Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Five Weeks, Six Days: No Regrets for Yesterday

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared 'neath the stars alone
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance

Holding you I held everything
For a moment wasn't I a king
But if I'd only known how the king would fall
Hey, who's to say you know I might have chanced it all

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance

Yes, my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance

[ From: ]

Today's post is for all the people who never had children by choice; some of you might be saying to yourself that my loss is one of the reasons you chose to miss the dance. I am writing today to say I would not have missed a moment of the last twenty years. Certainly I could have missed the pain, but with the exception of that last terrible day, I regret not one moment of the last twenty years.  Calista was and always will be the absolute love of my life.
Today will be about my best memories of that girl; some of them will be funny, most will be pleasant and all of them will be bitter-sweet. There are just so many things I will miss; even if I return to those things, they will forever be a pale shadow of their former shades.

Calista and I used to go out of our way to attend art shows. It was a bit of a joke for us since Roni just could not stomach one moment in a museum.  We would tow her along with us, threatening to make her walk throught the gallery inch by inch, bored out of her tree, and then we would turn her loose to go shopping at the last moment. Over the years Calista and I saw "The Realists", "The Impressionists", "Realism through Surrealism" (really great show, Vancouver!), "The Dutch Masters", "Andy Warhol Retrospective" and a whole bunch of other worthwhile art elsewhere in the galleries we attended.  Calista had her own opinions on "The Group of Seven" and Emily Carr, she enjoyed some but not all of the modern photographic artists and she loved Andy Warhol.  I am pretty sure she enjoyed the art shows more than I did, but I was there to enjoy her enjoying herself, not necessarily for the art.  I will miss the art, but I just cannot see myself returning to the galleries any more; for all the enjoyment I will get out of it I might as well just buy coffee-table books.  Its too bad; I was really looking forward to seeing the major European collections with her: The Louvre, the Uffizzi, the Papal Collections and perhaps the Sistine Chapel (if we could get there sometime there was not a religious festival).

Photographic safaris were a favourite escape for both of us.  I remember finding a decrepit village museum in Etzicom, Alberta that had a yard full of windmills in various states of repair.  The sun was just going down, the prairie stood silent, the only sound was the light summer breezes ruffling the leaves in the surrounding cottonwood trees and the odd piping of a startled ground squirrel. We spent an hour shooting the windmills, playing with the light effects as the sun crept behind the rolling hills of the southern Alberta countryside. Typical of Calista her pictures were all composed almost perfectly and had unique lighting effects that my eyes could not pick up. She also had a whole lot of "gopher" shots as the little critters that denned under the windmills came up to inspect us. It was early summer and the most recent crop of gopher pups had not learned the survival fear of their parents. There was all sorts of opportunity to catch close-ups of baby gophers.  My shots were all not quite good enough for public inspection; that was the nature of our relationship.

Sometime when she was almost 17 she finally decided to learn how to drive.  On one of our trips to see her grandmother Ruth out on the isolated ranch she shared with her husband Harold in Etzicom, Calista and I had many, many hours to fill as Roni visited.  We took the opportunity to get some high-way driving miles under Calista's belt. The country roads around there are usually absolutely empty, perfectly smooth and straight, so it was pretty safe driving.  We would make the 15 or 20 kilometer run from Etzicom to Foremost and back, sometimes going as fast as 80 kmh if I really teased her a lot. Fast driving was never Calista's preference.  She always dragged along the trusty Canon 40D, just in case a photograph opportunity popped up.

Beside the two-lane blacktop highway there was an old county graveyard filled with the dead of the local families dating from the late nineteenth century. Calista saw some intriguing composition with the old gravestones in the foreground surrounded by the tall prairie bunchgrass and the rolling hills in the back-ground, so we spent an hour or more exploring the yard.  I was cold and slightly bored, so I started reading the headstones of the various groups within the fenced grasslands.

Whenever I was with my daughter, I was always looking for ways to get her thinking without making it a chore.  Here I saw an opportunity to get her thinking about what she was seeing on the gravestones and if she could tell a tale from what she read.  In one grouping there were two larger graves and a half-sized grave between. One of the adult graves was a twenty year old woman who had died in the early years of the last century. The child next to her, unnamed infant, died the same day.  Calista saw the tale there immediately; a birthing gone terribly wrong at a time when doctors and hospitals were few and far between. The next group of graves was a little harder for her to understand: several adults from the same family of various ages all died within a few months of each other in 1919 to 1920.  I explained to her about the Spanish Influenza that followed the end of World War One and how it killed more people world-wide than the war itself.  Now I have no idea if this family actually died of Spanish flu, but I saw a chance to teach Calista a bit of history and I grabbed it.  Of course she just smiled and nodded her head, all the while looking at the angles of the shot through her camera view finder,checking for composition. I am not sure she learnt anything that day, but I felt like a good father for a few moments.

