The last coherent thing Dad said to me was, What does that remind you of? I was in his living room, smelling a candle on the coffee table. He sat in his recliner on that last day he would ever be out of bed, intermittently rubbing his hands together and stroking his beard. I realized later that he’d always stroked his beard, a habit he kept till the end.
“Grandpa’s pipe,” I said, smiling at our shared memory. My dad’s dad smoked a tobacco pipe in all my growing up memories of him, held limp in the corner of his mouth. He wore denim bib overalls and always had a hat sitting cockeyed on his bald head, counter-balancing the crooked half-smile that was holding the dangling pipe. The smell of that tobacco candle was a ride in the motorhome, to my grandparents’ house, to the bowls of popcorn, the cold and dark basement where you could sleep till noon and not even know it, and the rows and rows of mason jars my grandmother filled with produce from grandpa’s garden.
Dad, in a moment of lucidity cresting his pain, recognized what I was doing with that candle. Remembering—putting together our past again. The next day, when he couldn’t be raised out of his bed and he couldn’t speak and he couldn’t get a breath without herculean effort, I catalogued a lifetime of memories to him, telling him all the good I could grab hold of: fishing trips and hikes and drives in the woods and The Barney Miller Show and football on Sunday afternoons and the flowers he brought me when I turned sixteen and our trip from Oregon to Montana in his Fiat and tasting my first quiche and making thick ham sandwiches and driving too close to the edge and rides in the boat and stacking wood in the shed and the smell of his garage and his laundry soap and Coast deodorant soap and the candle.
I found one at Marshall’s. Sweet Tobacco—not a scent you’d think would fit a candle, not something you’d want to burn in your home, but it is pleasant. It’s made from soy and essential oils according to the label, and I lit it this morning for the first time. It’s burning now as I write in the dark.
“Have you been writing lately?” my husband asked an hour ago.
I’ve been thinking about writing but that counts less than the actual work of words. I read somewhere recently (I can’t remember where) that some writers remove the delete key from their keyboard when they’re drafting their words, to prevent editing and overthinking in the first stage of writing. They just plow through, getting thoughts down and spewing a jumble of fragments of words of memories of life onto the screen. I won’t tell you that’s what happened here—I am quite fond of delete. I just lit a candle and started remembering, deleting here and there, adding, fighting through for that moment of lucidity. This is writing; is life.
So yes, I have been writing lately.
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