Dad’s elegance as a ballroom dancer is family legend, but I’ve got an ulterior motive here. This is what spy novels call a “lure.” I’ve been enlisted to keep him out of the apartment for a half-hour, while the rest of the family is decorating the apartment for a joint New Year’s and birthday surprise. Tomorrow is Dad’s birthday.
Dad may have a hunch about his pre-teen daughter’s sudden curiosity about ballroom dancing. Yes, these are still the days when adults might foxtrot to “Fly Me to the Moon” at a Saturday evening dinner-dance. I have a few school dances ahead of me, but we’re more likely to hear “Hey Jude,” or “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog,” than Andy Williams.
I’m not good yet at keeping secrets; that skill will come, but at 11 I still believe my feelings are written on my face. Yet keeping a secret from my dad somehow feels like keeping a secret with my dad. There’s an air of the familiar and the exotic to this gentle lion. As he leads me through a box step — ONE two three, ONE two three -- I feel we’re in on something together.
These are the moments I remember now about my dad. The way he folded his pants (which he called slacks) neatly down the crease and draped them over the bar of a hanger. How he’d watch me quietly as I played solitaire, saying softly, “Look at your six,” if I missed a play. The way his eyes twinkled before he told a joke, and the soft edges of his humor. His seemingly endless process of making a bed — smoothing the bottom sheet, tucking the corners, pulling up the top sheet carefully and folding it evenly over the blanket from one end to the other — as if details really do matter.
Where did he learn that ballroom dancing? Only in the nightclubs of Shanghai before World War II, as I learned interviewing him for what became my book about him, Farewell, Aleppo.
Dad died in January, just after his 96th birthday. Age had been gaining ground for the past few years. A master of five languages, a longtime crossword aficionado, he began losing words. Places began to deceive him. As I described something my family and I were doing in Santa Fe, I realized he had lost concepts of here and elsewhere. In time he lost more and more ability to comprehend or speak. Yet at the end of every phone call he would say, “I love you” and “Enjoy yourself,” even when he could say little more. These became the wishes and prayers to him as he got nearer to death.
He had a long, wonderful life, and a very gentle death. Our relationship felt complete. For all that, I’m grateful. For Mom’s vibrancy and gratitude to God and to her husband, I’m endlessly inspired. All this is deep comfort.
But grief is a strange animal. Sometimes it keeps a safe distance. Some days it jumps at me with teeth bared. Some days I find myself bone-weary, even on what hasn’t been a “hard” day, as if there’s a separate track of emotion running through me, an underground river.
But then...by what some might call coincidence, or perhaps an Act of Grace from the Journalism Gods, a passel of gorgeous articles and photos about babies crossed my desk for this issue.
There’s Whitney Spivey’s funny and informative piece, “Twins 101,” on birthing identical twins. (Email from me to Ann Hackett, our graphic designer: “I love the photo of the two babies’ butts... are you using it??” Ann’s reply: “OF COURSE I’m using the baby butt pic.”)
There’s Katie Chavez Cook’s exquisite essay, “Labor of Love,” about witnessing the birth of baby goats with her two human kids, which has brought me tingles and tears, again and again.
Oh, and then there’s “Baby Season!” by Christy Wall and Hilary DeVries of the New Mexico Wildlife Center, about spring in the animal kingdom. If that article and photos don’t give you a warm glow, you might just be made of stone.
New organizations for families are being born, including a birthing center particularly geared to Native American moms (see Baby Briefs), and ¡Santa Fe Convive!, a new collaborative working group pooling the resources of four longstanding programs: Many Mothers, Las Cumbres Community Services, Fathers New Mexico and Gerard’s House (see Nancy Guthrie’s “Viva ¡Convive!”). Katie Macaulay, director of a longstanding outdoor program for children, Mountain Kids!, is starting a new program for moms: Mountain Mamas (see her “Mama-thon”).
The Santa Fe Alliance for Science has quietly grown to over 100 scientists, mathematicians and teachers who volunteer in public and private schools as science fair judges and tutors (see Diane Smogor’s “Inspiring Science”).
Reading Quest, which provides summer and after-school tutoring through its Reading is Magic program (see Perli Cunanan and Amy Miller’s “Quests Aren’t Just for Fairy Tales”), is also growing, in its new space donated by the United Way in their Early Learning Center, in the old Kaune Elementary School building.
For other organizations, growth brings a new name: IMPACT Personal Safety is now Resolve, still showing children and adults how to prevent and defend themselves against violence (see Darya Peterson-Glass’ “Overcoming Fear in Adolescence,” in English, y “Superar el miedo en la adolescencia” en español).
Warehouse 21, which itself just turned 21, is now Studio Santa Fe, revamping to meet the changing needs of youth in our city (News Briefs).
Kyce Bello takes us into the “heart of the wild,” in her magical essay by that name, on a trip to Chaco Canyon with fourth graders from the Santa Fe Waldorf School, drawing inspiration from Terry Tempest Williams (who is coming to the James A. Little Theatre on March 12).
These new beginnings and changes are particularly gratifying for me now. Dad’s passing has made me more sweetly aware of the generational ripples of parental influence. This morning I threw the comforter up over the wrinkled sheets on the bed, but this afternoon I’m chasing errant commas and checking for subject/verb match, in the final stages of proofing this issue, as if details really do matter. As if how we treat our children really does matter. Let’s treat them with love and joy.
And keep in touch! We love to hear from you.