Remember Daddy When…

Remember daddy, when you made a radio from scratch. A small light yellow box with an open back containing a fascinating array of tubes, wires, and the string with a safety pin dangling down by a thumbtack so we could tap it back to life with a sizzle. I remember the smell of warm tubes as they struggled to stay alive through at least one hour of broadcasting. You took the trouble to round out the corners, perhaps because you had at least one daughter who was accident prone.

I remember when you were kneeling by the icebox in the kitchen. I was six or seven then. I knew you were inventing something.
“Daddy, what were you doing to the icebox. I remember you fiddling with it when I was a little girl.” You said, “Oh yes. The block of ice would melt so fast that it had to be emptied often. I rigged up a tube for the drain pan and put a hole on the outside of the house to drain it.” Simple. You fixed it.

Daddy remember when you built a cage in our backyard for my chickens at our first house in Orange. The first one was a banty hen that fell off a chicken truck as it sped through town. A man in the neighborhood found another hen, a black shiny one, and gave it to me. At the time I didn’t know it wasn’t wise to let chickens free-range in the backyard. A dog got the black one. I saw. I screamed. Too late. My banty hen Belinda moved to Almond Ave. with us.

I remember daddy, when we lived on Almond Ave. in Orange. You would play checkers with the neighborhood kids. You let them win. However, Scrabble was another story. You always won that game. You memorized the dictionary on the Navy ship as well as the Bible.

Remember daddy, when you taught me to drive our Chevy Bel-Air with the big wings on the back. Mother remembers. I decided to take it for a solo drive. When I got to our slanted driveway, it seemed too steep. I hit the long pedal and lurched forward over the neighbor’s bush into their bedroom wall. They didn’t like the remodel. You fixed it.

I remember when you and mother attended separate churches. I was twelve. She liked to wear her furs and jewelry like the other women in the glass-domed sanctuary. At the church you attended the women wore long sleeve dresses and no make-up.
To bribe us to go to church on a Wednesday, you’d say, “I’ll get you an ice-cream at Thriftys.” We couldn’t resist. My sister Becky would wrinkle her face until the freckles bumped together and her curly red hair would bounce as she said, “Let’s see who can eat the slowest.” We licked our hands more than the cone. I always lost.

Remember when you would take us for hikes in the “wilds” of the San Bernardino Mountains. You led the way with your walking stick. You were in your own zone, so we had to help each other up the craggy sides and balance like birds on logs over streams. You didn’t talk. Mountain goats don’t talk. You took us to secret places where a knotted rope hung from a high tree, swung us over a bowl-shaped gully where a rock pool shaped from water erosion in a stream invited us to swim you would keep going and later come back by then we were dry.

I remember when I asked you about the drink mixer you made by hand for your Ovaltine and Postum. You made it out of some kind of motor, a pear can and a hand-carved wooden handle with a screw as the power button. You said, “I made that on a Sunday afternoon at home in Canada. The boss of the bible college, Mr. Maxwell, knocked on my door to check on me. He saw what I was making and immediately rebuked me,”
“This is a day of rest, you are breaking the Lord’s Sabbath.” I said, “I wasn’t working, me and the Lord were having a good time putting this together.” I’m sure glad I asked. I still have that mixer.

Remember when you called me from Corona. “Hello daughter,” You spoke with a cotton-soft voice. “Can you help me pick up a table that was thrown in the trash. Is your car big enough?”
“I don’t know daddy, how big is the table?”
“What kind of car do you drive?”
“A Subaru Forester.”
“It should fit. When can you get here?”
“I’m just under an hour away, depending on traffic.” You never called me for help. I jumped in my car and drove. You fixed the broken leg and gave it to a Mexican family. That was the kind of broken thing you could fix.

I remember daddy when you looked at me with your little boy face and said, “I’m at the end of my path.” You were a shell stretched over a skeleton by then it barely held you upright in that wheelchair.

“Daddy, I’m going with you to the end of your path.” Your eyebrows pointed upwards and your eyes grew round.

“You will?”

“Yes daddy, I will.” And I did.

