My father has 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 can remember being aware of his secret place. It was a magical place to visit.
Now and then we would visit the drawer together. He would offer me a wallet, still in its original gift box. Once he gave me a miniature harmonica. We would look at the marbles he found while digging a garden.
He would show me a picture of his mother and father and tell me stories of his father’s shoe repair shop, the five brothers and sisters all sleeping in one bed because of the limited space behind the shop, the victory garden where Max and Sarah grew, among other things, onions. He would show me his picture in Navy uniform taken in one of those “four for a quarter” photo machines. He showed me his “dog tags” from World War Two and his medals.
He had a talent for finding lost coins on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, in the grass. He had 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!
He would take out the “Jew’s Harp” or was it a “Juice Harp?” The harp was a metal object, round on one end, tapered into parallel lines at the other, with a spring of metal down the middle. It was placed in one’s mouth and used for making rhythms and sounds based on tongue placement and breathing. He always warned me about being careful not to knock out a tooth while playing the harp.
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 the treasures. There were travel clocks, watches, tie tacks, more harmonicas, rings, screws, nuts and bolts, miniature toys, marbles, flashlights, transistor radiors, 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 remember taking one from his dresser drawer to keep in my wallet. I did try to imagine what sex between my father and mother was like. To this day, I cannot! Can anyone imagine this of their parents?
As my father aged and during the last months of his life as he became more ill, I thought a lot about that dresser drawer. I thought about the “dad” I would never know. I was not yet born to experience his growing up, his life as a teenager or a young man. His trying to imagine his folks having sex. What was it like 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. His fear as one by one, over the years, all his brothers and sisters died. He was the baby of the family. His mother’s favorite.
I would never really know how he felt marrying my mom, seeing his daughter born, holding me in his arms, in 1945 just home on furlough, in his sailor’s uniform, in 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 just wouldn’t do.
When my father was close to death the dresser drawer became even more symbolic. I knew that I would go through that drawer by my self once more at the end. I would absorb as many memories from his life as I could after he was gone. It would be my way of saying goodbye to my dad. Of saying I love you dad. Of saying I am so sorry for all the missed opportunities of our getting to really know each other.
I know you loved me and I know you know I loved you. I wish I could have told you so at the end. I wish I could have held your hand and kissed your forehead. I wish when I told you I loved you the last time I talked to you, you could have said you loved me too instead of just – “OK.”
Before you left, I wish I could have told you again that I was grateful for everything you did for me growing up, for helping me become who I am, sometimes despite or in opposition to whom you were or whom you wanted me to be. You did the best you could for me and I accept that with unqualified love. And I did the best I could for you.
There was a gold ring in that dresser drawer of yours that had a ruby stone in the center. I think it may have been your mothers. The back of the band was worn thin. 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.
March 19, 2005