Unasked Questions

Patricia M. Snell

© Copyright 2019 by Patricia M. Snell

Honorable Mention--2019 Biographical Nonfiction

Photo of Patricia's father.

It’s too late to ask my father questions, but it’s not too late to remember him and write about his well lived life.

In April of 2018, the results of a biopsy showed that my father had skin cancer and he had about 4 months to live. He hoped to stretch out that prediction and make it to his birthday in August. We thought we had plenty of time with him before he died, but the cancer was more aggressive than expected. He died on May 19, 2018.

I think about all the times I talked with my father. There are questions I wish I had asked him. Why did I waste opportunities and leave questions unasked? I was busy cleaning his apartment. I didn’t want to deal with his hearing impairment. Maybe I was afraid to hear his honest answers. I thought I had more time with him. Whatever the reasons, there are questions I will always wonder about. Here are some of my unasked questions and my thoughts about them.

What was the last thing Mom said to you?”

Dad outlived Mom by 26 years. In all those 26 years I never asked Dad about the very end of Mom’s life. At the end, it was just the two of them in their living room where Mom lay on a hospital bed. It’s difficult to imagine what Mom might have whispered to Dad as she held his hand in the final moments of her life. Mom was not the introspective type. She was the “cross-things-off-the-to-do-list” type. Did she tell Dad the kitchen floor needed cleaning? Probably not. Maybe, in that poignant moment, she reflected on their life together and told him she had a good life with him.

What was the last thing you said to her?”
I imagine that Dad might have said, “Yes, we had a full life together. You were the perfect wife for me.” Whatever they said to each other, those words will stay forever private. Maybe that’s how it should be after 43 years of marriage. Their final words should remain just between the two of them.

Was Mom as interested in traveling as you were?”

Traveling was an important part of their marriage, but it was Dad’s childhood dream, not Mom’s. Was Mom always “on board” with Dad’s traveling plans? I think their marriage was such a partnership that it never occurred to Mom not to take an interest in what Dad liked to do. She was game for anything as long as it included three meals a day. Photographs of their first years of marriage show that they enjoyed short trips in New York and New England. The photos show them skiing, enjoying time at a lodge, and hiking. Those short trips were a warm up to taking trips around the country. When my brother and I were very young, our family trips to Canada and around the U.S. began. Mom was always involved in the planning of the trips. I remember Dad and Mom sitting in the living room, talking about the itinerary for the next trip. I think they both looked forward to the vacations.

They did have opposing thoughts about going to the Amazon River. It was Dad’s greatest childhood dream to go to the Amazon. It was Mom’s greatest nightmare to go to the jungles of the Amazon. They made a deal. Mom agreed to go to the Amazon, if their next trip could be to Alaska. I guess Mom wanted to get as far from the Amazon as possible. Sadly, Mom got sick after going to the Amazon, and she never went to Alaska. Six years after she died, Dad went to Alaska. Was that his way of completing the deal, even though Mom was with him only in his thoughts?

Why did you think a remote fishing camp would be a good destination for our first family vacation?”

Dad found out about Zimm’s Fishing Camp from a coworker named Murray Belknap. As far as I can tell from photographs, Zimm’s was our first family vacation. The fishing camp in Ontario, Canada was rustic. There was just enough electricity in the cabin for a few light bulbs. The bathroom was a spidery outhouse. The stove for cooking was a wood burning stove. The refrigerator was an icebox with a block of ice. Why did Dad choose to travel to a primitive fishing camp for our first family vacation? Did we fish? It was 1954. My brother was barely 2 years old and I was 3. Perhaps the simple fishing camp was all Dad could afford.

Surprisingly, we had a good time at Zimm’s. It turned out to be more than just a fishing camp. It was a place where memorable experiences and family traditions were created. We returned there many times in the 1950’s and 60’s. Thank you, Murray Belknap, for telling Dad about it. And, thank you Dad, for somehow knowing “Zimmie’s” would be a good place to take your family.

Do you remember when I hurt my finger and you took care of me?”