I AM FROM

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I am from a sister sandwich, I’m from the middle, the peanut in peanut butter.
From a Navy ship gangway, a mother with two arms and three children and a leash that held me in range.
I am from two sisters in silk-lined coffins. I will see you in heaven, Heidi and Debbi.
I am from a Navy chief father, a square jaw and a high forehead under a proud hat. From the language of dash dot dot dash.
I am from Dorothy, not the Oz, but from a river of logs. Tiny in triple-A shoes, straight-A student, as fiery as her hair.
I am from President Grant and Buffalo Bill and before the cry, “the British are coming, the British are coming.
I’m not from God Save the Queen, only sung when she appeared
O Canada is not where I’m from, but a citizen I was.
I’m from a safe place inside a pungent hay bale on the prairie
or burrowed in a tunnel of snow, quiet like a marmot.
I am from a ground-level window seat for a performance of Symphony in the Sky with special lighting effects.
I am from the Watchbird is watching you. And Big Brother is watching you.
I am from God the Eternal One is watching me under a Banner of Love.
I am from Grandma Esther with coiffed hair and elegant piano fingers. Needlepoint pricks and yarn needle clacks and bonsai forests.
From her husband who died too young, followed by a son.
From she had to sell the family home, her farm and antique shop in Nebraska.
I am from her dainty tuna sandwiches cut in fourths, sliced apples, and a cookie.
I am from Grandma Susan with loose bun hair and stooped shoulders.
From canned food in jars and powdered milk, a house built by two that held eight.
From a banana-shaped bench smoothed by years of children’s rears.
From a hiking club, neighbors honey in gallon jars, slivers of soap in gallon jars
From her husband who died too young, from married again to a high school friend.
I am from San Diego, a native island in Hawaii, Long Beach, Wilmington, Three Hills, Los Angeles, Orange, Hawthorne, Torrance, Cypress, Yorba Linda, Garden Grove, Buena Park
In my childhood alone.

My Grand Adventure

My fingers gripped the cold metal railing as I peered down at the yawning hole in the most amazing sight I had ever laid eyes on. My stomach tightened and I sucked in my breath. My father stood next to me, his thick wavy black hair rippling, his hands  pushed into his pockets. My older sister, Colleen was standing next to him, her nostrils flared as she sucked in the scents of pungent pine and sagebrush. She threw her hands skyward in a sweeping motion, “I want to see the river, why can’t we see the river? Let’s hike down there.”

The year was 1962 and this was our first and only family vacation. 

Our dad was staring through his own viewfinder.  My sister leaned to glance at me behind his back, she winked with one eye and sent a mischievous signal with the other. 

I took her cue. “Daddy, can we go down there?”

“Ahem…uh…uh…sure, go ahead.” He shrugged.

My mother was back at the camper with our younger sister, Becky. 

We were standing next to a large sign anchored in the cement next to the railing; for tourists. We had a mountain goat dad, who taught us that no preparations were necessary for excursions into the unknown. So, donned in light summer sweaters, capri style pants, supply-less and clueless, we headed down the upper rim trail; skipping and singing. 

The beginning of the trail was wide and easy going. My sister stopped often to snatch a piece of sage to rub between her fingers or twirl a wildflower on the tip of her nose.  Soon, the gently sloping trail became snaking curves which slowed us down, but didn’t soften our resolve to reach the river. Occasionally we would pass hikers coming up the trail but no one seemed to be going – down. We finally reached the bottom of the trail and began to walk on level ground. There were a few trees and shrubs, and tables with benches.

“I’m extremely thirsty; I hope we get to the river soon.”  Colleen pulled her sweater tight against the chill.

I never complained out loud but my stomach was speaking for itself. My special order saddle shoes were beginning to feel like horseshoes. We had been hiking for a couple of hours now and we saw no sign of a river.

Then we saw it – this sign was impossible to avoid: IF YOU PLAN TO HIKE TO THE RIVER: BE PREPARED TO SPEND THE NIGHT.

I glanced at my sister for a cue. What was the next act in this play?

“That means the river must be close by – Let’s go!”

I shrugged and trudged onward.

Then we saw it. On a table oasis sat a paper cup with some kind of drink. My sister grabbed it and began to gulp. I drank the last gulps quickly before it could get snatched. It tasted like lemonade.

We pushed forward with prairie girl determination. Fortunately for us, two hikers returning from the river appeared on our path.

“Where are you headed?” They asked. “Are your parents with you?”

“No,” my sister replied. “Our dad let us come down to the river. How close are we?”

“You won’t get there before dark. You should head back. It gets very cold at night. Don’t you have food and jackets?”

Then they added. “There was a sign at the top of the trail warning people not to hike to the bottom of the canyon unless you are planning to spend the night. Did you see it?”

“No.” My sister looked defeated. Too hungry and thirsty, she threw her hands up in surrender.

They threw in a final warning. “You should hurry.”

We began our hike back to where we started. Our prairie spirits were left on the dusty trail.

Going up was twice as hard, especially without nourishment. Why did the trail seem so much steeper? We didn’t see another soul for a long time. Our breathing became raspy and our footsteps sounded hollow in the silent dimming light. We didn’t speak.

My sister began to moan – softly at first – then her moans became cries of anguish.

“I can’t make it, I’m going to lie here and die.”

“We have to make it. We can’t just give up.”

My sister laid down on the trail, to prepare for her coming fate. “The coyotes are going to find us and scatter our remains across the Canyon, never to be found again.”

But, along came two “trail angels” to partake in the next scene of our ongoing saga. They stopped and lifted my sister off the dusty trail and began to carry her. I was relieved. I no longer felt I might have to resort to dragging her body by the arms inch by inch up the trail.  Our dad met us a little further up and took over carrying my sister the rest of the way. We thanked our angels and continued on the rest of the way to face the wrath of a very worried mother.