Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Father's Drawer

I am posting this on my Father's birthday, August 11th.

My father always kept a secret place for treasures and memories. The top left drawer of his bedroom dresser was its address. All of my life I remember being aware of his secret place. It was a magical place to visit. Now and then we visited the drawer together. He gave me a wallet, still in its original gift box and a miniature harmonica. We looked at the marbles he had as a kid.

He showed me a picture of his mother and father in the victory garden where they grew onions, told me stories of his father’s shoe repair shop, and of his five brothers and sisters all  sleeping in one bed because of the limited space behind the shop. We looked at a picture of him in Navy uniform taken in one of those four for a quarter photo machines, his dog tags from World War Two and he proudly let me touch his medals. 

He had a talent for finding lost coins on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, in the grass. In the drawer he kept a box which at the time seemed very heavy, at times filled with over fifty dollars in found money. Since his death, it seems that he has been communicating with us by leaving pennies around in the most unexpected places…and you could swear that the penny wasn’t there a moment ago!

Another occupant of the drawer was a “Jews Harp” or was it a “Juice Harp?” It is a metal object, round on one end, tapered into parallel lines at the other, with a spring of metal down the middle. The harp is placed in one’s mouth and based on tongue placement and breathing while twanging the spring, various rhythms and sounds can be made. He always warned me about being careful not to knock out a tooth while playing the harp which I didn't do too well.

Now and then I would visit his dresser drawer alone when I was the only one at home. I would marvel at his memory items and covet his treasures: travel clocks, watches, tie tacks, more harmonicas, rings, screws, nuts and bolts, miniature toys, marbles, flashlights, transistor radios, a “Little Bill” pin from the electric company, cars, and more. 

Most amazing of all, I discovered his stash of condoms. Rubbers sealed like little treasures in round, golden, foil containers. As a teenager, I stole one and kept it in my wallet. I tried to imagine what sex between my father and mother was like. Can anyone imagine this of their parents?

During the last months of my father’s life as he became more ill, I thought a lot about the drawer. I thought about the “Dad” I would never know. Fatherhood seemed to have passed him by and I cannot remember many intimate moments spent talking with him or sharing experiences. We never discussed political beliefs let alone private ones. He didn’t introduce me to the Birds and Bees, never gave me advice on how to be a man, never took me to a ball game. We spent very little time together.

I tried to imagine him as a teenager or a young man trying to imagine his folks having sex. How did he feel when his younger sister, Frieda, died on his birthday? What were his hopes, dreams, fears, disappointments, sorrows, joys. His sense of loss when his mom and dad died.

I would never really know how he felt about marrying my mom, seeing his daughter born, holding me in his arms in 1945 just home on furlough in his sailor’s uniform, as evidenced by the picture I keep in my dresser drawer. I thought about all the conversations we never had, all the questions never asked, all the sharing that we just couldn’t or wouldn’t do.

After my father died, I went through the drawer by myself once more to absorb as many object memories from his life as I could. It was my way of saying goodbye, I love you dad, I am so sorry for all the missed opportunities of getting to really know each other. I wish I could have been with you at the end and held your hand and kissed your forehead. A few days before you died, I wish when I told you "I love you" you had said you loved me too instead of just – “OK.”

There was a gold ring in that dresser drawer of yours that had a worn thin band with a ruby stone in the center. I think it may have been your mothers. I had always dreamed of having that ring. I looked for it last night while I was saying goodbye to you and your dresser drawer. It wasn’t there. Maybe it hasn’t been there for quite awhile. Maybe it was there only in my mind. What ever happened to it?

Now you are there only in my mind. What ever happened to you? Come let me know, will you, and then be on your way.

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