Friday, June 18, 2010

I Shut My Eyes and Think of You

I think you're the reason I'm afraid of heights.  If I squeeze my eyes shut, I can picture you tossing me up in the air.  I clutch the collar of your white dress shirt, to keep from going too high.  My wispy, baby hair brushes the ceiling, and I whimper.  You hug me close.  I can feel the bones under your skin.  "There, there, honeypot," you say.  "Everything'll be all right."

I hold a pen in my hand and a notepad rests on my lap.  I look up at the ceiling.  More stories.  More memories.  Please.

Most nights, you tucked me in and told me a tale.  I liked the ones that started with, "Once upon a time, many moons ago, there lived an Indian girl named Mini Haha."  I wanted to be her, 'cause I liked the way you said her name--with awe and tenderness.

Every year in the spring, we'd go to the Campfire Girls Father-Daughter Banquet.  I wore my navy blue Campfire Girl get up and you'd still be in your suit from work.  We'd stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken, with eleven herbs and spices, and get two box dinners and Dr. Peppers.  You got regular chicken. I ordered extra crispy.  You were usually the last daddy done, but I didn't mind.  It meant we had more time together.  Alone.

Almost every day in the summer, Mom and I went swimming, at a hotel pool, downtown.  Sometimes you walked over on your lunch hour.  The lifeguard would blow his whistle and yell, "No running!" as I raced to hug you.  

I'd sit on the smooth, red-tile edge of the pool and watch your get-wet ritual.  You walked down the steps 'til the water was up to your thighs.  A shudder would run from the top of your body down.  You'd collect water in your cupped hands.  Wipe your arms with it.  Get more water and pat it on your chest and fish belly-white tummy.  I liked to imagine I had a magic marker.  Then I could connect the dots of all your chocolate brown and strawberry-colored moles. 

You'd stand at the rope between the shallow and deep ends and watch me go off the board.  "Do a jackknife," you'd say.  "Now a swan dive."

You clapped when I tried my first flip, even though it was more of a flop.

At the end of every summer, you and I always cooked up a batch of homemade V-8 juice.  We picked all the tomatoes off the vines in the backyard, even the ugly ones.  We put 'em in Mom's big, heavy, pressure cooker.  Added carrots and celery, salt and pepper.  Simmered it to death.  Then we perched Mom's foley mill over her giant, baby poop-colored mixing bowl.  You ladled the limp veggies into the mill.  I turned the crank and watched the vegetables bleed out.  You poured us each a glass, added more salt and pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.  You took a sip, smacked your lips, and smiled.  I did the same 'cause I knew it'd make you laugh.

You walked me to school every day--first through six grade.  I was sure that meant you loved me more than the parents who put their kids on a bus.  In between Green Oak Drive and Gallaher School, you talked to me like I was a grown up.  Told me about B.F. Skinner and Pavlov's dog. 

"Remember how I taught you and your brothers to pee when I whistle?  It's the same concept," you said.

I was sad when it came time for junior high school.  Beverly Hills Junior High wasn't on your way to work. 

Most evenings I'd sit a spell with you and Mom, out in the living room.  You'd sip your Pabst Blue Ribbon beer out of a juice glass and eat red-skinned peanuts from a custard dish.  I'd sneak some nuts when you weren't looking.  Pinch 'em one at a time to make them slip out of their greasy little husks.   You read while Mom and I watched the Carol Burnett Show or Sonny and Cher.  You liked your morse code magazine, Time and Newsweek, and books about the Civil War.  You were always reading.  'Cause you liked to learn.  You knew a little bit about a lot.  I always thought that was cool.  Still do.  Come to think of it, I think you're the reason I like books so much.


Alise said...

Beautiful! My dad definitely instilled a love of reading & writing in me as well and I think it's one of the best gifts that he's given me.

Lovely tribute, as always Diane.

Donald V. Phillips said...

Beautiful words, Diane! Very touching.


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