Conversations with My Father
This project was born out of the unfinished conversations... un-answered questions.....and wish to better understand.
On the 2nd day of December in 1989 - at a too young age of 55 - my father died unexpectedly and without any forewarning, of a massive heart-attack.
In one breath he was vibrant...healthy....very alive. In the next - he was not.
There was no closure. There were no good-byes.
To his parents - he was their firstborn son.
To his sister - he was her older brother.
To his wife - he was her much beloved husband.
To his children (I and my two younger sibs) - he was simply: ‘Daddy’.
He was a self-made businessman. He loved to ski. He was a musician and an artist. He was a seeker of beauty and light.
To many - he was a dear and respected friend.
On his tombstone is inscribed:
A quiet sunrise
A distant memory
A deep friendship
Having arrived at that same tender young age of 55 - I'm wanting to look back
With only a shared passion for photography and a visual legacy of unfinished parts and pieces to work with - I've prepared myself to ask new questions. I can only imagine the answers…in hopes of connecting and hearing his voice anew.
I'm wishing to get to know me through he...and he through me.
I'm hoping to see as he saw - through his lens.
I share this with you here - knowing that loss is a part of life. And because we all have fathers who loved and were loved...and who are carried forever within.
An abbreviated ode to my father and his too-short life.
Lorne Abramowitz: 18 January 1934 - 2 December 1989
A Day We'll Never Forget
2 December 2013
It was just another day. A Saturday. The skies were that crystal clear winter blue - picture postcard perfect. The snow warmed...the air was frigid. I was somewhere between exhaustion and exhilaration....only months after giving birth to my third child. My daughter. My third baby.
And - you were alive. It had been less than a week - since we'd all been together.
As we left you and your house following a weekend visit....you reminded my 3-year old son - your firstborn grandson- that you'd see him for the holidays. You'd see all of us. You told him - you promised - you'd take him up the big chairlift. You promised - you'd teach him to ski.
As you'd done with me. You were going to do with he. This father's daughter - was thinking herself the luckiest in the world. Lucky to have her father teach her son what he'd taught me. Lucky to have this passed - from one generation to another.
There are things you'll never know about that day. There's so much I wish to tell you.
I had this idea...this plan...this way in which I might help you sell your art. Because I believed it was the most beautiful I'd ever seen. Because - like the skiing - it was something we both shared.
I called. And - I called. And - I called again.
Of course - you'd be skiing. It was a Saturday. You'd be doing what you most loved...loving what you most do. Of course - I had no question or doubt - that that was where you were. That was what was happening.
How could I have even imagined the unimaginable? The unthinkable? That you might have been doing something much more unexplainable than that?
Life Goes On
3 December 2013
Beginning always in today's moment - December 2013.
It's been 24 years. Almost half of my life...and mostly the entire life of my three kids. It's hard to know how to properly mark time....how to adequately count days and weeks and months and years. My youngest was merely a few months old...a newborn - when you died.
Time passes. The immediate needs and constant distractions of living a life - take precedent over anything other. The raw-ness eases. The wounds scab over and - eventually - heal. The void remains - impossible to fill. Forever.
On that day - so many many years ago I couldn't and wouldn't believe. I do now. As impossible as it seemed in that dark and dire moment - life does go on.
I'm 55 - just the age you were when you died. Like you were - I'm healthy...I'm vibrant...I'm awake and aware and very alive. My brother/your son - is 53. My sister/your daughter - recently arrived at age 50. Your wife is 76 years young...and doing fine. You have 8 grandkids - 4 girls and 4 boys. The oldest is 27 and soon-to-be wed. The youngest - is 16.
Other than the few photos we have - none of the grandkids remember. You. As their grandfather...or the father you were to me.
I'm looking at your art...and looking at mine. And - I'm seeing similarities and so many differences. And - I'm curious. And - I'm wondering. And - I have so many questions. And - I know there will be no good or easy answers.
It's hard to know where to even begin. This conversation. This one that I've been - we've all been- missing and wanting and wishing and imagining that someday might magically happen.
So - I'll begin with today....and where it is that we left off. With snippets of memory. With thoughts. With our shared images and visions.
And continuing on from where we left off - December 1989.
9 December 2013
First snow of the season.
There was no one who was as excited about this happening...than me. And - you.
