, as if to say things like “Do you know how much I love you?” and “I love that we are here together,” without using words.

He used to do that to me when I sat next to him in the car. Loving.

In my kitchen preparing dinner, I peel the carrot holding it in my left hand and slowly and rhythmically rotating it as the peeler works its magic all around in smooth motions, leaving the orange root clean and glistening .

Pappa peeled vegetables just like that. Thoughtfully and deliberately.

It’s 10 am and I feel overwhelmed by everything I am not achieving, not getting around to, even though I have said I planned to. I briefly entertain the idea of not getting dressed, opening a wine bottle, and staying at home all day reading and sulking. Forgetting the pain of all that unaccomplished and the disappointments.

My father spent days, weeks, months and years like that. Not so smart, but I understand…

The love I feel for my three sons is so full and so filling, I think to myself, if I accomplish nothing else, having raised these beings whose company I enjoy and who seem to be able move about in the world relatively competently with kindness and a sense of humor; if that is ALL there is and will be, I am contented.

I am my father’s daughter.

He felt contented with the love he gave and received from his two daughters.

Feeling this love, he was able to just be, in the mess of it all. Wise.

“I am only a bootlegger’s daughter…”

IMG_3474.