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in loving memory

Saturday, 3 April 2010
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He wasn’t my father, but I called him Dad. We all called each other’s parents Mom and Dad, then. Some parents were more comfortable with this than others; he fully embraced the role.

He was old when I met him, or he seemed so at the time. Looking back, he was younger than my parents are now, but he was almost as old as my grandparents. Far older than any of the other parents of nine-year-olds we knew.

Christina invited me to go to Mt. Tom with her family one weekend. Inexplicably, I had a panic attack about it the night before. I was terrified. I didn’t want to go, but my mother said I had to, because I’d already accepted the invitation. But I didn’t know her parents. I’d seen them, but I didn’t know them, really. Her father was a large man; seemingly gruff. It was a game he played, this prickly pretense. It might have been just with me, because I was always so sensitive, so afraid of doing something wrong and upsetting people, so it was easy to fool me; or it might have been with all the other children. By the time I would have been old enough to notice, I knew better.

This may not be when I first met him, but it is my first memory of him: a day trip to a state park.

I remember sitting in the living room, doing nothing much. If we were there he was there with us, with his girls.

I remember going-home day at camp, Mom and Dad Cameron there for hours, talking to everyone. My parents always came late; they were often still there.

I remember saving the black jelly beans for him at Easter.

I remember eating lobster in Rhode Island, and how he laughed at me when I couldn’t bring myself to crack mine open because it was looking at me.

I remember the anniversary party. Mom C was still alive. I had moved away; I hadn’t seen them in a long time. He still remembered people—some people, anyway. He still remembered me. We stood around him; someone took a picture. Dad and his girls.

I remember . . .

I kept wanting to visit him, in the nursing home. I kept meaning to ask Christina if we could, sometime. I kept putting it off. I was afraid, I think, that he wouldn’t still remember me. I wanted to remember him as he was when he still remembered me. It was a cop-out, but it’s too late to change now.

He had a long life—a good life, but one sharply punctuated with sorrow, the kind that cuts to the core, so deeply that you never really heal. But still, he found joy, true delight in the simplest of things. In spite of everything, for all the years I knew him he approached life with childlike earnestness.

Mama said today that when he gets to heaven, Mom C will yell at him for taking so damn long. I said: Maybe he can hear her already; maybe that’s why he’s taking his time. I have a picture in my head: He is rolling his eyes, but smiling. “All right, all right! I’m coming already!” That’s how they were; how they still are in my mind’s eye.

Rest in peace, Dad Cameron. I’m so proud to have been one of “your girls”; I’m a better person because you were such an important part of my growing-up. I hope you knew that.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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