I have a cedar chest, and it has all sorts of things in it—school projects from when I was a little girl, some of Jesse’s baby clothes, one of my father’s suits, little mementos, and a lot of old greeting cards and letters, many of them from my dad. Why? Because, like photographs, they have reminders of his personality: his handwriting. (Due to her illness, my mother ceased to be able to write when I was ten years old and not of an age to think about saving things, really. So I only have items of hers that predate me, like her high school scrapbook.)
My father was a smoker, have I mentioned that? Yes, I have inhaled a lot of secondhand smoke in my life. Of course, no one knew, no one even thought about the hazards of secondhand smoke until the early ’70s, and I was out of the house by 1972. But Daddy was a dedicated smoker, from about age eight until he died at sixty-three (too young). We used to laugh and say he’d be buried with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, back when we were too young to fear death, for ourselves or for him. It’s less funny now that I’m his age.
As it turns out, we didn’t bury him; he preferred cremation. And this means no mementos were sacrificed.
He had an aluminum box, two nesting halves, in which he kept his pack of cigarettes (Kools, menthol), so they wouldn’t get bumped or crushed in all the strapping and belting of himself into the cockpit of a plane belonging to the United States Air Force. Daddy had that box as long as I can remember; it was an extension of him.
Last Thanksgiving we’d all gone our separate ways to feast, but I had everyone (the local fam) over for a dessert buffet. My brother and his wife (Jon and Teresa) lingered after everyone else had gone, just chatting. They’d been fixing up their house to sell, finding mysterious boxes and opening them, and so on. One box, unopened for twenty-three years, revealed Daddy’s cigarette box.
I said, “Oh my God, Jon, and you didn’t bring it? I want to hold it!”
They were walking out the door; Teresa and I were on the porch and Jon had walked out onto the lawn but he turned and watched me as I did this little wiggle dance thing, raising my arms and waving them around (you had to be there, I guess). “I want to just hold it in my hands and feel him!” For me, Daddy is a happy memory.*
Jon walked back to the porch and he had tears in his eyes, could barely speak. “I’ve already done that several times today,” he said. 🙂
These little talismans have such power over us.
I was out there on the 13th of December—family Christmas before I left for Phoenix—and Jon took me straight to it, and I held it. I’m glad he has it. But I told him if it were me, I would never be without it; I’d find a use for it and carry it everywhere!**
It’s a great story. But it loses something without my front-porch shimmy and hand-waving, me pulling down the Spirit of Daddy from the universe. 🙂
*Sure, the sorrow never leaves. He was gone much too soon. He was a fabulous father and would have been so proud of the people his grandchildren have grown up to be. But the immediacy of grief fades over time, thank goodness.
** I have something just as talismanic: his pocket pen. I gave it to him for a birthday or Father’s Day or something when I was about sixteen, and he never, ever carried another pen.