I'm remembering a cold day in mid-November. In Montreal - it was already winter. It was dark. The after-school-bus dropped me off - as it always did - at the top of our hill. And - I ran...skipped...jumped - all the way home. Knowing - of course - that you'd be there as you always were - waiting.
First snow of the season.
And always the hope...the possibility...the dream - that the next day would be a 'no-school' one. That it'd be a day for you and me. Perhaps - school would be cancelled. Or - perhaps - I'd get to play hookey...and sneak away. Perhaps - you'd use it as an excuse to call in absent from your regular work-a-day.
And off we'd go to the mountains - early in the morning - swept away for just one day. That first day of the winter season. Of skiing.
It snowed here today. Barely enough to cover...but just enough to remind me. To remember.
What would you be doing today? What would I? And - would you have found something of beauty?
20" Of Snow
31 December 2013
New Year's Eve.
20" OF SNOW MEANS IT'S TIME TO GO.
Do you remember the year you sent everyone home before midnite? They all thought you were just a bit crazy...maybe even a lot so. You hung that sign up on the door. You told them -as they arrived on that snowy New Year's eve night - that you'd be ending the party early.
I don't think anyone really believed that you would.
You were a man of your word. You said what you meant..and meant just exactly what you said. When we reached that 20" of snow - you sent everyone on their way.
3 January 2014
It snowed last night - 18" of soft white. Deep shnay. It's not often - here in the northeast - that we get snow like this.
We woke this morning to sub-zero temperatures and high winds and irresistible powder. Do you remember? Because I certainly do....
Those mornings when we'd anxiously await the day's report. Are the winds too high? Is the lift running? Dare we go out into this wild and frigid wonderland at all?
So often - we did. So often - it was just you and me....no one else daring to brave that extreme cold.
So often - it was both miracle and madness - all at once and the same time. Some days - we returned home at the end of it - frozen and happy. Other days - weren't quite. The lifts would close. My eyelashes froze. The cold was too much to bear.
I wondered today - at your energy and zeal...at your determination to get out there and do what you most loved. I wondered about you at my age...and me at mine - and if I would...if I could - still?
As I was reminded of that familiar ache of thawing feet - I thought of you. It's the picture perfect day. Blowing snow. Blue light. I remember. Do you?
The Chair Lift
10 January 2014
It's just a memory. A snapshot. A moment that happened in time.
Although it all appeared to be random and chaotic - there was always a plan.
First it was one horsehaired blanket...and then another. Then there was the one that we wrapped around our heads to protect us from the cold and wind. The weight of them was enough to discourage even the hardiest of us skiers.
Ski poles in one hand. Skis on their marks.
You turned to the left and grabbed hold of the chair as it swept us both from under. Your other hand - always and immediately crossing my body. My own personal safety bar.
Your feet rested themselves on the foot rest. Mine dangled. I'd love to lean over that bar once you'd secured it from overhead. You were always reminding me to back away from that potentially dangerous edge.
We'd ride in the comfort of frozen silence. Bodies buried in the warmth of the blankets. Faces protected from the wind.
The cold was bitter and biting.
And - I was so happy. To just be. To ski. You and me - adding to the count ofone more day of ski adventures together.
In Search of You
12 January 2014
And so - what is it that you did on these winter days of monchrome? When the snow had melted and gone away - even if only temporarily?
Did you go out in search of beauty?
Did you seek out the winter wet and fog?
Did you look for the color in the endless winter grey?
I'm looking for you today. I'm thinking of what you might have done...what you might have seen...what beauty you might have uncovered.
Right there - beyond that tree...in this blurr and mist and rising fog. Is that where I might find you?
Companions in a Storm
18 January 2014
I try to imagine a softer...slower...gentler...grey-er version. A version that is wiser and more forgiving. The image I carry with me is of you as a young man. I try to imagine you old.
Today - we'd be celebrating your 80th birthday. We would.
We'd be gathering. We'd be honoring. We'd be roasting and toasting a long and healthy and full life. We'd be raising our glasses - and wishing you many more.
We would...if we could...if we had been given this gift. This most precious of all opportunity.
You resisted turning 50. You didn't want any part of it. You didn't want a party. You didn't want a celebration. You didn't particulary want anyone to stand up and applaud and make any sort of celebratory note.
Today - I'm wondering - why? Did you fear growing old? Did you not like the attention? Was it the quiet in you that resisted?
