Elevensies

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

This is the first line in a series of books which was to become the second religion in my parents’ house. When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote that line I doubt he ever imagined it would lead to the cult following which it became. I also very much doubt he ever thought it would be one of the most famous and beloved stories for several generations to come.

My father loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. All four of us kids were raised with these stories though it didn’t quite have the following in the 80’s and 90’s that it has today. Peter Jackson took care of that. Long before it was an epic cinema series though, it as a 1970’s animated film complete with songs that you will never get out of your head. I still hear “Frodo of the nine fingers and the ring of doom” every time I think of the final scene with Gollum and Frodo in Mordor. I swear I watched the animated movies so many times. Incidentally it helped me take my trivia team to victory (thus leading to free candy from Mr. Middlebush, the science teacher) when I knew that Gandalf was the wizard from the series. The fact that no one else knew that as odd to me. I hadn’t yet realized in 8th grade that not everyone’s childhood consisted of good doses of Jesus and Middle Earth alike.

When my father heard they were making The Lord of the Rings series into a new live action movie (or rather 3 movies) I swear he was as happy as a kid on Christmas. It was released on his birthday: December 10th 2001. This was 6 months after my 9 year old sister had died unexpectedly and I think he needed something happy to cling to. Over the next 13 years we would all learn, through Dad, odd bits of trivia and the entire history of the LOTR world. Every time a new movie was announced we knew Dad would be at the midnight showing the day of release.

In 2004 he started working on a Gimli costume for the Return of the King movie premiere. He finished it once but then went back and revamped it in 2012 when the Hobbit was announced. The crowning glory, if you will, of the costume was the helmet. I mean seriously, look at it:

Those tiny triangle pieces at the back? All individually cut, painted and attached. The leather work on the side shield pieces and the helm? Hand-tooled, stamped and cut. The wood making up the basic form? Designed and cut by Dad. And this was a man who was diabetic and had neuropathy that caused him constant pain in his extremities. He hurt and he was exhausted.

But this made him happy.

He was an old shop teacher, an old engineer, who wanted to make his cosplay as accurate as possible. He used screenshots from the movie and matched his designs as best he could. He tooled leather gauntlets and greaves, a leather belt buckle and laced suspender straps. Mom helped by sewing all the cloth pieces and giving it more character than plain brown pants and a shirt. (Also by apparently getting high off contact cement when the house wasn’t properly vented. Yes Mom, I saw your comments on facebook.) When the revamp was finished (and they were both sober) I took pictures of the final product:

The midnight showing of The Hobbit 2012 at Celebration South had it’s very own Gimli. (Who is the son of Gloin, who is in The Hobbit. See? I remember these things!)

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He was tickled pink when people wanted their picture with him. He WAS Gimli at that moment and wore it again to The Desolation of Smaug.

We had Hobbit Day celebrations at Mom and Dad’s house, eating too much food, playing games and watching these movies we all loved, but Dad most of all. It was awesome to see this one thing bring so much life back to him even if it was just moments at a time.

See, in between the movies, in between the rants about accuracy between book and movie, in between the speculation as to what amazing scenes would be included in the next movie, between all that he and my mother were grieving parents. I won’t go into detail here but they had lost a child. It was unexpected. And they needed distraction.

We all cope with awful happenings in different ways. Throwing yourself into your work or religion, bottling up emotions, shopping, becoming self-destructive. My father had always been the dreamer of the couple. Mom loves fantasy but her feet are firmly planted in the real world. I think Dad was slightly less so.

LOTR came at a time when my father needed something to hang onto. Something he knew would turn out well. Evil would be defeated and the world would be right once again. He threw himself into it and tugged us all along for the ride. I never minded.

We celebrated Hobbit Day on his birthday in 2014, 6 months after his death and 7 days before The Battle of the Five Armies was released in theatres. We made hobbity themed treats and watched the first two movies in the series, which Dad had bought as special extended editions of course. We went to see the third and final installment 7 days later. I cried knowing how he would have loved it, deconstructed it, and would have informed us of any outstanding inconsistencies in the interpretation of the novel. But for that brief moment of 2 hours and 44 minutes he was with us again.

I don’t think Tolkien ever imagined his novels would do what they did for my family.

 

I sit in my rocking chair in my living room listening to the sounds of 15 playing a video game and 17 laughing at videos in his room. The ceiling fan above me turns slowly, making shadows in the plastic cover on my library book. For a second I think 17 has emerged from the cave he calls a room and is standing over me. No, it’s just the ceiling fan.

No one talks to me unless I speak first. No one acknowledges me. I get up, make tea, sit back down with my book and we three continue in our separate existences. I debate calling into work and letting them skip school tomorrow. Doing something fun. We could sit in bed, I could read them a story, we could bond and I’d feel like a better mother than I have been in the past few months. But I know they are too invested in their studies this year. I may have been able to get away with it when they were in middle school but now they know the value of not skipping classes. They know the work will be twice as hard if they miss a day. 17 has mentioned he will not stay home unless he’s puking this year.

They are not five any more. I miss when they were littler suddenly. It hits me like a slap and I can’t breathe. I stare at the back of 15’s head and wonder if I could have swallowed my own self more to make them have a calmer (better?) childhood. I was in school most of it, too wrapped up in trying to better myself, too wrapped up in trying to get through the next thing that I never appreciated them when they were tiny. I did read them books. I did take them to the zoo and on adventures. I did try to instill in them a sense of Gd and religion and a higher power. But now they are 15 and 17.┬áThis may be my last year with both of them at home. This may be my last chance to plan a family vacation before they have their own lives that get in the way of having fun. I sit and stare and listen.

I hear 17 giggle furiously at whatever he’s watching.It’s amazing what they both find and share with me. Stories about how planes are made, countries they’d like to visit, cars they’d like to drive, ridiculous videos they have found that make them laugh with abandon. Make me smile. Make me laugh. Give me memories to cling to once they have moved on.

I sit and wonder what I can cram into a year. Another vacation. More movies. Life lessons. Oh god, don’t leave yet. You’re not ready. I need to teach you more before you venture out. The world sucks. Let me protect you. I sit and try to breathe.

They are smart. They have plans. They know what to do. They won’t make the mistakes I did. My head hurts. I try to breathe.

I should probably make more tea. I should take something for my head. I should take out these contacts because now they’re scratchy and feel awful.

15 goes to do their homework. The cat stares out the window. I’m left alone in the living room listening to 17’s intermittent laughter and 15’s computer clicking. I wonder if I should get another cat.