Toronto gathering for Dad III: Uncertain Plans

A few days after Dad's death, Con and I organized a gathering for him here at Christie Gardens, the retirement home where they've lived for years. That had been so spontaneous–practically demanded by the many staff and residents who kept accosting Connie in the halls, asking when it would be–that there'd been no time even to alert family or friends outside this community. So we would need another time for family and close friends to gather. But Dad's work, into which he'd poured so much of his energy and passion, what of that?

Then Chandler Davis, a former teacher, fellow mathematician, and dear friend, suggested that there had to be a ceremony at the University to remember Terry Gardner. Chandler's one person who did come from time to time to visit my father, even this past year when Dad could not speak. Connie describes those meetings in almost awe-struck tones: “He would just talk to him about the things he was doing, just the way he always did, and Terry would be fully engaged.”

The idea was exciting, but even a couple of months ago, it wasn't clear how successful it would be. I'd taken on the task of alerting family and tracking those who'd be interested in coming to Toronto, and when we floated a possible date in June, many had said they wanted to be here. Then the date was set, and it was April: a full two months sooner than originally advertised, and right in the middle of the school year for most. Several of my cousins are school teachers; others have children in school; others teach college. The week after I sent out news of the new date, there was an ominous silence on the internet.

Con and I had considered having a summer gathering somewhere in the States for family, who live mostly in the Philadelphia and Boston areas, but after the outpouring of support for the Toronto event, we shelved that idea. Then we got down to cases, and it began to look as if no one was going to make it to Toronto. I knew how important this was to Connie—to have family here, when Dad's work and achievements are publically acknowledged and celebrated—and I got pretty discouraged.

One morning in late February I found a message from her on my phone. It sounded as though she'd been crying. But her voice was, as always, modulated and gentle. It was just too arrogant and selfish, she said, to expect people to make that long trip to Toronto. I should spread the word that there would be a summer gathering for family, and we should start planning for that.

Almost sadly, I sent out the message. Surely if we would be gathering in a few months to remember Dad, no one would bother coming to Toronto, I figured. Which shows how wildly I underestimated my family.


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