6 = Memento

From the water, out at sea and sitting in a boat that falls and rises with the waves, Kupang town looked as though it had been slapped, slapped hard enough to send the buildings toppling and off-kilter. Strung out along the shore, one end of town was higher, braced against the weight of leaning structures tumbling at it from the other end. In choppy water, that shoreline was seen in momentary flashes, glimpsed as the water rose and fell.

Life was like that too. Vivid moments hidden in the lull of boring everyday. Some, like flotsam, disconnected from their past and others like the warning spark of what’s to come.

—The Water Here is Never Blue

Last month, the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death passed. Whoosh, a puff of air, a whisper heard by some but not by many. A day, just one, a lovely day in June.

Sometimes these days creep up without my conscious knowing. I forget, or almost. I forget on the level of my everyday. But, then I realize my mood is shifting slowly into darkest navy blue and moments that are bright can’t hold their shine for long. That’s when I remember, oh yes, that day, that day again is here or coming or just passed.

I have mementos of my father, talismans that I associate with him and which I use to hold the details of a piece of time, an event, an aspect of his complex personality. We all do that. For my sister, one memento of our Dad is his blue car, his Wedgewood blue Triumph Spitfire.

She inherited that car, and last month, after 20 years of lugging it from one end of the country to the other, storing it in fields and barns and garages, she hired a company to start the restoration of Dad’s car. For 20 years she’s wanted to begin, and now she can and so she has.

It will take a lot of restoration. So much that the company she’s hired has tried and tried, and tried one more last time, to talk her out of it. Dad wasn’t known for taking care of things like cars. Bought in 1974, not long before we moved to Guyana, the little sports car spent much of its first 20 years parked on a hill, filling up with water every rainy fall and winter in Vancouver. Dad abandoned it to rot years before he died. Rust grew and in the fuel tank gasoline turned slowly into something rubbery and black. The engine doesn’t work. The wiring has been eaten out by mice. The wooden paneling along the dash is warped and dried. The tires are flat and cracked. It is a wreck.

But, even though it is a wreck and it will cost three times the price to buy another Spitfire, someone else’s car that’s been restored, my sister is determined to bring that car back to what it was that day when we were kids and Dad drove up in it, the top down, his head covered by a tweed driving cap and his face cracking wide with smiles. She will restore that car, despite the fact that when it’s done there won’t be much of it that our father ever touched, because, I know, that when she drives it off one day and it shines its Wedgewood blue again, she’ll feel our father there, right there, beside her in that car. No other car, no other Triumph Spitfire, even one that’s Wedgewood blue, could do that. No other car can be her tether to the smile our father smiled.

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