by Suzanne Rancourt
I can remember my father bringing home spruce gum.
He worked in the woods and filled his pockets
with golden chunks of pitch.
For his children
he provided this special sacrament
and we’d gather at this feet, around his legs,
bumping his lunchbox, and his empty thermos rattled inside.
Our skin would stick to Daddy’s gluey clothing
and we’d smell like Mumma’s Pine Sol.
We had no money for store bought gum
but that’s all right.
The spruce gum
was so close to chewing amber
as though in our mouths we held the eyes of Coyote
and how many other children had fathers
that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue
the blood of tree?
Alex found this poem and sent it to me a while ago. She knew that it would conjure up some special childhood memories. I have countless snippets stored from times spent with Dad in my childhood, but probably the most numerous are of our walks in the pasture. It was four square miles of paradise to my childish eyes, and will forever be my favourite place in the whole world.
I don’t know how old I was the first time Dad got out his jackknife, scraped at a spruce tree trunk, and told me to hold out my hand. I’m guessing three or four, since I had to be old enough for my legs to take me to the forested part of the east pasture. I won’t lie and say that I loved the taste of spruce gum the first time I tried it, or for several times after that. But the sense of connection to something very primal and earthy more than made up for the “interesting” flavour.
Today would have been Dad’s 96th birthday, so it’s the perfect day for posting this poem. Obviously there was a reason why I forgot about it and only found it in my bookmarks today. I still miss him most at this time of year, when we once shared a joint birthday celebration. But this will be the tenth birthday without him and it doesn’t really hurt anymore. I’ve spent the day grinning to myself as I wandered through the pasture again with him in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I’ve seen a little red-headed girl, skipping along holding her daddy’s big hand. In other moments I’ve seen a teenager with a head full of questions, walking in step with a dad who always had a head full of answers. And sometimes there has been a little blonde-headed girl, skipping along holding her grandpa’s big hand, while a grown up girl wanders behind, watching history repeating itself.
Happy Birthday, Dad.