It may seem an odd sort of heirloom, this large incredibly ungainly, enameled dutch oven which is barely three years old and has already begun to chip from steady use. But for me its weight is exactly what the title of this post says…love…because it was a gift from my father several Christmases ago, only a year or two before he passed away. It is true that my sister-in-law hunted it down on the Internet and wrapped it, but it was my father’s great delight to give gifts to his children and grandchildren that had meaning–I can still see those eyes twinkling and that wide smile–and this was one of his best to me. I am also very pleased that he got to see it put into use a time or two in the year or so he lived with me before he died.
Today, trying–and not having great success–to clean the blackened bottom of the pot, I was struck by both the sharp color contrasts and patterns of the pot itself but also the pattern of the soapy water bubbling over it.
Aside from the personal affinity with the one who gave it to me, I cannot tell you how happy this pot itself makes me. The red-orange color scheme cannot help but warm one’s soul a little just by looking at it. Go ahead, try. I also like the weight, even though to merely lift the lid is a chore, and when it is full with the lid on, well, it legitimately takes two people to carry it with its handle. I believe it is a 16-quarter.
These pictures actually do a poor job of showing one how big the pot actually is. Below it sits in its sunny window, like a dense little sun itself, waiting for the next time it can do its thing in cooking up some dal or curry or spaghetti or rice or soup. Ah, soup. I cannot wait until the Autumn!
Thank you for your patience with a spate of posts on grief. Perhaps that is not what you expect from The Dassler Effect. I cannot promise that this is the absolute end of such posts–I am a melancholy fellow–but as the first anniversary of my father’s death passes, they will certainly not be so concentrated.
I was quite surprised by this collection myself, though, as I went through the blog over the last year to find these. If not a exactly a narrative, some thematic threads do seem to pop out of these disparate vignettes–weather, light and dark. I should also note that the bookend pieces on the November 7ths were deliberately created for this piece, the remainder were more organically produced as the reflections of feelings on the day they were written.
If I were going with my father to a graveside during his life, the flowers would be much different, rather more formal and likely from a florist. Many years ago he may have grimaced at the bouquet I took to his graveside yesterday. Even in his final years, however, I believed he would have smiled and laughed and accepted my Autumnal offering as a genuine token of me, as I am sure is doing now. Some lovely leaves helped frame the gravestone, and this amazing tree is very nearby.
Believing my father to be in quite a different place, I am not entirely sure what to make of and do by a gravestone. Nonetheless, it is a very literal touchstone to a dearly loved person, and so I lay in the grass for a while, thought and cried and prayed a little. Then, thinking of his smooth head with wispy hairs, it was a kiss on his name and on the cross and then off to see my brother.
A house of mourning
Or of mirth? Enter both. It
Will be the same door.
I am putting together a collection of haiku from the blog about grieving for my father for an upcoming issue of Catapult. I needed one more, penned on this day one year after my father passed away, to complete the piece which will appear on Friday. But needing to or wanting to produce a haiku does not usually work well for me–usually, either an image will present itself or else a short phrase, which I will then shuffle around in my mind or on a piece of paper until something satisfactory appears.
Nonetheless, I am pleased with this rather less visceral, less personal, but more philosophical piece about how to live together with one another through life and death. Indeed, it reminds me of a Punjabi proverb that Dad, himself, would often remind us about which says that it is better, if one must miss either, to be with a family in sorrow than in celebration, at their funerals rather than than at their wedding celebrations, which is perhaps itself an echo of a far more ancient bit of wisdom literature.
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
The concern of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is more existential; the Punjabi proverb’s more social. I hope my half-wise “piece of wisdom literature” splits the difference. I am thankful to be amongst family and friends who have taken this to heart–who are there for one another in rejoicing and in sorrow, and in the mundane times in between.
Bending down to my task, I see him. The legs bent and wide apart. The left elbow braced against the knee. The belly, covered by the grooved fabric of an a-shirt, centering the gravity of it all. And the right hand gathers, grasps, and pulls-gathers, grasp, and pulls. Bending down to work, I see as him.
I thought of my father immediately as I put on the a-shirt this morning and went out to do a task he both loathed and loved, which he would finish with his shorts grubby, the thin fabric of his shirt soaked with sweat, and the beads rolling down and dripping, dripping off his nose. It is an image which even now I am somewhat hard pressed to reconcile with remembering him as a college president in Pakistan–with suits and ties, salaams and saluting, a company of gardeners at his disposal–when he was never so little clad except in the tall, cool recesses of the president’s house, stretching out on his bed for an afternoon nap, an arm behind his head against the pillow, his toes fidgeting till he fell asleep.
It was not like it was with Willy Loman, that my father was born to be most fulfilled with labor, with whistling while he worked, with getting his hands dirty with building a stoop. Dad was born to lead and learned to lead. In his career at least he did not, like Willy Loman, have “all the wrong dreams.” Before he met and married my mother, he walked away from what would have been an easy life in the Pakistan Air Force to teach at half the pay as a professor at a mission college. Later he would lead that college even though it had been nationalized and also the entire Church of Pakistan for a time as moderator. And yet, still, I have seen him after weeding happy and sweaty as a masdoor,* as he would call it, marveling at the wonder of work. I have also seen him bedraggled, dirty, and dragging home discouraged. I cannot pretend that the difference between these two states of his was not often simply the result of the proximity or lack thereof of me to him, of me being with him in the work or not. And yet in work, perhaps especially in labor with ones hands, it is the long drudgery of the weary days that makes the epiphanies epiphanies, the feasts feasts.
The weeds have taken over the entire garden, and I imagine Dad grasping my arm and looking in my face and saying in the hushed, excited voice he used to tell a truth, often again and again, “You know the Bible is so true. Look at how quickly the weeds take over.”
Thankfully, the ground is yielding and I am able to grasp out the runners and bunch up the crab grass and pull out its roots. Some of the thick pithy plants break off, leaving the roots in the ground, but I am lucky with most. The morning wears on and I divide the garden in two and try to decide whether I will finish the task of completing half of the garden or finish at a specific time, no matter what my progress. I choose the time–making a choice that I wish my father would have made more often. And, yet, as the finish line nears it becomes evident that I will not be done just on time. I press on and finish just twenty minutes past my target. A manageable task…a time to be done…with only a little extra wiggle room, seldom used, for finishing off some thing close to being done–I will have to remember that combination.
And while I weed, I think of the parables and of Genesis, of satisfaction and futility, of the weedy life I so often seem to inhabit, of the put-off efforts to weed it and the futility so often attendant when I do. And as the sun climbs higher and I weary of my labor under it–gathering, grasping, pulling–I pull out a big plug of grass with a large amount of soil. And even though it has been a very dry summer, from the soil the brown and earthy smell of loam fills my nostrils, and something changes. For a moment I feel the kinship of soil, echoing to our making, to its easy tilling, to feeling its life and substance as part of my own substance–me a cube of soil, with earthworms like mitochondria, shaped and breathed into–me a gardener working without toil.
I stop and think…I hope…that Dad, too, knew the smell of loam.
now the sod is like
patchwork from grandma’s quilts; you
sleeping till the day