Dad tells great stories about his childhood. I heard most of them early in life and know the difference between the stories then and the stories that have evolved with dementia. He grew up on 60 acres of land in upstate New York where the woods and creek were his playground. Swimming in a water hole in the creek and lounging with a book under the apple tree are just a few of the images I can capture in my imagination as he describes them. He built several forts throughout the property. Some near the ground, and some in trees that most likely doubled as deer blinds.
One of my favorite stories is hearing about Dad, his young friends and his brother hanging out in their clubhouse near the millrace. As the story goes, brother caught a minnow in a can, and we decided to keep it in our fort. When we came back the next day, the water in the can was frozen and so was the fish. As the morning air warmed, the icy can melted and the fish started swimming around again. That happened for a few days in row. That fish would freeze overnight, then thaw and swim the next day. Dad has shared this story many times over the years. Even today he has never told me what eventually happened to the fish.
Dad loves to tell me about a time when he watched an interaction between his dog and the farm cat. Trixie chased the cat everywhere all the time. One day the pup went racing toward the cat, only this day the cat held its ground. Trixie put on the brakes so hard she flipped up and over the cat. This memory makes Dad laugh every time he tells the story.
Although our family moved to the southwest, I visited Dad’s childhood home several times. When I was eight-years of age my grandmother and I picked blackberries just outside the back kitchen door. She placed them in a small bowl with a little milk and a sprinkle of sugar. Best of all, Dad hooked up a flat trailer to the tractor and took us to the swimming hole at the creek. The road was narrow and lined with trees with a grassy ridge running along the center. It was referred to as the lane. Dad backed the trailer into the water, and my sister and I jumped off it, and spread out our towels on it while we played. That day I lived one of his stories.
During a visit in the winter when I was 16 years of age, we enjoyed a great family gathering and snowmobiling. A few days later, Dad and I took a quiet walk in the woods. It was a wonderland with sun glistening on the snow clinging to leafless trees. The only footprints were the ones we made together. On this visit I sketched the old barn covered with deep white drifts.
The old barn was torn down some years later, but there are still remnants of old tree forts. The property was sold and the home remodeled. The new owner sent Dad fresh maple syrup from the trees every year for a long time. Dad and I stopped for a visit once and toured the remodel. It was beautiful with an entire wall of windows looking toward the woods. As we were getting ready to leave, we paused for a moment to look at the woods one more time. We noticed a particularly tall old tree that I imagine recorded memories in its rings as Dad grew up and played with his friends and pets and worked the small farm with his family. I learned of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins visiting the woods too. I am grateful that the tree also journaled the next generation while I played there as a toddler and my daddy, like the tree, watched over me. The old tall tree is now home to a pair of Osprey which seems apropos. Most of Dad’s new stories are for the birds.