Dear Dad: I’m pretty sure you’re the reason I’m afraid of heights.
If I shut my eyes tight, I picture you flinging me in the air. When my wispy, almost-white baby hair brushes the living room ceiling, I whimper. Gentle and close you gather me, make my chest flush with yours.
“There, there, honeypot,” you whisper. “Everything’ll be all right.”
Most nights, you tucked me in and told me a tale.
My favorite stories all started with, “Once upon a time, many moons ago, there lived an Indian princess named Mini Haha.”
I wanted to be Mini Haha because of the way you said her name—with awe and tenderness. I wanted to be you because you made up the best stories ever.
Three years in a row, we attended the Campfire Girls’ Father-Daughter Banquet at the Field House in downtown Huntington.
I wore my navy blue Campfire Girl uniform with its felt vest embellished with wooden beads of every color. I sewed them on myself after I earned them. You’d still be in your suit from work.
On the way, we picked up Kentucky Fried Chicken with eleven herbs and spices: two box dinners plus Dr. Peppers. Of all the daddies at the banquet, you usually finished eating last, but I didn’t mind. It meant extra time together. Alone.
Monday through Friday in the summer, Mom and I swam at a hotel pool downtown. Sometimes you walked over from Marshall University on your lunch hour and joined us.
Perched on the smooth, red-tile edge of the pool, I breathed deep the Coppertone and chlorine aromas as I witnessed your get-wet ritual.
Gingerly you proceeded down the steps until the water’s reflection cast a wash of blue up your thighs. The minute the water licked the hem of your plaid swim trunks, a tremor would skitter from the top of your body down.
You scooped up water and skimmed your arms with it, collected more coolness to pat on your fish belly-white tummy. I wished for a magic marker. So I could connect the dots of all your chocolate brown and strawberry-colored moles.
Treading water between the shallow and deep ends, you watched me go off the board. You clapped when I tried my first flip, even though it was more of a flop.
At the end of summer, you and I always made homemade V-8 juice.
First we picked all the tomatoes from the garden, even the ugly ones. Then we tucked them inside Mom’s jumbo-sized pressure cooker, added carrots and celery, salt and pepper. Simmered the concoction to death.
Once the brew cooled, you ladled the limp veggies into Mom’s Foley food mill. As I rotated the crank, we watched the juice bleed into her giant mustard-colored mixing bowl. You stirred a splash of Worcestershire sauce into two glasses of our creation, and together we smacked our lips and declared, “Mighty tasty!”
Every day you walked me to school—first through sixth grade.
Surely that meant you loved me more than the parents who put their kids on a bus.
In between Green Oak Drive and Gallaher School, you addressed me like a grown-up, told me about things like B.F. Skinner and Pavlov’s dog.
“Remember how I taught you and your brothers to pee when I whistle? It’s the same concept.”
Most evenings I sat with you and Mom out in the living room. You’d nurse a single bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and plow through half a can of Planters’ red-skinned peanuts.
When you weren’t looking, I’d sneak some nuts, pinch them one at a time so they slipped out of their rosy and papery husks into my mouth. I made sure to suck the salt off each finger, just like you.
While Mom and I hooted at the Carol Burnett Show or Sonny and Cher, you devoured words.
You were especially fond of your Morse code magazine, Time and Newsweek, and books about the Civil War.
You knew a little bit about a lot. I always thought that was so cool. Still do. You reading all the time? More than likely, that’s why I’ve adored books all my life.
These memories of you, Dad, they’re like my first chicken pox scar. They’ll mark me forever.