I wonder if you'd be skiing. Still. I wonder if you'd be out there with your camera - photographing the gentle beauty of the falling winter snow. I wonder if you'd be happy? I wonder if you'd be healthy? I wonder if you'd be proud - of all that you'd accomplished and all that you'd done? I wonder who it is...and all that you might have become?
It's hard to know whether we should celebrate this day...or we should grieve. There exists such a fine line between that moment of sorrow and that moment of joy.
Life goes on.
We're nothing and no one other than simple companions in life's storm.
We're all here. We're all remembering. We're all honoring. We're celebrating together - each in our own personal way. We're raising our glasses. We're roasting and toasting.
And- all things beautiful. And- the power and strength and love of family. And - your memory. And - your legacy. And - your present day.
If only we could....we would.
To a life lived your way.
You Were There
24 January 2014
Winters were long in Montreal. Snow was as ordinary as everyday summer's rain. The humm of the city never stopped. School cancellations were more the exception than the expected rule.
And so - when we began the morning with the usual snow falling - it wasn't even a second thought or question as to whether we should or we shouldn't. We did what we always did. We bundled ourselves up and went to school.
By noon - it was apparent to the decision-making grown-ups that school was not the safest place for us kids. An announcement was made. School was closing...and we were all to go directly home.
Only a handful of us remained...as we lived too far away to travel safely. We were gathered together in the school's lunch room/gymnasium and told to wait until someone - a parent or responsible other - arrives to collect us.
Altho it seems - in my child's memory - that I spent hours waiting and watching and hoping that the next parent that might arrive would be my own...it probably wasn't that long.
There were no mobile phones or text. No emails. No 'high alerts'. There was no easy and direct way of communication. How did you know to come find me? How did you know I'd be among those who were waiting?
Instinctively - I knew....I trusted. You'd come get me. You'd bring me home safely.
You were always there - whenever I needed you.
Where Are You Now?
26 January 2014
I was 12. It was the year 1970 - and the 'FLQ Crisis' had made national headlines and news.
We were all - us 'anglophones' - living on edge...constantly looking over our shoulder...worried about when the next metaphorical (and sometimes actual) bomb might explode. In which playground or neighbor's backyard.
We children - were no longer free to travel to and from school alone. We weren't free to play outdoors. For a short few months - we were in a state of constant vigilance and high alert.
No thing and no one was to be trusted. Every one and every thing could be a suspect.
It must have been early winter. Lights had been declared out. I was safely in bed...waiting for sleep to take over. When out of nowhere - I heard a great sound.
Terrified..and convinced - that the world as I knew it was about to end...I ran screeching down the stairs and into your arms. As if they were waiting there justto catch me. To reassure me. To remind me that I'm safe. And that that great sound that I'd heard was nothing but ice and snow sliding off the roof.
Again - you were there.
You were always there.
Where are you now?
Sometimes the memories surprise me. Little things that have gotten themselves lost and forgotten over the years. It's not that I haven't wanted to remember. It's just that life has a way of carrying us - sometimes making more out of so much less...and more often making less out of much much more.
When I found this in your archives - I couldn't help but remember how it is she came to us...and her first days and nights.
* * *
She certainly wasn't planned. She wasn't expected. I'm not even sure that she was wanted. But when she arrived - nothing but a white ball of irresistible soft fur - how could anyone have turned such sweet goodness and love that was unconditional away?
We were told that she was a part of an overpopulated farm's litter - part Samoyed...part Golden Retriever. If we didn't adopt her - there was a very good chance that she'd never survive.
Didn't take much to convince you...did it??
That first night - do you remember? - we confined her to the kitchen where she was left to sleep alone. There were no crates. She wasn't housebroken. She couldn't be trusted to be free to roam.
And - she cried...and cried...and cried. As all puppies do. As I would have - too - if I'd been torn from my siblings and mother - to land myself in a world that was was strange and new.
Didn't anyone- I wondered - in this family have a heart?
I laid myself down just on the other side of that closed kitchen door. Tears rolling down my cheeks...talking to her gently. Feeling so helpless. I couldn't let her out. I couldn't go in. I did all I could - which was to lie there on that one side of the door with her on the other - hoping that my words provided comfort of a sort.
You must have heard me...or you must have heard her sad lonely cry. Shhhh - you signaled with your finger pressed to your lips. We need to do something to help her. And - we did.
