The ranconteur. The name-dropper.
The swanky bachelor hobnobbing with the rich and famous.
Ever since my husband and I have been married my dad comes to visit for Christmas, wherever we are.
In 13 Christmasses he’s only missed one, if memory serves.
If memory serves…
But then again, we all know that memories can fail us.
I speak with my dad fairly frequently. At least once, if not two or three times a week. Otherwise I think we both get restless. Last September I literally hunted him down in Costa Rica when I hadn’t heard from him in over a week. Oh, oops, I guess I didn’t get his email telling me he’d left on his trip! The point is, though many of our conversations are mundane (what did you have for dinner, how much snow did you get…) each one is cherished and some even contain little nuggets of a life well-lived.
Life Can Bite You in the Ass
As many of you know, my mom passed away in 1998. And while I miss her still, every day, there is no doubt that the relationship with my dad would not be as strong as it is now were she still here today. I suppose our relationship could have easily gone the other way, there could have been a rift from the pain of loss we endured, we could have quietly parted ways; but fortunately this is not the case.
And then he had a heart attack in October and that scared all of us into reality.
I love my dad. I love his strength and courage. I love his wisdom. I love that his Spanish heritage will be kept alive in me and in my children. He is maddeningly opinionated and often right, in that infuriating, denial-provoking way in which children deem their parents’ advice. Often, but not always.
I love that my dad — and his memories — are alive still. It is my job; however, as much for myself as for my children and my children’s children, to ensure those moments are not lost.
I realize that I don’t really have the gift of time. Not to be broody and pessimistic, but it’s the truth. We are at a time in our lives when it is more important than ever to preserve family memories, not only of our lives when we were children, but also of our parents’ youth and their lives before they were husbands, wives, dads and moms.
Go ahead and ask them! I’ll bet you’ll unearth some pretty interesting, sometimes shocking, tidbits. (And if you do, tell me!)
My mom, rest her soul, made baby books for my brothers and me. (I, on the other hand am woefully behind on this project.) One of my favourite things to do is to turn the pages and read through all the little anecdotes she wrote about me: like that time, at age two, that I escaped the apartment in which we lived in Spain and was returned home safely by a family friend (because everyone in Segovia was a family friend at the time) who had found me two blocks away, at a stop light. Had she not documented these early moments, those quotes and memories would be lost forever.
These are things for which I am eternally grateful.
In the time since my mother’s death I’ve also lost both of my maternal grandparents and all ties to her side of the family. With that, I’ve lost any memories, stories untold, family history not recounted and any events not told in pictures. Thankfully, I still have an armload of photo albums (my grandmother was a stickler for writing names and dates on the back of pictures or in the margins), but they don’t tell the whole story. There are many questions left unanswered and some whose answers have been forgotten or blurred by the passage of time.
While my dad was visiting this Christmas, there was plenty of idle chatter, but one night story after story unfolded. And, though hardly romantic, I hauled out my laptop and Googled as he name-dropped and his fascinating tales unravelled.
It seems the late 1950s and into the 1960s were a time of being footloose and fancy-free, as it were, with adventures in Spain and travels to Paris and Switzerland. In the years before he met my mother, my dad, armed with a guitar and sideburns, would spend evenings strumming away in the company of such celebs as renowned film director, Carlos Saura (Carmen) and his then-partner Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago) — yes, the daughter of the Charlie Chaplin; Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia (like I said, name-dropping); BBC television personality, Hughie Green; Cary Grant and Sophia Loren at the time of the Spanish release of The Pride and the Passion and bullfighter, Andrés Hernando de la Velilla.
Already I’ve forgotten the little anecdotes of each ‘rencontre’. Perhaps, though, most notable (to me) and fascinating was his friendship with prolific writer and tabloid journalist, Noel Botham, who died two years ago. This is a name I’ve heard mentioned fondly over the years. He and his wife were friends of my parents and I have a very vague recollection of them, as well as their children, as a child myself when they spent time in Spain in the mid-to-late ’70s. Apparently he did quite the Elvis impersonation.
Botham had an interesting and colourful past which included, but was certainly not limited to, his friendship with Hughie Green and his ownership of the French House, one of Soho’s most iconic pubs in London which he took over in 1989 with second wife Lesley Lewis, who still owns the pub today. (Sidenote: Botham’s son, Guy is a successful Hollywood film producer…six degrees and all…)
My dad was reminiscing and thinking of writing Botham, with whom he had lost touch many years ago, and was saddened to hear of his passing when I pulled up a two-year-old news story announcing his death.
See? Time is fleeting.
Sometimes we think we are all grown up and that we know all there is to know without realizing there is still so much we don’t know about — so much we can learn from — our parents. I joked to my dad, as he was jumping from one story to the next — fascinated, rapt, even — that he should be documenting these memories or that I should be video taping him.
But mostly, I realized, I just need to listen, remember and pass it down. Because isn’t that really the best way to preserve family memories?