My memories before kindergarten are few — just snips and snaps.
But memories during and after kindergarten are fleshy, full of tastes and sounds and sights and smells. It was then that Daddy and I became two peas in a pod, since Mom worked nights and Dad worked days.
The weekday drill began with Mom picking me up from a private kindergarten, always with some after-school snack I would eat standing up in the front passenger seat while she drove the Chevy to the plant where she and Dad worked. It was a quick ten minute drive.
She turned the car off Kickapoo Street by St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, and drove a few blocks west to the parking lot where the road dead-ended into the local Sylvania plant. Mom turned off the car to wait for Daddy to come out. I think she read while she waited. It was my job to sound the alarm of Daddy’s coming, so I kept my eyes peeled for Daddy.
It wasn’t long before Dad walked up. He walked fast with a spring in his step. With little conversation, Mom and Dad seamlessly traded places. Mom walked off in the sunset toward the plant leaving me with Daddy and Daddy with me.
Dad started the car, shifted the car out of park and off we’d go. We never made it out of the parking lot without me hitting Dad up for a fried cherry pie from the Brown Derby Drive-in. Daddy never told me no. Dad’s inability to say ‘no’ was one of his parental weaknesses, a slack taken up by my mother with ease.
Before we finished our pies, I begged Daddy to take me to Richland Park, a small amusement park on the outskirts of town, designed for children under age 10. Sometimes we’d go, but more often than not, Dad and I’d just go home to watch our favorite television show together — American Bandstand — which at the time, was on five afternoons a week. This was our drill until the plant relocated to Iowa, some time around my sister’s birth.
These days the drill has changed. It’s me parking the car in a parking lot with Daddy waiting for me. Then it’s me starting the car and turning the car toward home, just my brother and I, as we leave Daddy behind at the nursing home after a short weekly visit.
It’s no longer a true visit; it hasn’t been for months. Today was the saddest visit ever. Daddy was awake but uninterested. Dad didn’t seem to notice Jon and I were there. As Jon slowly rubbed Daddy’s head, I asked Daddy if he wanted to listen to his sister, my Aunt Carol. I received no response. I then asked Daddy if he wanted to listen to Christi. Again, no response. Daddy was far away, perhaps lost in a daydream.
I found comfort, yesterday, while reading for my Monday evening class. In the book, Dreams — Discovering Your Inner Teacher, the author, Clyde Reid, writes:
“As we grow old, we often find that the things we have enjoyed over a lifetime are taken away from us — our homes, our cars, our health, our mobility, perhaps even the use of our eyes and ears. But one thing no one can ever take away from us is our dreams.”
I’m glad Daddy still has his dreams. My father has always been a dreamer. If Daddy was daydreaming today, I hope Daddy was once again able to walk to his car in a New York minute like he did during the changing of the guard all those years ago. And I hope in Daddy’s dreams, Daddy was able to eat something wonderful — something as wonderful as a homemade fried cherry pie — and that maybe Dad was at a grand old movie palace watching his favorite film. I mean really watching, really soaking it all in, rather than the hit and the miss that goes on these days.
Today, as we prepared to leave, I squatted down real low, right next to Dad’s recliner, to once again look up into Daddy’s eyes. As if Daddy were a newborn infant that focuses only when a face gets close enough to his orbit, Daddy’s eyes locked onto mine. Tenderly, Dad reached down to cradle my face in his two hands. And looking up into Daddy’s eyes, I told my father — “Daddy, you are the Daddy of Fried Cherry Pies from Brown Derby; ” “Daddy, you are the Daddy of Richland Park”; “Daddy, you are the best Daddy in the whole wide world;” “Daddy, I love you forever.”
With a few trips of his dried tongue, Daddy looked me in the eye, saying, “I…….love…. ____;” Daddy left his sentence dangling between us. But being the big girl that I am, I filled in Daddy’s blank just fine. If only I could fill his shoes.