I could sit there for hours on end, catching elves. Surrounded by computer cables and wires, an assortment of keyboards, monitors, mice and hard drives, I delighted at immersing myself in Daddy’s world, tucking myself away in the basement at every opportunity.
For most parents, sitting their child in front of the TV or computer represents a well-earned break from the fatigue of parenting - a moment of solace where they can sip a glass of wine or simply take in the sunset without screams and shrills, the sound of blocks tumbling against the hardwood floor or a cat being pulled by its tail.
My father, however, knowingly welcomed interruptions. Just as he had expected me to solve the 24 piece puzzle he gifted me on my two-week birthday, he willed me to become a certified "Treasure Mountain" elf-catching expert by age three. Determined not to let him down, my nets would catch one, then two, then three four five elves... With each solid catch, a written clue revealed. The sole problem being... I didn’t know how to read.
“ELF!!!!!!!” I would shout, impatiently, fidgeting as I waited for Daddy to descend the basement stairs and interpret the characters on the screen. My elves would sit in my
net squirming, ready to escape at any second.The game required his help, and I never felt so distressed as when an Elf found itself in my net during his absence.
Mommy tried to help me, when he was gone. She would hear my excited cries and begin making her way down the stairs. Standing above me, she would lean over slightly and pretend to read whatever was written on that obnoxiously heavy 1990s monitor. Though in desperate situations I would take her word and try her answer, most days I would simply roll my eyes, quit and save the game until he got home. Didn’t she realize only Daddy knew how to read computers?
I have to admit that sometimes, when I’m a little lost in the treasure mountain that is Silicon Valley, I still wonder that if by shouting “ELF”, he somehow might appear... **************************** Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you!
Not even five months have passed since my last visit home, but she looks older now, more dependent on her
cane. I dash to her side in the Washington summer heat, enveloped by the
humidity and basking in the frivolous delight of a white sundress. They
would often sit here together and take in the sun. Her wedding ring still shimmers, though her eyes are
tinged with a painful nostalgia. In younger years and
colder weather, I poetically proclaimed that Grandmom sparkles like the
Christmas tree. Vying to keep the title, she pulls her cashmere sweater more
tightly closed as I approach, attempting a smile and ignoring the 90 degree heat, visibly
struck by the chill of his absence instead. She looks over at
my calling, brightened by my voice. I plop down
excitedly on the bench built for two, pulling her down with me, greeting her hurriedly as I race
into a million details of my red-eye flight and plans for the weekend...
a distracted, dizzy haze of random thoughts. I throw my words around
playfully, determined to keep her fixated on anything else, like a
small child blowing soap bubbles and begging his parents to watch them
pop in mid air. She often complains that I talk too fast, but I refuse
to slow down, convinced the effort expended on comprehension will keep
her on her feet - proving she doesn't really need that hearing aid, after all.
What should I wear? You know better than anyone, as a Southern Belle
yourself. Pink? Blue? Ruffled? Subdued? I can't wear white and black's
too solemn. Red's a little racy and you know you can never look better
than the bride. How about my hair? Up? Down? It's a Southern Christian
wedding. They're reading the Corinthians. How does it go, again? Love is
patient, love is difficult, love is hard to find...
tar heel accent my Grandfather must have fallen for so many years ago
emerges gracefully, and she corrects me, laughing. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy,
it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not
self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always
protects, always trusts..."
Aha! Kind, not difficult. I knew I
was screwing it up somewhere...
Reciting the lines over in my head, I lose myself in reflection for a
moment, drifting off somewhere, anywhere, on a pink inflatable floatie
on Lake Barcroft, giggling somewhere on the family pier, mentally
removing myself from the sterility of this retirement home. I picture her
bringing us wheat thins and cheddar cheese by the backyard lanterns,
sitting down to swing gently with Grandpa as they beckon me to come
Mission get Grandmom's mind on a different subject fail.
Unsure of what to say, of how to guide her through this, I stretch my
legs wide in front of me and bend over, placing my head between them in a semi-Yogi pose
I'm sure I learned somewhere... convenient for pulling off the
un-dainty immaturity of a 13 year old while effectively hiding one's
tears. Dirty blond hair flipped upside down, temporary bronzer mixed
with salty water staining my hands. On day 3, our Unitarian Universalist
God made waterproof mascara, and with his strength, I re-emerge to
listen to her speak. He comes to her in dreams, she says. Oh, two to
three times a week, or so...
"And how I treasure those
He spoke to her last night. Placing my head
against her shoulder, I clasp her hand between both my own and grant her
the space to keep speaking, asking her silently what he said, not sure
I'm ready for the answer.
"I have to, John, I have to!" she
shouts. The jerk of her shoulder jolts my head to attention, the sudden gesture hurts my neck and I let out a brief cry of pain. I blame the tears on my jet-lag and try to absorb what she just said, to let her finish.
He had asked if her if she could. Fall asleep without him. Without his
arms around her.
I await the humorous ending that
accompanies so many of their stories. The witty denial of circumstances
and appreciation of shortcomings that was unique to his outlook
on life, essential to pushing us through. But it doesn't come. The strong determination in
her voice has never felt so searing, her acceptance so sure. Without
Granddaddy there to help, I let my eyes wander and contemplate the
concrete awning above us, the bushes around us, the driveway in front of
us, convinced he left a punchline hiding here somewhere.
My vision is
blurred and hers fading, but just like the impossible Easter Egg on a
warm spring day, I promise her we'll find it.