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Friday, September 4, 2015

Of ghosts and happy memories at the end of summer vacation

I am writing this column on September 4th. This would be my father’s 74th birthday if we hadn’t lost him in January 2008. As I pore over old photos and memories rise to the surface, so do the tears. They come so easily, even after seven years! When we lost Dad, a friend who had lost her husband 3 years earlier said it wasn’t getting any easier for her. I remember thinking at the time, I hope the searing pain subsides a bit but I was also very afraid of the memory of my father becoming dull and fading away. I want to keep him with me, always. He was such a strong force in all of our lives and a part of me feels a little lost and confused without him here.
The memory, energy or spirit of Dad, whatever it is, has come back to me vividly since he passed. At first it was in dreams. Often I hear his voice in my head. Sometimes his cuss words or inappropriate sayings spill, unchecked, from my mouth. As I looked through photos today another incident came to mind where his presence felt very real.
In 2009, the Farmer and I were experiencing summer as recreational boat owners. The smell of the boat fuel, the water, the sun on skin - and watching my husband standing at the wheel with the wind in his hair just brought so many memories of Dad rushing back. I closed my eyes and stirred up the sight of him perched on the top of the Captain's chair, cigarette in hand. 
We went out on the Rideau Lakes, Dad's charts in hand. My father had marked his favourite swimming holes and places to stop for lunch, in his script, right on the map. His spirit was so strong with us that day. 
When we pulled in to the locks at the Narrows, I noticed an older man, tanned to leather-brown, wearing boat shoes, worn shorts and a gold chain. We met eyes and smiled as I excused myself to step past him on the dock. He perched on the edge of the picnic table. 
A few minutes later we were standing at the locks. The tanned man leaned over the locks as the boats slowly rose to the surface, chatting with the boaters, asking them about their boats and where they were from. 
It didn't register with me at first but when the man suddenly appeared at my side to casually comment on the weather, the memory of my father hit me like a wave. He WAS my father for a moment. I dissolved into a heap, unable to control my tears. I remember stepping back, away from the water's edge as my husband's arms enfolded me. I think the Farmer whispered an apology to the confused man. I don't remember much else about that day. I think I sheepishly smiled and waved at the man as we left in our boat but I can't be sure. On second glance, he didn't really look much like Dad after all. But there was just something about him. 
I like to think Dad was there that day to share the boating experience with me one more time. I have a photo of my Dad, not a very flattering one but he's in his favourite summer uniform: boat shoes and shorts, bare-chested and leather-tanned. Today on his birthday, I'm wearing his gold chain.
Dad so loved to be near the water. I’m not much of a water person; I feel much more at home on land. He used to tease me that I wasn’t a real Leeson because I get seasick on most boats. As summer wound down he would spend every available moment on the water.
Larry Leeson, the teacher, didn’t like a school year that began before September 4th. He preferred to enjoy his birthday out on the water for one last hurrah before it was back to the chalkboards and Bunsen burners of the science classroom. I think I remember at least one year where he just didn’t show up to work until his birthday had passed, even though Labour Day was long gone.

I don’t want to freak any of the young ones out who are currently attending classes on the site but as school ramps up for another year I am pretty sure the spirit of Larry Leeson is walking the halls of the old North Grenville District High School, along with a few of his closest friends. 

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