He exited the bedroom in a pair of beltless lavender pants, a wide collared floral silk shirt and black-heeled pointy shoes. I was awestruck. Mom choked on her coffee. She imagined one day she would zap him to black and white.
Similar to his clothing style, his preferences for wallpaper lingered near the outer limits. Once, he walked into a store with walls lined in a multitudinous assortment of frosty pastels, gentle browns, and elegant pearls, yet left with his arms full of what appeared to be the American flag. With scissors, knife, glue and brush, he splashed the boys’ bedroom walls with bold red, white, and blue stripes that resembled a presidential jail cell. When I danced in that place, it was if the whole room spun around me. Even standing, this room insisted on its own jitterbug. Mom stood in the doorway sort of smiling as the room twirled.
On warm summer evenings, the sky unsettled from its laborious day, we swung back and forth on the porch in our simple cedar swing as the wind visited us with its bold breath, sending my sandy strands of hair wildly across Dad’s cheek. Rain gushed from the gutter, as I imagined it watering my soul. Drip. Drip. Drip. Its wetness clung to my skin as if it hadn’t been towel dried from a shower. I crouched tightly against his bony side with his frizzled hairy arm around me, and his knotty hand resting on my knee.
He was never famous, just an ordinary man. But not ordinary in the normal sense of the word—more like extraordinary. Extraordinarily creative. Extraordinarily funny. Extraordinarily daring.
His pancakes birthed Mickey Mouse ears, long legs and enormous feet, while his salads produced a landscape of cucumber trees, flowered tomatoes and peppers that swirled around the dish as if it were ready for a waltz. His outdoor Christmas trees topped 40 feet tall. Once, someone threatened to cut them down. “No!” I cried. “My dad planted those when I was a little girl.” So I took a picture and framed it, just in case someone didn’t hear me.
When Alzheimer’s tossed his brain from clarity to points not so, he struggled to recall me. I said, “Dad, you know who I am?” He said, “No, afraid I don’t.” Later, determined that he remember me, I insisted, “Hey, you know my name?” He said, “Nope.” Not to be defeated, 30 minutes later I said, “Dad, sure you don’t know my name?” He pointedly declared, “If you don’t know your name by now, you’re in real trouble.” Laughter.
But, he did eventually remember me and it became clear why I confused him. Sporting a new hairstyle, I was a bright blond with curls. He said, “I don’t like your hair. It looks like a mop. I wouldn’t know it was hair if I didn’t see your face with it.”
Dad’s been in heaven for several years now. At times, I imagine his thrill with all the beauty, for at home he never tired of the smell of roses and his pink and white carnations. Every year he enjoyed watching for his daffodil bulbs sprout green from the soil. Springtime always reminds me of him, with its color, energy and freshness.
I’m becoming older and finding that I am now the matriarch of my own family. I struggle with the largeness of those shoes, wondering if I will make a pleasant lasting impression on the lives of my own child and grandchildren as my parents did mine. Perhaps they will remember tea rooms with not so serious etiquette lessons, ocean fun followed by chocolate chip pancakes, Barnes and Noble, Chucky Cheese, and games in the pool. Most of all I hope they remember all the love those times held, that they squeeze them tight to their chest and smile.