Once we moved to Powell River, the expeditions for photography became shorter but far more focussed. Once the college had her under their sway, every trip out was a mission to get specific shots.  There was one trip to the historical Townsite neighbourhood that was a pretty silent two hours; Calista was far beyond anything I could help her with and I was essentially just a chauffer and bag-holder. If she had been a golfer, I would have been the caddy. It was fun to see my little girl all growen up, completely confident in what she was doing. On the way home Calista gave into me and let me stop at Willington Beach for a short hike up the beach trail there.  This had been one of my favourites since we could always count on getting some of the little squirrels  that lived in the trees there to pose for the camera. The little rodents were always looking for food hand-outs in the form of peanuts. That day she was really disappointed because very few of the squirrels were out and about. I guess they sensed that we had forgotten to bring bribery.

Very soon after that trip, Roni picked up a big bag of shelled peanuts just for Willington Beach expeditions.  Those trips were kind of a bonding thing that we all enjoyed and they were made just so much more fun if the squirrels would come down into the range of Calista's view finder.  That damn bag of peanuts is still sitting in my pantry unopened; she died before we ever had another chance to visit Willington Beach.

Since she has died my camera sits gathering dust in the bottom of my bedside table. I should get the film out of that camera and have the pictures from it developed; they represent the last few trips out with Calista.  Inevitably I will be embarrassed at how bad the shots are and I doubt that there will be even one shot of Calista.  She never would sit still for me to take her picture (undoubtedly knowing that I would botch the shot). It is getting progressively harder to get film and film processing, so that camera is likely never going to be used much anymore.  I am not sure it really matters anyway; without Calista to challenge me and tease me, photography really is not interesting to me now.

One of my very favourite memories of Calista was our father-daughter trip out to the private island of one of my clients.  Calista earned our passage to that island by being a wonderful, caring receptionist on her day off. Mark, the owner of a very large Irish Wolfhound with a belly ache, called one early one summer Sunday morning asking if we could see his dog immediately.  I listened to his problem and I thought it was a good idea since Irish Wolfhounds with belly aches could be in a whole lot of trouble.  I agreed that I would meet him at the clinic as soon as possible. It turned out that "ASAP" meant a minimum of two hours since Mark was calling from an isolated island somewhere north of Lund. Intrigued, I told him to just call when he was withing ten minutes of arriving at the clinic.

I guess Calista did not have anything else going on that afternoon, since she volunteered to come into the clinic to help out her old man. As we both aged, me going grey and her hair colour changing with every trip to the hair dresser, Calista had become progressively more protective of her dad, worrying that I would just keel over dead one day from overwork.  I guess the joke is on both of us, eh? When Mark arrived with the immense "Murphy" in tow, Calista fell right into professional receptionist mode. She had taken the time to don uniform scrubs and do her hair, while I turned up for work in jeans and a T-shirt.  Who was the adult here?

Mark was a nice enough guy but he certainly did not impress me as any mover and shaker of the world.  He arrived at my clinic in worn jeans, a ragged golf-shirt and leather sandles that had seen better days.  His dog Murphy was absolutely wonderful and it was immediately apparent how much he cared for the big goofy dog. I sensed that Mark was a no-nonsense kind of guy who would not economize on Murphy's care, so I did everything reasonable to make sure Murphy was going to be Ok.  It turned out that he had eaten something that was causing some wicked diarrhea and gas and just simply treating his symptoms was enough to fix the issue. 

Mark had some errands to do around town, so he left Murphy with us for the afternoon. Murphy spent most of the time with us hanging his head over Calista's shoulder as she sat at the desk. It was pretty hard to input data on the computer while simultaneously scratching his ears. Those two bonded and I guess we must have impressed Mark since he invited us down to vaccinate all his dogs out on his island just a few weeks later.

Mark sent me an e-mail to the effect that he would pick both of us up in his private float plane and fly us up to his island where we would vaccinate his dogs and have lunch with him and some other guests.  I kind of pictured Mark himself dropping into Powell Lake with a beat up old float plane patched with duct-tape and bailer twine and spiriting us away to a rustic cabin on an island shared with a bunch of drop-out hippies.  I was not really being judgemental here; it never occured to me that anyone in my little world would actually own an entire island.

Imagine how surprised both Calista and I were when the plane docked up at Powell Lake. It was a beautiful corporate amphibious ten-seater piloted by Mark's private pilot who greeted us with a thick Scottish brogue and a big friendly grin.  He flew us north for about fifteen minutes, passing over Savory and Hernandez Islands and landed in a small inlet on an island just south-east of Cortez Island. Mark indeed did have his own private island, fully outfitted with a mansion of amazing dimensions and several well appointed outbuildings to house his staff. We spent a wonderful afternoon examining and vaccinating dogs, enjoying an amazing lunch made of food grown right there on the island and touring a virtual paradise in the middle of nowhere. Once we returned home poor Calista was just speechless; she thought that kind of wealth only occured in Hollywood movies. My joke of the day was a little tasteless; I asked her if she had checked to see if Mark had any sons about her age.

My father told me and I told her this basic truth: there is nothing wrong about marrying for money because you can always learn to love somebody, but you can never learn to love being poor.  I never listened to my father and she never listened to me; exactly as is should be.

We attended grief couselling yesterday. That was traumatic.  I will get into it a bit more when I have some more time to digest what was said and what we have to look foreward to. The truth be told, the only big surprise about the visit to the counselor was the vast tidal wave of emotions that hit me when we started talking about Calista's death.  I thought Roni was the basket case in this marriage. Talk about a fooling myself; I have a very long, hard road ahead of me. 

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