Altho you told me we couldn't...and said that we shouldn't- we went right in there. We calmed and consoled her. We stroked and coddled her. We held her close. And together - you me and she - curled ourselves up on that hard kitchen floor and sunk into sleep.
* * *
Who'd of ever known you had such a soft spot for dogs?
Your special girl.
Thought you might like to meet mine.
The Sound of Music I (The Beatles)
Everywhere I turn - this weekend - is some sort of celebration and commemoration of the Beatles and their first appearance on Ed Sullivan's show. They're saying the year was 1964. They're saying it was a revolution. They're saying that they were the voice of a new era...a new song of hope.
I must have been a mere 6 years old. And yet - I remember.
I remember it as clearly as I remember us all gathering around that black and white TV and watching Kennedy's funeral procession. The grown-ups were all so silent then. Such devastation after so much promise. Even as Canadians - we experienced the loss.
Then - came these four British boys to shake it up and remind us of peace and love and that we might just change the world. You loved them. You loved their energy...their excitement...their passion and their message of love that they brought to us all.
Before your photography - it was music that was your preferred mode of creative expression. You'd sit at that piano - the one you got for your bar-mitzvah - and play. You'd play when you were happy...when you were sad. You'd play classical. You'd play ragtime. You'd play jazz. You'd even tinker with the tunes of the modern day...in whatever form they took.
Some days - you're still there. At that piano in our living room. Happy. Sometimes whistling while your fingers danced. Sometimes playing with one hand and using the other as if you were conductor of your own band.
I hear you still.
They weren't lullabies that you were playing...but they were our lullabies. They were the songs to which we fell asleep. Or - if we woke before you'd retired for the night - it was you and your music we heard.
The sound of your music - kept me safe...kept me warm...reassured me always - that you were there. Right downstairs. Tinkering away. Making your music. Making your art. Making and creating.
The Sound of Music II (Peter and the Wolf)
One of the first classical pieces I remember you teaching us about was Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf'. About how each instrument represented a voice.....how it told a story.
If I close my eyes - I can see you standing there in front of me. Moving your hands as if you were the conductor of the symphony that was really nothing other than a record playing. Making the music come alive.
Listen - you'd say. To the sound of the birds - the high-pitched flute. To the sound of the ducks - the oboe. To the cat lurking - the clarinet. To the brave wolf - the horns. And always to the heroic sound of sweet Peter - the string instruments.
Listen. Get quiet. Get still. Listen and really hear.
So many years later - and I'm out there in the morning. With the birds and the ducks and the lurking cats. With the imaginary brave wolves....and Peter. I can hear those woodwinds and the horns coming together with the strings to create a whole new orchestra of my own.
I think of that. I think of you. There.
The Sound of Music III (All That Jazz)
So many memories re-connect me...
There was that one cold dark afternoon - I wonder if you'd remember? - that you took us to see and hear Buddy Rich. He was playing in a basement club. It was exciting and inviting and dark and smokey and warmcompared to the frigid winter on the streets out there. It was as if you were daring to expose us to an adult world that was - at our young age - beyond the possibilities of our imaginations.
And - it was noisy. The sound and furious energy of those drums was frighteningly loud. Deafening.
All you wanted was for us to experience it....to love it as you did. Perhaps - I was too young...or perhaps not. Perhaps I just wasn't ready to appreciate or understand. Perhaps - I had to grow-up and experience and live to know all the good that was put before us.
Perhaps - it's just the way life is.
The Sound of Music IV (Fantasia)
And there was Fantasia. Remember that?
You talked forever about that movie...about it being the one must-see-movie-of-a-lifetime.
Disney. Cartoons. Classical music. No words. No dialogue. No plot to follow. Altho in some ways moving pictures were still in their infancy compared to where they are now - this particular one seemed to us to be archaic. Even then. Way back when.
You dragged us there. You paid - dearly - for tickets to the show. You bought us popcorn. You were far more excited about it than we ever were. I can still see the twinkle of excitement in your eyes.
How could you have ever thought that movie so ground-breaking...so special...so important? How could you have loved what you did?
But - now...I understand.
It was a child's dream. It was a conductor's fantasy. It was the genius creation of a collaboration of artistic talent - visual and auditory. It was ground-breaking state of 1940's art. It was magic.
