Sunday, June 28, 2009
Matters Familias - Daddy
In 1980, I married and moved to Los Angeles where I stayed for 27 years. As the years crept by, I began to worry about my parents, who were getting old, and I began to think it might be time to finally make the decision to come home.
I began visiting more often, and kept a journal of my visits. While looking through some old entries, I came across the following.
June 20, 2006
Now that I've been home a couple of weeks, my father and I have fallen into a routine of sorts. It's more of a contest of wills than routine. He leaves messes; I pick them up; he complains loudly that he can't find anything because I've hidden everything. I return his withering, long-suffering gaze and reply that it's right in front of him or right where I told him to look.
"No, it's not," he says irritably. "When you're gone I'm not going to be able to find anything around here! I'll have to call you all hours of the day and night."
He's been a slob forever, and gets utterly irritated that I try to clean up behind him.
"Stop it," he protests. "If you keep cleaning, the housekeeper won't have anything to do and she'll quit! I have to leave enough of a mess to make it worth her while to come out here," he says as he tosses an old piece of ham onto the counter to wither and dry.
"Don't touch that," he warns. "Where the hell did you put my toothpicks?"
"Toothpicks? I never saw any toothpicks,"
"Dammit, Dee! Now, I'll have to go all the way to WalMart. They're the only place in town that carries them."
He hates WalMart.
"They're nice and flat and they're really cheap and come in a great big box. I can't stand the ones at Piggly Wiggly."
"Well, where were they?"
"They were right there on the butcher block. Oh, why do you have to hide everything?"
"Oh, good grief! They're right here under the napkins."
"Why on earth would you put them there?"
Suddenly his look of annoyance is replaced with one of sadness.
"Oh, it's going to be so grim when you're gone. What will I do?"
It was the sweetest, saddest moment I remember having in quite a long time.
We spent that afternoon working in the yard. I'd gone after the weeds full tilt when I first arrived, only to break out with a terrific case of poison ivy the next day.
Today the gardeners came -- a couple of women who share a house, a job and a life. The last time they worked for Daddy, they returned the day after they'd finished to clip his golden retriever, for whom they'd developed a special fondness.
(I'm horrible with names, and couldn't remember theirs not five minutes after meeting them, so I've invented names for them here.)
"He reminds me of our golden," said Jane. "And he just looked so darned hot."
That was all my father needed to hear. They were good people.
I showed them how I'd pulled huge, horrid vines from the azaleas a few days before.
"Somehow I got into some poison ivy while I was doing it," I said, showing off my battle scars. "See those big vines in that tree there," I said. "It was that stuff. I couldn't reach this one."
"Yup." the short one replied. "That's poison ivy, all right."
"Impossible," I said.
Each leaf was as big around as my hand.
"Poison ivy has small leaves."
"Nope. That's a fully mature poison ivy vine," she assured me. "I'm surprised you only got it as bad as you did."
I felt pretty foolish.
After discussing what would make nice plantings for the yard, Daddy handed me his wallet and an old pickup truck and sent us off down Kingston Road to the nursery. We picked out ten big, hardy crape myrtle trees -- seven Natchez whites and three crimson something or others -- and started back down the road.
The humidity had finally had enough of itself and grumbling with thunder, squeezed out a few fat, overdeveloped raindrops, which only served to muddy the already filthy windshield.
"I have no idea where the wipers are on this thing," I said nervously as the road disappeared in a brown, watery haze.
"I can't see a thing," said Jane.
"Uh, oh," said Joni. "Here comes a truck."
I tried to appear calm as my eyes searched for signs of roadway through the watered curtain.
"Aha! Here's the switch," said Jane, and we all let out horrified giggles as the wipers switched on and had absolutely no effect on the glass. We were about to die. The tanker truck and I managed to avoid each other, but not before making us stare mortality in the face.
Afterwards, I picked a clear track on the glass between which I could see and peered cautiously at the road until we'd managed to make it back to Daddy's house safely.
I'd assured them that Daddy would hook up the auger to the tractor and make fast work of any holes we needed to dig. Ahem. We spent the next three hours digging holes in the hardest, rock-strewn, clay soil I've ever had the misfortune to dig into.
After squirting each hole with a high-pressure stream of water to loosen the soil, we attacked the ground with shovels, pickaxes, hoes and posthole diggers. Two hours later, we three youngish women were covered in mud and sweat and blisters and wanted to sit down, but my 80-year-old father was still happily chopping away at the earth with a posthole digger.
"By the time I hook up that auger," he'd say between blows, "...we'll have these things all dug!"
When we were done for the day, I asked Jane and Joni how much we owed.
"Here. Take an extra $10 for combat pay," I said, referring to my father's refusal to let us do anything the easy way.
"No kidding," said Joni. "Especially after making us ride with you in that truck in the rain."
Everyone's a comedian.
Tonight, as I turned out the lights and walked through the house before coming upstairs, I made one last trip to the kitchen. There, waiting to greet me was my father's Bowie knife sticking up in a big chunk of hoop cheese next to a pile of shredded red wax coating, beaded with oil that was soaking into the butcher-block counter.
I smiled, left it on the counter and went to bed.
*This just in from Casey Ann Hughes: " I believe the women are Andrea & Brenda from Weeds & Things."
Thank you, Casey. I think you're right.