I am sure Dad would remember when I was a child and I hurt my finger in the hinge of a lawn chair. I doubt that he would remember how he took care of me while my finger healed. I remember because it was unusual for Dad to be my caretaker. In our family, Mom took care of the children. Dad’s role was breadwinner. But, when I injured my finger, Mom relinquished her caretaker role to Dad. The injury to my finger was significant, with the fingernail ripped off and the tip of my finger attached at an odd angle. Mom couldn’t handle it. I remember sitting on the couch with Dad while he changed the bandage. Dad was patient. He let me soak my bandaged finger in a pan of warm water for a long time before he gently inched the bandage off and applied a new one. I don’t remember how long it took for my finger to heal, but I know Dad faithfully changed the bandage many times. The memory of Dad’s special care for me is imprinted on the slightly misshaped ring finger of my left hand.

What famous people have you admired?”

Dad was especially fond of Shirley Temple. He owned a collection of her movies on a set of DVD’s. Dad liked to talk about those movies. He admired young Shirley’s talent for singing and dancing and acting. And, he appreciated that Shirley Temple’s movies raised people’s spirits during the depression.

When I was born, I wonder if Dad fancied me to be his own little Shirley Temple. I certainly had the curls and the chubby cheeks. I was enrolled in tap dancing classes for a few years. Alas, it became apparent that I had no talents, and I was very shy. The closest I ever came to being like Shirley Temple was in college when I was nicknamed Shirley Temple because of my youthful appearance and my abstinence from alcohol.

Dad also admired the astronauts because they are the ultimate travelers. I think Dad would have loved to have the opportunity to travel into space. He was always looking for new vacation destinations. On earth, Dad enjoyed traveling to distant places. In July of 1969, when the astronauts were landing on the moon, we were camping on a remote island on Lake Temagami in Ontario, Canada. Perhaps Dad felt a kinship with the astronauts as we landed on the remote island. Dad brought a small transistor radio so he could hear the historic news of the astronauts’ landing on the moon. Radio reception was poor in our remote location, but Dad could hear the dramatic details of the landing as he held the radio against his ear. He repeated the words to us as he heard them, “The Eagle has landed”. Any comparisons between our landing on a Canadian island and the astronauts’ landing on the moon are presumptuous, but it’s the closest Dad ever came to being like an astronaut. Now that Dad is free from his life on earth, I hope he is exploring new places in the heavens.

What is your most prized possession?”

Dad prized his collection of stereo pictures highly. He had a stereo camera and he took stereo pictures wherever he went. The pictures’ 3D affect gives the viewer the feeling of actually being in the picture. Dad labeled and organized thousands of stereo pictures in his specially designed handmade boxes. The boxes of stereos were heavy, but Dad hauled them out and enjoyed viewing them with a handheld viewer. He was very worried that the viewer would break and he wouldn’t be able to fix it. When I visited him, he took pride in letting me see the stereos. Dad’s vacation memories came alive when he viewed the stereos. The collection helped him relive his vacation experiences, especially after he was too old to travel.

What special abilities are you proud of in your life?”

Dad was proud of his work at Kodak. His pride was well founded. He had a good work ethic for forty years. He worked as a machinist, but he was capable of doing the work of an engineer. Kodak awarded him thousands of dollars for his suggestions to improve the designs of machinery. Dad never tired of telling us he was as good at designing machines as the college educated engineers. That’s pretty good for a guy who didn’t finish high school. Dad knew he was fortunate to be hired by Kodak, even though he didn’t have a high school diploma. Dad’s long lasting career at Kodak began in 1944. During World War ll there was a shortage of young men to work in factories, but Dad had a medical deferment and couldn’t fight in the war. He never had any regrets about not finishing high school, and he had no regrets about his forty years of employment at Kodak. He was a dedicated worker for each day of those forty years.

Are you satisfied with your life?”

When my daughter visited Dad a month before he died, he sat back in his chair and said, “I’ve had a really good life.” We can take comfort in knowing Dad was well satisfied with his life.

If my unasked questions inspire anyone to ask their own questions before it’s too late, I am glad I could enrich your time with a loved one.

When I am old (who am I kidding, that time has arrived) I hope someone will take the time to ask me questions about my life. My retired husband and I grow even older here by the shore of Lake Ontario.
I wrote about my struggles to adjust to country living in a story entitled, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which can be found in the story collection of The Preservation Foundation. I also wrote about my employment that brought me from the city to the country in a book that was published by The Preservation Foundation. The book is called, Substitute Teacher Domain: Enter at Your Own Risk.

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