I hated driving in the snow, but my father didn’t seem to mind at all. I must have flown back and forth to Presque Isle a hundred times throughout my teens and twenties, and over time, come rain, wind or snow, my Dad Bill was always there to pick me up, and take me on the two hour journey from the airport to our family home. My parent’s place was in Lincoln, or “Abe”, as we used to call it at school, following a trend for everything to be shortened degree; and perhaps because Lincoln was not the coolest neighbourhood for a teenager to be from. Other towns had malls, theatres and skateparks; Lincoln was famous for having the state’s largest sawmill.
“Big sawmill” people would say to me, who were familiar with the area. “Oh yes … ” I used to say, trying to think of any remotely interesting point to make about it.
Dad never had a mobile phone. He seemed to distrust modern technology generally, and had just never adapted to it. So he would simply set off in time to get to the airport as my plane arrived, and wait for me in the arrivals area. If I was late – as I often was – he would just wait for me. And he never seemed to mind. He didn’t mind a lot of things, in the way people used not to. He didn’t let things bother him I guess. Once my flight was badly delayed due to think fog at home, and he waited in the car all night, coming back into the terminal when it opened in the morning. When I arrived, 15 hours late, he just hugged me, said “how are you?”, and took my bag from my hand to carry it to the car. As if nothing had happened.
He was a true gentleman. He wanted nothing from me at all, other than my company. And he didn’t treat me any different for my not even giving him that, most of the year.
And so it was that on this cold winter night, I arrived at Presque Isle and, just as I entered the arrivals area, there was Dad, one of life’s constants, smiling and asking me how I was. On this occasion I recall he had a heavy cable-knit, dark green wool jumper on. On closer inspection it had small flecks of white, mustard and orange wool mixed with the green. My Dad’s fashion choices were another constant, so this was a serious departure from the norm.
“That’s a nice jumper” I said to him, as we walked to the car.
“Thank you Kimberley. I’m sure you can guess where it came from”.
“Mom?” I said.
He nodded and smiled, “your mum has been preparing for her big trip to Ireland in the new year. Reading every book she can find about Ireland … drawing diagrams of her family tree … even decorating the living room in an Irish country house style – with willow log baskets and a stick stand for the hallway. She’s even bought some antique Irish walking sticks on Ebay, you know, to fill the stick stand with … just in case anyone asks why she needed an Irish walking stick holder … and yes, she’s even been decorating me.”
Although my Dad had perfected a look of seeming oblivious to everything happening at the time, there was a full analysis going on in his head. You could tell because, few people could ever provide as detailed an account of a situation as he could afterwards; even if you did recite something someone said, he would often correct you with their exact wording. I asked him about it once, how he had such a good memory. He said he didn’t and it was just that, when others we’re busy talking, he was busy listening.
“So I got this jumper for my birthday, handwoven in Donegal apparently, with an old local wool blend. I think you might have something waiting for you when you get home too.”
“Oh that’s great, I look forward to it. It’s very in vogue this stuff you know. Traditional style. Handwoven in Europe. Very Greenwich Village actually.”
“Well, I can’t confess to know about Greenwich Village, but I tell you what, it’s warm. Just the ticket in this kind of weather. I would never have chosen it myself, but now I’ve got it it’s the first thing I reach for when the weather turns bad. I should warn you though, your Mom and Aunt Jane are still plotting to persuade you to join them on their trip to Ireland…“
“ … But dad, I’ve gone over this so many times.” I said. “I just can’t, I can’t take that time away from the office. Especially in February. My boss will kill me. I did try to bring it up in the fall and Miriam lost it. She said that we have the annual conference in March and made some veiled reference to how we might need to make lay offs in the new year. That was a threat Dad.”
“I know. I know. Of course I understand Kimberley … But your Mother is a different matter. You know she does’t think New York is good for you. She still dreams that you’ll come home and be her little girl again.”
Dad reached over, and grabbed rustled my hair with his hand.
“Oh dad, please” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Well … she also thinks she needs to find yourself a man, a ‘real’ man, big lumberjack type, to lure you away from the city. That might have been behind her and your little sister’s plan for your birthday, so please go easy on them both with that … I know it’s probably not you’re thing, but you know they meant well.”
“Don’t remind me Dad.” I said, burying my head in my hands. “Laura’s been texting me daily updates on the food were going to have, the playlist she’s created etc., I think she should go into event planning after school … I mean, if the rocket science and Neuro Surgery places are all taken.”
“She has been working very hard on it, as you can tell … just think that it shows you how much she cares about you. But with the Ireland thing, what’s changed there is that I think your Mom and Jane have cooked up a plan to use their Airmiles to get you a cheap ticket. You know, after you used being skint as your latest excuse.”
