Monday, May 21, 2012

More Things I Keep Under My Bed

Although my dad had many health problems throughout his adult life, his death at age 70 came with little warning.  When he died, I learned that no matter how old you are, you’re never ready to lose a parent.  In the years since, I’ve learned that you never stop missing the parent you lost, and you never stop thinking of things you wish you could tell him.  At first, I saw him everywhere—in a stranger’s shuffle, in a colleague’s gray head, in the faces of my children.  I also talked about him to anyone who would listen.  And I wrote about him: poems, journal entries, stories.  Before we left town after his funeral, I took pictures of his room, especially his little office area: desk, chair, bookcase, file cabinet.  I also gathered up a few things of his to keep: one of the plaid short-sleeve shirts he always wore, the red chamois shirt he’d been wearing over Christmas, a New Testament that belonged to him and had his name scrawled inside in his distinctive handwriting, one of his pocket knives, a pair of black leather driving gloves he’d been wearing that still held the curve of his hands, a silver pen light he’d used for years.   I also took the contents of the file marked “Mindy” from his file cabinet; among other things, the manila folder held cards I’d made for him, postcards I’d sent from camp, notes I’d left for him or tucked into his suitcase, an index card with my various addresses written on it, and a green triangle made of poster board to which I’d taped ten silver half dollars and given to him as a Father’s Day gift once.  When I got back home, I put all of these things in a little flowered duffle bag, along with the sympathy cards I’d received, the obituary from the newspaper, and a poem I’d written and read at his funeral.  Every once in a while during that first year, I unzipped the bag just a little and breathed in the scent of my dad that still clung to those shirts.  In the years since then, I haven’t opened it at all—until today.  The bag was covered in dust, so I carefully took everything out and washed the bag.  I’ll tuck everything back inside as soon as the bag is dry, and I’ll put it back under my bed.  And for the rest of the night and the rest of my life, I’ll think of the dad I had and all the things he gave me that don’t fit in the little flowered bag: memories of playing blocks and four-square and push-the-button; strong, abiding faith in God; an uncompromising model of honesty and integrity, security that comes from knowing someone was always in my corner; and the strength that comes from knowing I was a well-loved child. And I'll do my best to pass these things along to my own kids.

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