I remember sitting on the curb out front of my childhood home in Croydon, PA, looking at the rainbow swirled colors of oil in the street after the rain. My Dad’s car wasn’t there, he was at work. Dad drove whatever car he had haggled, out of a used lot and drove it into the ground. I miss those rainbows. I miss those cars with gray putty stains to fill in the rotting corrosion. I miss seeing men like my father, coming home from a long day of work, to pull off their dress shirt, sliding themselves under the car to change the oil. I miss seeing cars on cinderblocks. I miss seeing parts lined up on the driveway, gummy with black grime.
My Dad used to wear flannels then. He used to work out in our barn. He lined his shelves with screws and tools. He tinkered with it all, woodwork, mechanics, electrical. When something broke, he fixed it. When something needed painting, he painted it. My Dad and his brothers built that barn. They built our addition on our house. There were always neighborhood buddies who could help with a new roof or a well crafted spackling of a sky light. When dad slit open his hand, he stitched it himself.
I remember sitting on the beach fishing with my dad. Anytime I complained about being hot or not catching fish my dad would remind me it was because I talked too much. I was scaring the fish away. I thought it was funny that my dad could talk for an hour in his loud boisterous voice and then tell me I was scaring the fish away. Apparently, fish liked risqué jokes but not whining. When I was 14 my Dad rented a boat and took us out crabbing in Margate, NJ. I remember the way the sun felt on my skin, the cool mist of the water spraying up on me. Dad had rented cages to trap crabs, there weren’t nearly enough cages for all of us. We tried to line fish the crabs. I think we may have gotten 2 that way. All in all we had the saddest catch of spider crabs ever. My Mom boiled them up in a big pot back at the house. I remember pulling at those little buggers trying to find some meat; mostly they were shell and butter. I remember my Dad remarking that they were the most expensive crabs ever, but now 21 years later, I still remember them, so what might have been an expensive endeavor was also a rich memory.
When I was a child my Dad took me everywhere. I remember going to Grossman’s Hardware store with him. I remember the feel of the place, the smell of lumber, the dirty sawdust being kicked about. I remember my Dad letting me ride on the flat bed of the big awkward orange carts. I remember watching for hours or maybe it was just minutes as he examined just the right screw to do the job. I remember him explaining projects to me. I may not remember how to do any of those things he taught me in the middle of Grossman’s Hardware store, but I do remember him instilling in me an appreciation of innovation. And while in my modern life, I may avoid hardware stores at all costs, I took with me the lesson that you can use the things you have to make them do the job you are trying to accomplish. My own children will remember me fixing the DVD player with a butter knife, or making a duster out of an old sock, a pole and some duct tape.
My Mom always said I had my Dad wrapped around my little finger. I don’t think she ever knew that was because he was my hero. He knew it, I think. As a girl he would take me out in the ocean, further than I wanted to go. But with Dad by my side I knew I was safe. Waves couldn’t possibly break that man. I still remember sitting on his strong broad shoulders, he would raise his leg and jump around and I’d pretend I was scared. But being on his shoulders was like being strapped into a roller coaster-it might be a bumpy ride but I wasn’t going anywhere. When I handed my baby boy to my Dad at 4 months and he threw him up in the air. I wanted to be sick, I begged him not to do it, but still like being in the ocean, I knew may baby was safe in Dad’s arms.
When I first learned how to drive, I would call my Dad with very sketchy details and he’d tell me how to get home.
“Dad, I’m lost and I took a wrong turn,” I’d say.
“Street corners, Regina give me a landmark,” He’d say.
“15th and something, I see a big brown building,” I’d say.
“Do you see a building with green glass windows?” he’d say.
And I’d know directions were coming. That has always been the thing with my dad. He always had a way of getting me home. When we adopted our son from Guatemala, my husband had a minor surgery. With 2 days notice my father arranged for him and my mother to travel with us to Guatemala. When we went to visit our daughter in Guatemala, things were not going as planned. I called my dad.
“Daddy, I need you, I can’t do this without help,” I said.
“Baby, hang on I’ll be there in a day, I don’t know if Mom will be able to make it, but I will see you tomorrow,” he said.
I knew he would come, I knew he would help; I knew if I called Mom she would give me advice, but I needed hands. And when I needed hands, I knew who to call. True to his word, my father flew home from a business trip, picked up my mom and a few changes of clothes and flew to Guatemala.
My father didn’t always do what I wanted, he was certainly stricter than I would have liked. He may have thrown a few boyfriends out of our house. He may have embarrassed me from time to time with his unique sense of humor. He may have broached awkward subjects that I’d wished he never broached, like offering me a Bloody Mary when my sister announced my ascent into womanhood. But he remains the mark I measure all men by. And I still believe that if he is around I am safe, my Dad will never let any wave break me.