“Aw, that’s really kind of them Dad, but as you know it’s not really about the money.”
“When was the last time you took a holiday though darling? We do worry about you.”
“I’m on holiday now dad! What are you talking about? And I know I do have the holiday available, but I just don’t think my boss will let me take it. After all these years, I finally think I’m starting to gain some traction in my career – I’m a Section Editor now remember, so it’s just not the right time for me to be away from the office.”
“Ok, but just remember, you only live once, and you’re only young once. There will always be work to do, but trips like this are once in a lifetime. You know they’ve both been talking about researching the old family roots in Ireland since I met them, since they were in their 20s at least. Look Kim, I lost my Mom when I least expected it, and I tell you, what I wouldn’t give now to be able to go back and spend a week with …”
“Oh dad, don’t lay that guilt trip on me, please, I know, I get it and I agree, but I came on holiday to relax, not to…”
“Sure, sure. Look, I know only you really understand your own life, and only you can set your own priorities. So, I’m not saying go, I’m just saying now you have some free time, just give your Mom a chance, listen to her ideas … allow yourself to take a decision on it. Don’t let Miranda or whatever she’s called make it for you. Trust me, Miranda will look after herself, so you need to do the same.”
“It’s Miriam dad!” I chuckled, “ … and actually, she hates it if people get her name wrong. An assistant once called her Muriel and was gone by the end of the day.”
“Well she can’t fire me” dad responded, “ … so I’ll call her what I like. How about Miserable Miranda. That has a ring to it!”
On turning into our road I spotted a big pink banner announcing, ‘Happy 30th Kimberley!’, lit up by the garden spotlights.
“Really Dad?” I said, physically squirming in my seat and looking up and down the street to see if anyone else was looking at it.
“Come on, birthday girl, the partygoers need to be able to spot the house easily, and this is as good a sign as any, don’t you think?”
“I suppose.” I said, getting out of the car seat to be greeted by Laura running out the door to look at my expression. She gave me a quick hug and then stood back as if to watch me, like a designer revealing a renovated restaurant to an exhausted businessman.
“It’s lovely, Laura, thank you. How are you?” I said, putting my arm around her, as we walked towards the house.
“Oh, I’m just fine, looking forward to your party tonight, we’ve had a great response from your school mates. I only sent 15 invites and how may acceptances do you think we got?”
“Oh … five?” I guessed, shrugging my shoulders.
“Sixteen!” replied Laura, raising her eyebrows with a big smile.
“How does that work?” I said, starting to walk alongside her up the path.
“Oh, well only about nine people could come, but they’re mainly bringing their partners with them. I hope that’s ok.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” I said, stopping dead in my tracks halfway up the pathway.
“Please tell me you’re kidding me sis?” I said, looking straight at Laura in the hope it was a joke.
“No, sorry Kitty, I thought you would want me to do plus-one invites by default … See, I thought that if I said no partners, you might be self conscious that people would think you had actually said that only because you didn’t have a partner yourself.”
I stared towards the sky with my eyes closed for a moment, feeling the snowflakes on my face.
“I thought … the last time I checked … that you were 15, so … like … where are you getting this stuff from?”
Laura looked puzzled and began speaking more slowly than before, as if explaining herself to a teacher.
“I talked it through, with my lunch group, at school. There were thoughts either way, but the general consensus was that it was better to invite partners. We talk about all our problems because a burden shared, is a burden halved … six brains are better than one.”
“So now I’m a social problem? The stigma of the older, single sister eh. Jeez, what have I become?” I said, as I began walking towards the house again.
“It’s not like that. I’m just saying that it’ll be way less awkward if people do come with their partners.” Laura said, chasing after me.
“Hey Laura, I can’t fault your logic, and it’s not your fault, but can you imagine how many times I will be asked what is happening with my love life?”
Laura offered no response this time, and when I turned I could see that her shoulders had dropped. Then behind her I saw Dad coming up the path, with my suitcase and his flask from the car, the usual big smile on his face. “Everything ok girls?” He said, as we walked past us and into the house.
I put my arm around Laura’s shoulder again, and hugged her.
”Look sis’, thanks for organising all this, I do appreciate your efforts; I just need to take a lesson from you in getting my life on track, if I’m not careful you’ll be married before me.”
Laura smiled, “I do have a boyfriend, you know, Jack. I’ll tell you about him later, when Mom and Dad have gone to bed. We can swap boy stories, like we used to.”
“Ha.” I laughed, “I’m afraid I’m not gonna have much to trade, but yes, that sounds like fun.”