|Tiny toes safe in daddy's hands|
Daddy was a gentle giant to me. I have a memory from long ago when he was holding me in his lap and I looked at my hand next to his. It seemed impossible to me that the enormous hand and mine might ever be equal. Of course they weren't, but I didn't know then why they were such different sizes. It made a deep impression on me, though, and I can still see it in my mind's eye. It made me feel safe to have such a protector. Daddy was my hero and I worshipped him.
When I was not yet three, my sister Norma Jean came into my world, and things changed, as I was no longer the center of my parents' universe. I have memories of jealousy and tantrums and remember being punished for hitting the little interloper while she lay sleeping in her crib. I'm sure Norma Jean's memories of childhood are not the same as mine, since she had me to contend with. But before long, we were constant companions, me her big sister. She looked up to me, which is just as it should be.
Daddy would sit me down and talk to me about things; I remember that he would sometimes start out by saying, "when I was a little girl," and I was happy to know that one day I would grow up to be a big strong man like him. There's even a little memory when I learned that it didn't work that way, a tiny sense of betrayal. After all, girls didn't grow up to be anywhere near as big and strong as boys did, so I wanted to fix that.
I remember being asked by grownups what I wanted to be when I grew up. Do you remember what you said? I suppose somewhere when I was very young I must have said a ballerina or whatever little girls wanted to be back then. But what I most remember wanting to grow up to become is a daddy like mine.
He was in the Air Force and traveled on TDY (temporary duty) occasionally. Our home was not the same when he wasn't there. Mama fixed meals for her girls, of course, but I remember that we often had pancakes or scrambled eggs for dinner instead of the regular meat, potatoes and vegetable that we always had when Daddy was home. My childhood memories revolve around the head of our household, and everybody else was a bit player. When I was about ten or so, I remember writing down my secret that I hoped Mama would die and Daddy would marry me. I slipped the little envelope where I wrote these thoughts into one of our encyclopedias. Remember when we had volumes of them on their own bookcase? I went looking for the letter years later and never found it.
I was only eighteen when I left home and married Derald, my first husband. I was pregnant with Chris and was forced to get married by my mother. I learned much later that she had kept the fact of my pregnancy a secret from my father. These days, nobody would even care if you were pregnant when you got married, wondering if perhaps you might have had a "shotgun wedding." Well, I did have one. How times have changed.
Daddy was only 62 when he died of a heart attack. Mama called me at my home in Colorado and said he was in the hospital and not expected to survive, and if I wanted to see him again, I'd better get down to Texas as fast as I could. Before the day was over, I was on a plane to Texas, along with my sisters and brother who did the same from their homes. We all made it there in time, so many of us that we had our own room to congregate in. One by one we got to see Daddy, and I remember him looking just like he always did, he was sitting up but had IVs and tubes everywhere. His lungs were beginning to fill with fluid and they wanted to put him on a respirator, but first he wanted to say goodbye to each of us. His last words before they sedated him were, "I love you all!"
We got to see him once more after it was all over. My sisters and I went into the room where his body lay, after they had taken all the tubes and stuff away. (I don't remember why my brother didn't go in with us.) Daddy was still warm and I saw beads of sweat on his forehead. We stroked him and cried and said goodbye. The memory I have is precious beyond compare, a moment when his five girls, the ones he had loved and laughed with and cherished, came together over the man who gave us life.
Now I am sitting here in my bed, laptop perched on my legs, tea finished, and partner softly snoring beside me. It's no longer dark outside, since the sun comes up now very early, and it's light out before I even awake. The birds, which have been singing for hours, are suddenly silent, and I feel the hush of the day before it begins. My garden needs to be watered before I head south to Snohomish, but I can feel the moment slip away, the one where I was transported through my memories back to the time when Daddy was with me.
I can say a little prayer, though, that everyone who still has their father alive will have a chance to be together with him in some way, on this day when we remember our fathers. I got to be with my dad through writing this post and kindling the fire of memory.