Would you love it or hate it - the state of music and art in this world today?
There are no records. No more vinyl LP's or machines that played those records. The primitive 8-tracks and cassette tapes - have all but disappeared. What was state-of-the-art then...changes every day.
Today - we stream music. It comes to us from somewhere up there in a cloud - thru our computers...our electronic devices...our phones. You can - without having to get up and choose or change a record - listen to classical recordings all day. Or/and jazz. Or/and create a list or a station of your favorites - Ella...and Shirley...and Frank - and enjoy to your heart's content.
Animation is pixelated and very true - sometimes too much so - to life. The characters are made three-dimensional and oh-so-very-real. Not so much is left to the imagination anymore. Nothing remotely resembles a Disney original. Nothing ever will.
I want to believe you'd love and embrace it - this brave new world of technological miracle.
I want to believe in a lot of things.
Mostly - I just want to still believe in childhood's magic.
The Sound of Music V (Backseat Drivers)
We were- in so many ways - your captive audience. We didn't have a lot of choice. Did we?
In the car - we listened to your music. Always. It was - sometimes - too loud. It was - oftentimes - too arbirtary. It wasn't - always - what we wanted to hear. It wasn't (always) fun. It wasn't (always) contemporary. It wasn't (always) ours.
But we listened anyway.
Reflecting back and now having endured years of car rides with children of my own - I find myself wondering if it was for your own self-preservation and survival. If listening to your music allowed you to tune us out. All of our childish backseat sibling squabbling.
There were often times - it felt that it was either your way or the highway. There was no choice. Why couldn't we listen to music of our own?
And then - there were other times - that I think you did it only because you were passionate and loved what you loved and couldn't imagine that anyone might love anything else. You meant no malice. You intended no harm. You only wanted to share it. All of it. The good and the bad. The better and the worse.
Was that what it was? Or - was it something other?
Living with you meant living with your music. Not always easy. Not always perfect. Not always fun.
And yet - when I think back...when I reminisce...when I listen now to the music that you infused in all of us with such love - I feel your presence...your joy...your energy...your life.
The Sound of Music VI (Wedding Bells)
It didn't end with our growing into the adults that we eventually did. Your passion and influence continued...
Ours was the first wedding.
You were so clear what you wanted. No daughter of yours was walking down that aisle...making the biggest commitment of her life - to the sound of Mendlessohn.
To this day - whenever I hear Mussogorski's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' - I see the long aisle ahead of me. The bimah at the end. My husband to be - there waiting. And - you - walking right alongside me. Just as you'd always been...and how I always expected you would.
And then the triumphant long walk up the aisle to Trumpet Voluntary. Did you know that the latest generation of British Royals married to that?
No question or doubt - a reminder and a tribute to your extraordinary taste and talent.
The Sound of Music VII (Inventions)
Never performed in public.
Did that make you less of an artist? Or - did that make you more?
The sound of your music wouldn't be complete without your very own personal compositions - lovingly preserved and dated: February 1967.
The Sound of Music VII (The Legacy Lives)
Eleven years of piano lessons and a certificate of musical mastery from McGill. A few years of playing clarinet in the high school band. It wasn't as if I had any particular musical talent. I just did what I did because you expected. I was that good girl - y'know?
You insisted. I persisted. I was an eager student....and I eventually even became proficient. But - in the end - it wasn't for me. It didn't sustain. I did - ultimately - move on to other things.
It was my brother - who had the true gift. It is thru him that your love and your legacy lives.
You encouraged...you supported...you inspired his interest and talent. You taught him how to appreciate technique...syncopation...improvisation...musical rhyme and rhythm. You taught him how to listen.
You shared your love of all music - in all its forms. From classical...to big band New Orleans Jazz...to folk...to singular solo songwriters and singers. From Beethoven...to Scott Joplin...to the Beatles...and to the even more contemporary and controversial bands.
And in turn - he shared back. You taught him all you knew...and he taught you.
You encouraged him to get up on stage - to perform...to sing. You applauded and cheered....and recorded it all. Not just musically - but visually - thru your camera's lens.
You'd be so proud - you would - if you could see him now.
From one generation to another...and the other after that. Your legacy lives. As you taught your son...he is now teaching his. Your passion and musical talent and love of the song goes on.
How I wish...how we all wish - we might show you and share.
How I wish...how we all wish - you could be here.