When I was in 5th grade, I wanted, more than anything, to be in Summer Chorus. Summer Chorus was an annual production put on by high schoolers – such as my older sister, the hero of my childhood (and often my adulthood, but for the love of God don’t tell her that). For the 5th graders, they only picked a few students and it was up to the discretion of the teacher. I spent the year being very well behaved, very quiet in chorus, except for when we were supposed to be singing, and then, I sang my heart out.
I did not get picked for Summer Chorus. I was crushed. Never before in my young experience had I tried so hard and wanted something so much for it to fail so utterly.
My parents, who were always very involved, asked the teacher why I was not chosen. I had a pretty voice and they knew I tried very hard and was a good kid. When they spoke to the teacher she said, “Oh, she was so quiet I just forgot all about her!”
My father was not pleased.
In my family, I am known as the quiet one. As the middle child, sandwiched between two incredibly vivacious and outgoing sisters, I was bookish, quiet, and often felt that when too many people are talking, no one was listening. So I listened instead, as it made more sense to me. I was also fairly shy.
My father decided that I would not be overlooked simply because I was well behaved. Music was always a big part of family life – my dad would play records and we would all sit around and play or dance or sing, listening to them. My father bought the record “The Lord of La Mancha”, which is a musical based on Don Quixote. He played the title song and had me listen to it over and over again.
“I am I, Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha, my destiny calls and I go.”
Then he had me sing it. Used to singing in chorus, it was unnerving to sing alone, to an audience of one. I sang quietly, shyly, and almost meekly.
This was not acceptable.
“No! You are the LORD – the LORD! – of La Mancha! Sing it again.” Repetition was very big with my father. We would do things over and over again until we did them the correct way (ask my sister about when she was five and couldn’t open the car door – I think she ended up opening the car door something like 37 times).
So, I sang it again. And again. Until I could belt that song out. Until I had no fear. I honestly do not know if it was over the course of a day or days or weeks that we did this exercise. It seems endless in my memory. Me singing, him reminding me that I was the Lord.
I do not know how my parents managed it, but I was in summer chorus that year.
Don Quixote – rich with imagery, symbolism, metaphor and philosophy – became something I associated with my father quite heavily. He and I even have a tattoo of Don Quixote on our legs, in the same spot, although I didn’t get my until after he passed away. I figured it was better than a rose with “Dad” written on it.
Throughout my life, my father would say to me, “Pay attention – there will be a test.” Whether the lesson was how to drive, cook, shoot, change a tire – something I had to learn before I was allowed to drive a car – or the difference between a Philips or standard screwdriver, my father would snag my wandering attention by telling me, “Pay attention, there will be a test.” As someone who took school very seriously (what can I say? I’m a nerd) telling me that there would be a test ensured my complete, albeit anxious, attention.
Around the age of 19 or so, my father and I were in the garage and he was explaining to me how to use something – I honestly can’t remember if it was the air compressor or the welding equipment – and he said, “Pay attention – there will be a test.”
Being a bit of a pain in the butt during my teenage years, I said, “When? When’s the test? You’ve been telling me my whole life that there is going to be a test, but there never is!”
My father looked at me very calmly and said, “Life is the test.”
Then he walked rather smugly into the house.
On September 29, 2010 my father passed from this world into the next. Going through all of the pictures of my father’s life, I realized how rich his life and ours had been. Trying to list all of the things my father taught me would turn into a book, but I can list some of the experiences I’ve had that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Thanks to my father I’ve water skied, snow skied, bungee jumped, seen oceans and mountains, pet sharks, dolphins and many other animals, visited Europe, and much more.
Unlike many of my pagan brethren, I always had a very easy time of being Wiccan with my family, mainly due to my father’s open mind. When I first became Wiccan, he asked a lot of questions and even read several books – I think he was initially worried I’d joined some sort of cult, but he reserved his judgment until he had researched Wicca. After finishing one of the books he remarked on how it was very similar to how he had always believed. My father was very big on understanding what was going on first, then making a judgment call.
Part of why he was so open to my pagan path was his deep love of nature. Every spring, the first sunny and warm day after a rainfall, my family would go morel hunting. My parents would call off work, they would call us in sick for the day, and the whole family would go out into the woods to hunt for morels. It was always a rejuvenating and fun tradition.
Any time there was a turtle in the road, my dad would stop to save it. Something all three of his daughters still do to this day. As a matter of fact, I knew my husband was the man for me when I pulled over to the side of the road to save a turtle and instead of having to explain my actions to him, he just hopped out and escorted the turtle to the other side of a road.
Above all else, my father loved birds, especially birds of prey. He regularly gave donations to Treehouse, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation charity in the River Bend area similar to our local Free Again. One of his favorite birds was the red tailed hawk. We would take various car trips and have contests to see which family member could spot the most hawks.
Lately, the hawks have been saying hello. The number of hawks that have been very conspicuous in my presence has really grown in the weeks since my father died. There was one that even seemed to be waving at me, but my rational brain would insist that this was just wishful thinking. However, yesterday my younger sister and I were driving when my older sister called. We put her on speakerphone so we could all three talk, and that was when a huge hawk, lit almost golden by the sun, flew by us. In what was mere seconds later, my older sister saw a red tailed hawk fly by as well. This happy coincidence again occurred a few hours later when my older sister called and spoke with us again. My mother and younger sister recently bought a new vehicle and while test driving it together they wondered aloud if my father would like it and a red tailed hawk flew mere feet right over the vehicle, as if in approval. While I already believe quite firmly in the afterlife, the recent behavior of the hawks has really confirmed for me that the spirit does go on and after our loved ones have passed, they do find ways to say hi.
We were all very lucky to have my father in the world. He stopped for people on the side of the road, in winter he would pull cars out of ditches just to be nice, and he saved many, many turtles. He was a force of good in the world that will be sorely missed.
For every house repair, car repair, or other major decision in my life, I would call and talk to my dad. His approval and support, not to mention his vast knowledge, were always a comfort and a help. There have been many times recently where I think I should ask Dad about something, but unfortunately, I can’t. I keep thinking that life without him is really is the biggest test and I am glad that I was paying attention.