Dec. 24th was my Dad's birthday. He arrived in 1918, in a blizzard. Dr. Hart drove his horse and buggy out from Huntsville, summoned by the crank party line telephone. The doc was cold and cranky when he arrived. Grandma got up out of bed to make him a hot drink and a dinner before she got back into bed and delivered her fourth child, my dad.
He was named Paul Pax. Pax, for the peace treaty signed that November, ending the Great War. The war to end all wars. It was a hopeful time, and a hopeful name.
Today, he would be 92. It is incredible to me that he has been gone for 21 years now. How much has changed since he was born. We seem to be galloping recklessly into the future, these last few generations.
Paul's father saw the introduction of the first airplane. Paul himself went on to get his pilot's license, his Piper Cub float plane one of his great joys. I still think of him every time I see one. Brian still flies Paul's plane... and David is planning to pursue his license too. Paul would have been delighted to share that passion.
Paul watched planes give way to rockets. Radio give way to television. On which he saw men walk on the Moon. At Cape Canaveral, long before it became Cape Kennedy, he bought us all tickets for the first commercial space flight to the moon. If we could just find them, and if the service gets offered soon, we could still cash them in...
Horses gave way to cars, then bigger cars. He worked the land and the forest with horses, then with tractors, bulldozers... Roads got plowed. Don't laugh... back in 1933, its recorded in our old diaries that there was a vicious blizzard just after Christmas. The township snowplow finally got to Fox Point road on January 21st, passing Bondi at 8.30 a.m. It came back from Fox Point at 4.30. Now if the roads aren't cleared immediately, there's a howling heard that has nothing to do with wolves. Same with hydro. Paul saw it arrive, again in the 1930's here... where all of a sudden life got easier. Sometimes the service was interrupted, but rarely. Now, power out is a way of life it seems, with so many more lines.
Entertainment went from sing-a-longs and community gatherings to radio, television, movie theatres... now to DVD's and the internet. We spend more time on-line, on facebook, less time face-to-face.
Paul wrote letters every evening, and watched for the mail every day. I think he'd have exulted in email, as a way to stay in touch with the friends he collected as easily as he collected stamps, coins. It's a changed world.
His first marriage failed -- the romance of marrying a farmer from Muskoka didn't survive the reality of the first winter for his young debutante wife from Philadelphia -- and his first son was a stranger. Paul kept all the letters and documents showing his struggle to find that child, to have some form of access, but times have changed their, too... back then, crossing a border, getting custody away from the mother... not so easy. One of the greatest gifts he received was when some 40 years on, that son found Paul, and they had the opportunity to catch up and get to know each other. That circle completed.
His second marriage, to Rosemary, 'took', and they were deeply in love to the day he passed away.
That war to end all wars didn't. The information highway takes a lot of detours. In the communication age, we often don't.
But on Paul's birthday, on the eve of the day we have chosen to celebrate the arrival of the Light of the World, the Christ child who came to bring peace and understanding, it's good to stop and recall how far and how fast we have come in such a short time. Because in that headlong rush to plug in to ipods and bluetooth and text messaging, sometimes we leave behind those things that are real and important and beautiful.
Sort of like in the Christmas rush buying 'stuff' to put under the artificial tree for tomorrow, we can lose sight of the real meaning of the season. It's not about the presents, it's about the presence.
And for me, on this day, it's about the absence. A day to celebrate the memories of my dad, whose middle name meant Peace, who loved and cared for this piece of the earth and those that live on it, and who's presence is in everything I know...