Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad

My father was born on April 25, 1916. He would have been 94 today. His full name was Edmour Edgar Edward Joseph Babineau.

How did he get such an usual moniker? Well, his mother allowed her sisters to each contribute a name, and I guess those Babineau girls had pretty similar taste in names! Yes, I said Babineau girls - my grandmother, Judith Babineau, married my grandfather, Edward Babineau - they were distant cousins.

I have some photos of my father as baby and little boy. In one, he is sitting on an ornately carved chair, probably a year old. He is bald, with huge eyes, and is reaching out, trying to grab life. That was my Dad - he grabbed life. He grew up through WWI and the Depression. His father was a plumber, and as the oldest child, he first was his father's helper and learned the trade. He had to leave school in the 7th grade to help his father support the family. By the time my father was a young man, there were three little babies in the family and the depression was in full swing.

Another photo is of my father at about two or so. He has a dutch boy haircut, a mischievous look in his eye, and a sailor suit complete with hat and short pants which show his dimpled knees. He was adorable. He was the first of his generation on his mother's side, and his aunts totally doted on him. Even when they married and had their own families, they still doted on him, and he doted on them. I remember the endless visiting of the aunties, and how they would eat up every word he said. Now, what he actually said to them was usually pretty outrageous - he would tease them and tell them how pretty they looked - and he meant it! When he walked into their homes, it was a party, because Edmour was here!

My Dad loved women. He loved to be around them. He appreciated them and found them interesting. I think that maybe because he was surrounded by them as a baby, he found their company in later life comforting. There are 14 years between my father and his next brother, and in between, there were at least four babies that I know of who died within the first few months of birth. How very sad for my Memiere. I imagine that unspeakable sadness somehow made my father more precious to her, and also to her sisters.

But there is no denying that there was a mutual admiration society going on between my father and his aunts: Dora, Justine, Alexena, Amelie, Julie and Alma. Those are the ones that I knew. In fact, when my own baby was about six months old, I took her to New Bedford to meet my father's baby sister Anita, and together, she and I took her to meet the last of the aunts, Aunt Alma Trembly. By that time, Aunt Alma was blind, so she held Elisabeth on her lap and touched her face all over, and squeezed her thighs, making her laugh. My chest hurt - I was that proud! Aunt Alma's son, Paul, sat next to her, smiling. Now, those Trembly's are one more handsome the next, probably the best looking of their generation of cousins. They all have gorgeous eyes, Paul and Louise have blue eyes like Aunt Alma, and Jeanne has brown like Uncle Walter. Aunt Alma told me in that French Canadian twang of hers, that Elisabeth was a beautiful baby and I should be very proud, but as beautiful as she was, she was not the most beautiful baby ever. At this, Paul began beaming. Paul is a very handsome man and I bet he was an adorable baby. Aunt Alma went on to say that the most beautiful baby she ever saw was... Edmour! Paul almost fell off the sofa! Edmour was so beautiful and so perfect with his ten little toes and ten little fingers, and he was so loving and sweet and so very mischievous! But even when he was bad, he was so adorable and loving and sweet and and and... Aunt Alma's whole demeanor softened when she spoke about my father. She had a faraway look in her eyes and smile on her lips. She was lost in what, to her, were beautiful memories of a beautiful baby boy that she loved very, very much.

And there it was. That was my father. As a child, he was so charming and loving that you forgave him everything; as an adult, he was so charming and loving that you forgave him everything, and as an old man beset with Alzheimers, he was still so very charming and loving that you forgave him everything.

Alzheimer's patients often become mean spirited and angry, but my father didn't. He remained who he had always been - upbeat, mischievous, sweet, kind and loving. He became more childlike. As the disease progressed, I saw glimpses of the little boy that his aunties were besotted with, and I began to understand that mysterious bond between him and them. lHe was quite an unforgettable child and he was quite an unforgettable man.

Today is his 94th birthday. Happy birthday, Dad. You are sorely missed.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Goodbye, Mary Margaret McBride

I've come to the realization that things are not memories.

I've been decluttering and unpacking boxes which are in my infamous "box room" aka den. I moved back to this house more than a year ago, and since there is no garage, all the boxes have been stored in what used to be my den. I unpacked everything I need to live long ago, yet there are lots of boxes in the room which makes it unusable for anything but box storage and a hiding place for my cats. Mind you, the amount of boxed "stuff" stored here is probably about a quarter of what was stored in the garage of doom in Richmond Hill, so I've made huge strides.

In the last few weeks, I've unpacked about 8 really big boxes and have filled three for the church yard sale. I've thrown away a lot and recycled a lot and kept a little bit. I've started this process from the "other" side of the room, because I'm looking for a couple of specific things and the boxes nearer to the entry have all been opened already. That's part of the problem - the opened and half-empty boxes. If I can put the boxes in some kind of order, I can deal with them better, but right now, its all pretty overwhelming - the mess, the opened boxes, the lack of labels ...

My goal is to open and survey every box, immediately remove the items that I know I do not want any longer, and then repack and re-order the boxes so that I can make some judgements later on. I think if I do this, I will half the amount of crap in my box room, making it a usable den with some boxes again. I'll have to ask my organizational guru, Michele, if she thinks this will work.

Today I opened a box of cookbooks, and at the bottom was the huge, well worn and well loved Encyclopedia of Cooking by Mary Margaret McBride. Immediately after WWII, when my mother was a new bride, she and her mother grocery shopped together every week, and every week, my grandmother would buy another chapter of this tome - one for her and one for my mother. This cookbook was quite the exhaustive reference for its day - it had everything from how to can, pluck a chicken and make an eggroll, to napkin folding and all kinds of ethnic food. With this cookbook, Grammie and Mom cooked many an adventurous ethnic meal - in particular, the chinese meal complete with egg rolls is still talked about in our family.

Mom took her volume of Mary Margaret McBride to the Inn and earned quite a reputation for what we billed as "continental cuisine" in 1950 and 1960 Sunapee, NH - not quite the chic cosmopolitan capital of NH, its true, but still....

Mary Margaret is held together with duct tape. Her pages are worn and stained. The plastic lamination of the cover is dry, brittle and flaking off. It weighs more than 10 lbs. I will never use it, but as I held it in my hands, I hesitated to get rid of it. I tried to remember the last time my mother actually pulled it out and used it, and I can't. She carried that book from Everett to Medford, to Everett, to Sunapee, to California and finally, to Savannah. It has had a home in a bedroom, a couple of apartments, a motor home for 15 years and several houses. Its been in my cookbook bookcase for almost 13 years, and not once in those 13 years has it been used. Yet, I'm struggling with whether to keep it or not.

So, I did what I always do - I got a second opinion. In the end, everything that is mine will one day be my only child's, so I asked her if she wanted me to keep it for sentimental reasons, and she doesn't. She doesn't remember it propped open while my mother cooked. She doesn't remember two heads bent over it, laughing and planning their next culinary adventure, one head under 5 feet and silver and the other thick and black. These are my memories, not hers. Her text to me said, "I don't want it. You can get rid of it. It's ok." And with that "It's ok" I decided to throw it in the trash - but not before taking a quick picture of it so I can remember it.

It feels like another goodbye to my mother, but really, its goodbye Mary Margaret McBride. I guess I'm growing up. Farewell.