Sometimes I think I’m losing the tiny bits of memory that keep my father vivid in my mind, worry that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t have anything left but my few photographs, photos of him so young that he’s a man I don’t remember knowing.
It’s probably unlikely that I will forget him — at least not entirely — but I worry all the same. And when I’m hit with that fear, I make lists of the things I want to be sure I remember. Mostly I make these lists in my head, but I thought I’d share a piece of this one.
- My father was a puzzler. He would spread the pieces over my mother’s sewing machine table and methodically put huge images together, slowly and steadily fitting piece to piece until it was all one. We joined in occasionally, my brother and I, sometimes my mother, but I suspect we were more hindrance than help
- My father was a reader. Like everyone in my family, he devoured books. He read so many kinds of things and read a LOT. This always pleased and impressed me. I loved that we were all so crazy for books, loved that we read such a varied selection of texts, loved that my father could talk like a professor even though he never finished high school, loved that books could give him that.
- My father was a kind of BMOC guy: an athlete gone a bit soft. He announced the varsity football and basketball games at my school, presided over track meets, was a glad-hander at all events, a deacon in our church.
- One year he choreographed some half-time routines for our marching band. I was in that band with my big plumed hat and my never-quite-parallel-to-the-ground flute. He drafted our routines on thick pads of yellow legal paper, each band member a tiny triangle in his elaborate figures. He was generous, imagining us having anything near the coordination and skill of Grambling State or Florida A&M. As if! We made it through that first-and-last performance without any casualties … although I did have a scary moment of completing my nice little pivot and finding a bass drum bearing down on me! Ready to battle other bands, we weren’t. After that game, it was back to our tried and true arrangements of Make Me Smile and Beginnings (seriously, if we’d had to pay royalties every time we played one of their songs, we would have singlehandedly kept Chicago on the top of the charts!).
- He was freakishly good at Monopoly. He was always the banker and always the top hat and pretty nearly always got Boardwalk, Park Place, Mediterranean and Baltic, the railroads and utilities, Marvin Gardens, Ventnor and Atlantic, Pacific, North Carolina and Pennsylvania … He was always the first to put up houses, the first to put up hotels.
- He and my mother belonged to a bowling league for a while. They were pretty serious and pretty good, too. They won … I don’t know, something. There were trophies. They had their own balls. Serious.
- And they played tennis, too, my mother in cute little almost-flippy dresses she made herself, my father in white or plaid shorts. They were good at that, too. I remember an awards banquet of some kind.
- He, like many dads of his generation, was adept at Sunday morning scrambled eggs. (“Daddy’s eggs,” as a friend of mine called her father’s version of same.) He could make other things, too, like the pretty milk pitcher he kept in the fridge … full of whiskey sours!
- He was a good driver, but a fast one. It was from him that I learned to keep my foot down on that pedal, even in driver’s ed class! (Just to be clear, I inherited my lead foot equally from both parents, but my father was my first teacher.)
- He and I would sit up late-late on Friday and Saturday nights sometimes, watching the old movies that fascinated me (It Happened One Night, Palm Beach Story, Notorious …), not saying a word, just glued to the screen. I always wondered if he actually liked the movies, or if he just kept watching because sitting there in the quiet dark was an easy way to be with me without having to understand who I was, without having to figure a way to interact with me.
Hmm … We always cycle back around to it, don’t we?