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Still Life in Greyscale

08 May

you burst like a grainy image through the heart of my memory

Sometimes she looks around her and thinks of him. She looks at her husband, at her sons and grandsons, and thanks God that they are here around her. Her children and grandchildren will remember their fathers in bright, brilliant colour. The colours of summer on the prairies: sky the bluest of blues, yellow canola, the warm, dark brown of his eyes that her boys had inherited, that always looked at their children with love. The colours of his dress shirts and patterns on his ties. They will remember him in the red of a Santa costume at Christmas. They will remember their fathers in motion: playing football at picnics, throwing them in the air and catching them securely. They will remember him teaching them to dance, to barbeque, to do push-ups properly. They will remember their fathers with sound: his laughter, his gentle scolding, the way he greeted people at their door or at the church. They will remember his terrible singing and the way he told them stories. She is thankful that they will remember their fathers alive.

She thinks of her father and thinks that he must have been a colourful man, at one time. Her mother used to tell her stories of all kinds, but she never knows what to do with them. Her father doesn’t have colour, motion, or sound. Because her father is just a picture, a photograph in black and white of a handsome man in uniform.

She doesn’t remember her father in colour. She knows about his bottle-green eyes, and his black hair and moustache, and that he lived on the same colourful prairie as she now does. She knows the uniform he wore was the dull khaki of a World War Two soldier. She knows that the picture of him that hangs on her wall was taken outside, and that there were purple flowers behind him. But in her mind he is a colourless man in front of a grey house on a cloudy day. He is hard to see.

She doesn’t remember her father in motion. She’s heard about the dancing, and that he played hockey and liked to take her mother ice-skating. She’s been told that he held her and rocked her, that his arms would always open wide to get hugs from his nieces and nephews. The closest she can get to imagining his movement is the jerky dancing in black and white films, or the scrambling action scenes in war clips, things she knows he once did. In her mind he stands ramrod straight, smiling a bit but not ever shifting. He is firm and tall and strong, a good soldier and a statue.

She doesn’t remember her father with sound. She knows he used to sing a bit: he sang love songs to her mother and lullabies to her. She knows his voice was loud and light, that you could hear it over everyone else’s at parties. She knows he loved to laugh. But in her mind he is silent. She doesn’t know his voice.

But despite all this, when she looks at her husband and her children and grandchildren, she remembers him. She remembers being a little girl, sitting under his picture and telling him things, the exciting things and the sad ones. She remember his presence in her life, not as himself but as other people’s memories of him and the stories they told. He is there for her growing up in the form of ‘your father would have said’ and ‘your father would be proud’. When her family and friends ask about her father, she tells them that he was a brave man who went to war, that he was a friendly man who brought joy to others, that he was a kind and good man. That much she sees when she looks at his picture, the smile playing on his lips even as he gets ready to leave, going unknowingly to his death. That much, she knows from the stories. Even though her father is a photograph in black and white of a man in uniform, her memory of him is of love.

 

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