Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memories of Dad and Granddad

My father and his father

The Ruskin Heights tornado was this dividing line in my life. And in the life of our family. I have wondered from time to time what the alternate timeline would have been. We went to Kansas City for the funerals as a family and we came back as isolated individuals living in the same house. What had always united us before, fishing trips and camping and building things, was gone. On hiatus.

Mother had a secret. A lump had begun to grow in her breast. She would ask me during our bathroom talks. She would invite me in to talk while she took a bath. Talks that Dad and my brother were not privy to. She had come back from KC with a pain in her right shoulder. She went to Dr. Fitzpatrick who thought she had a lingering infection from the mastitis. He treated that with more antibiotics. Then he thought she had bursitis. He treated that with heat treatments. The lump was supposedly drainage. But it kept getting bigger. That was what the whispered talks were about. The size of the lump.

"Don't tell your father," she would almost plead.

"But, Mom, you can see it," I would try to reason.

"Your father has had one loss already. He doesn't need another."

"But, Mom?"

"After Christmas."

After Christmas the lump was removed. It was larger than a golf ball by about half. It was biopsied as being cancerous. The big C. Nobody spoke the words in those days. They never took out just the lump. They took her whole breast and part of her breast bone and all the lymph nodes under her arm.

I was taking care of my brother and sister while Dad was with Mom at the hospital. When he came home he asked me into their room and told me.

"You need to be strong for all of us," he said, before he began to cry. I hugged him and went out to make dinner for my siblings. I couldn't cry. I couldn't upset my brother and sister. I could not disappoint my father.

Cancer was not talked about in those days. And there seemed no light at the end of the tunnel. There were also no therapy groups for families going through this. We were alone. Oh, so alone. Separated from all our neighbors. I had my family to take care of. The bathroom talks with my mother continued. I could not avoid the horror of the butchery. And Dad and I began the workshop talks on weekends.

Grandmother did not show up as often those days but Granddad did. When I would climb the tree in the backyard to escape from time to time. He would be sitting out on a limb beside me.

"You're a Binford. You can do this."

Between bath  talks, shop talks and tree talks I like the shop talks the best because I learned to do wood work and home improvements, minor repairs. It often included trips to the dump (they were dumps in those days) where we would come back with more than we took some days.

Dad as I remember him

And the shop talks were not about his problems but philosophy and religion and history and world events.

It would be years later before it dawned on me that because of our secrets my mother and father had both lost (or excluded) their best friend. And I had lost my childhood.

"Childhood is over rated," Granddad said.

And oh, the workshop skills I acquired.


  1. Glad you posted this to fb, I had missed it. What a beautiful and heart wrenching piece of writing..

  2. Thank you for your kind words. This cathartic series of childhood memories has been interesting. Working on the next -- They Ran Away from Me.


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