Yesterday was my dad's birthday, and although I think of him every day, I didn't realize, until this morning, that I hadn't given special "birthday" thought to him after all.
Growing up, we always used to despair on his birthday because it came so close to Christmas, and he was hard to buy for. He was a very family-oriented man, and didn't play golf until he'd retired, wasn't able to sail as we were living in land-bound Calgary where only the very well-to-do sailed, had no hobbies, was almost verboten from touching the family tools, and his most elegant clothes were from his Army uniform.
He loved the things we used to make in school: the toothbrush holder fashioned from a toilet paper roll, the handstitched bag for buttons, the paper chains, but as we passed 7 or so, we were impatient for real gifts to give him. Thank goodness, he did need a snow shovel, he loved getting coffee mugs, socks were always welcome and, like all of us, he was a reader, so there was some leeway, but two gifts within a week was taxing on our originality.
My dad didn't talk about his war experiences, but there were two things we knew about him that were linked to his overseas time: one, he had had every piece of mutton he ever intended to eat in his lifetime, and two, he had discovered figs when he was in Italy and would often tell us how he loved them, while munching on his fig newtons. That's why I thought I was such a genius when I saw, and bought for him, a string of dried figs. Before I wrapped them, I thought again of the pleasure in his voice when he talked about figs, and I was ecstatic.
Even though Dad was usually good at showing his appreciation, I could tell I'd fallen short of the mark. I didn't know there were any kind of figs but dried ones, and the figs in the package had already started to get kind of superdried. After I'd tasted one, as he shared the string with all of us, I could totally understand the underwhelment, even though I still had never eaten, or even seen, a fresh fig.
Many, many years later, when he was with-us-but-gone, because of a stroke, I was lucky enough to see him, as he'd been while he was young, really, really enjoying a fresh fig. And now, although I did forget that yesterday was his birthday, I felt a rush of love just thinking about this story.