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Time stands still

Lead Summary

HCP columnist

He sat quietly in front of a box of papers and photos. His hands showed a slight tremor each time he would slowly reach into the box. His shoulders were now quite rounded, but his eyes were still the clear soft blue that I had always known.

As the minutes passed, I realized that he simply wanted to quietly hold each thing that he withdrew from the box and look at it for a while and then gently place it an ever- growing pile off to his side.

The few times that I would comment on a photo or a document, he would pause and look over at me and smile, but he did not speak, and I soon realized that my daughterly role was simply to sit by his side, looking over his shoulder.

Some of the photos and papers I easily remembered from my own childhood: a photo of my brother and I sitting on the front stoop of the city house where we had grown up; all of our cousins, sitting barefoot, in a row along an ocean dock; my father’s raised seal admission to the state bar.

I remember our celebration the day we found out that he had passed the exam. My mother had insisted that it would be hard to raise a family on a clock-maker’s income, and so he had gone to law school at night and built clocks by day. My brother and I imagined that he went off to school to play with big blocks, just as we played with small blocks in kindergarten.

It was not until many years later, as I studied law myself, that I realized that our childhood bedtime stories were my father’s versions of the contract and tort case law that he had been studying.

[[In-content Ad]]He called them Freudian stories. I had no idea who Freud was, but our father would often pause a tale and ask us “What do you think happened next?” And when we would shout out an answer and he would say “Exactly right! How did you know?” And on he would go with the tale, in which somehow the children were always the winners.

There was the story of the railroad platform where the aging station clock fell over, knocking into the scale that was used to weigh the luggage that sat just outside the ticket window. The scale, in turn, rolled ponderously down the station platform on its metal wheels, knocking down an elderly lady, who then dropped her purse, which came open, letting fly the hundreds of $100 bills she had just robbed from the bank across the street.

The real Palsgraph case actually turned on the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, but my father’s tale clearly borrowed the chain of events at the train station platform. The pile of papers by my father’s side grew steadily larger. I sat still. It was as though the hands on the train station clock had stopped moving. Sometimes he would reverse his motions as
he would take a paper or a photo out of the growing pile by his side and place it back into the box, gazing at it again, for just as long as he had when he first lifted it out.

Evening began to fall. I suggested that it was time to go downstairs for dinner. “Yes, of course,” he replied, as he tried to stand up. He held his cane securely in his right hand, but somehow he could not quite straighten up. I gently took his elbow. “No dear, I am fine,” and he slowly rose.

I pushed the last of many filled cardboard boxes up against the bedroom wall. Everything he had called his own was now packed securely away. He was moving to assisted living. As he closed the outside door and turned the key, it occurred to me that time does not always rush forward. Sometimes it just stands quietly still. I will always be my father’s child.

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