Ellicottville – Part I

I have my father’s legs but none of his optimism and it’s really unfortunate because he has the most wonderful outlook of anyone I know. He routinely uses words like “majestic” and “enchanted” in everyday speech and he’s not even trying to be ironic.

These bad travel book adjectives have been thrown around a lot this winter as my Dad and his wife rented a place in Elicottville, New York for the season and for months they have been trying to lure my brother and I to visit. Last weekend was the big weekend of our family sojourn and since it took forever to coordinate a date absolutely nothing could derail our travel plans. Except, perhaps, for an ominous storm warning calling for 20 centimeters of snow, gusting winds and treacherous driving conditions. I called my father to ask him about the local weather.

Me: “The weather channel says there’s havoc on the roads. It’s starting to really come down here- what’s it like by you?”

My Dad: “It’s a winter wonderland! Just breathtaking!”

I tried to get him to talk specifics, but my Dad had no time to chat as he was on his way to get his snowshoes refitted in a neighbouring city.

Oh boy. Not only does my Dad: (1) own a pair of snowshoes, and (2), use them enough to require refitting, but (3) he has his own snowshoe guy.

Given the weather and our uncertainty about the roads, my husband, Stephen, and I set out later than expected, but we were making really good time. In fact, we were making such good time that we got pulled over by a cop who gave us a ticket for $240. That sure put a damper on things as Steve and I lamented the state of our financial affairs, but luckily it’s Roll Up the Rim time at Tim Horton’s and Steve rolled up his rim and won a donut!

That pretty much evened things out, not to mention kept us busy discussing what donut we would redeem. I aggressively pushed for my favourite, old fashion plain, leading Steve to wonder why he married me.

It was my job, though, to read off my Dad’s directions, and our heated debate nearly derailed my navigation.

“Step four,” I read, “Continue along Peter Road until you come to a stop sign and make a right.”

“Okay, what’s the step after that?” Steve asked while making the turn.

“Step five: admire the hills of Holimont straight ahead as you drive into the quaint little town of Ellicottville.”

“No, seriously?” he asked.

“Seriously,” I said. “Would you like me to go on to step six?”

When we finally arrived, my Dad had a  long list of activities planned so we had to get started immediately. Piling back into the car, heading for ‘Ellicottville Litner Weekend 2011’ Activity No. 1, I was completely exhausted and wanted nothing more than to take a nap. I had to stay alert, however, as my Dad regaled us with poetic descriptions of the landscape. My brother and I delivered our typical chorus of “wow’s” and “you don’t say’s” in the backseat while exchanging eye rolls and lovingly poking fun at our Dad’s flourish for the corny. My Dad laughed us off and continued his guided tour. In between his pointing out the “pristine snow of the beautiful panorama” and his noting the “beauty of the tranquility in this winter scene,” my Dad looked at me in the rear view mirror.

“I’m so happy you’re here, sweetheart.”

He meant it so sincerely that it jolted me out of my teasing. Hearing the emotion in his voice, I began to realize just how cynical I had really become. When my mother died seven years ago, a friend of the family gave me a book called “Motherless Daughters.” [http://www.amazon.com/Motherless-Daughters-Legacy-Hope-Edelman/dp/0385314388]

The author, Hope Edelman, talks about girls who lose a mother figure in their lives being particularly susceptible to a fundamental vulnerability. They’re described like wounded, little birds left alone in a damaged nest whose hearts still need tending to. I hated this notion. I hated it so much that I vowed it wouldn’t happen to me. I was feeling so desperately scared and saddened by my loss but I would never admit it. After three days of sitting shiva, I started a legal aid co-op program at law school and told everyone I was fine.

Perhaps other girls who had their mother’s disappear at tender ages had exposed wounds that profoundly impacted their development. Perhaps these other girls needed to feel taken care of, perhaps they needed to open themselves to love of all sorts and reach out to people. But I didn’t. I was fine. I had been an independent child and I would be an independent adult, too. I had always been there for myself during the hard times. I had always licked and nursed my own wounds. I had always rallied myself again and again after a crushing blow.

So when Edelman said that motherless daughters have to learn to mother themselves, I understood just what she meant. If my troubled heart still needed tending to, then I would be the one to do it. I didn’t need anyone’s help in patching my nest. I would tuck myself in at night and I would hold myself when I cried. I didn’t need anyone to hold my face in their hands and tell me it was going to be okay. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that they loved me. I convinced myself that I didn’t need any parent, any caregiver or anyone’s concern to get me through. I promised myself that I would never let my guard down. I would never open up my heart because I couldn’t risk exposure to the elements.

Looking at my father though, I began to wonder if I had perhaps taken Edelman’s prescription too far-in protecting myself from the vulnerability of being a motherless daughter I was turning myself into a fatherless one, too. And the thing is, my father was right there, in the front seat of the car, pointing out a deer by the side of the road and telling me that he loves me. That makes me so damn lucky. I know one day I will be forced to mourn him, too, and I know it will be hard but I can’t let that thought stand like an elephant in our relationship.

I have been so scared of getting hurt  that I have denied myself the true joy of loving and being loved by those around me. What is the point of that? The truth is, I don’t want to go it alone. Life is so much more meaningful, so much richer, having people in it who you love and who, in turn, love you and provide you with advice and comfort.

If I am to change, I have to start letting people hold my hand. I have to start letting myself be excited by love and not fearing it. I have to admire the panorama once in a while. I have to go snowshoeing with my Dad.

I’m ready to try. But I am never, under any circumstances, going to use the word majestic.