I generally ramble about my father around the Fourth of July or whenever there is NASA news. But, this period of time from Thanksgiving through January, he haunts me as well.
His birthday was randomly somewhere around Thanksgiving. He was born at home and at some point had a birthday assigned to him. It wasn’t the 25th he believed, and later was found to be true when his baby book was discovered. The 25th meant he really shared a birthday with my son. He passed away rather suddenly just after the new year, over a decade ago.
I tend to frame my father in the trips to D.C. “These museums are free and the greatest gift. You can learn anything and everything here.” He really did believe and lived learning in places outside of schools. I alternately thank him and growl because I live this way as well. I want to inhale all knowledge, sort it out, make something new.
I may also talk of visiting my grandparents, his father and step-mother, in Indiana. They rented a small horse farm. I can ramble about the smell of chestnuts fallen to the ground, getting into trouble for gates left open, daring with horses, about my seemingly exotic Aunt Cindy, about the small bottle cokes in the garage refrigerator and the Hershey’s syrup in the cupboard.
I don’t often talk about trips to see my great-grandmother, Nini, my mother’s grandmother, in relationship to my father. I talk about Nini’s recipe cards, her way with a cake, the genteel manners and grandeur to my child’s eyes but not Pop during our trips to Alabama.
I want to today. You see, Miss Britt is in the South. She spent a week in Mobile. When she mentioned her location on Facebook, I babbled about the U.S.S. Alabama, Lion’s Park, and the Dew Drop Inn. I mentioned Nini’s house (but was tempted to mention the carport apartment) and Bellingrath Gardens. The thing about these places is this: my father was a daddy there.
What? Well, here is the thing–there were no traditional park/playground types of places we went to while at home. On vacation, my father would load me and my sister into the car and head to Lion’s Park. Looking back it wasn’t much of a park, but it seemed incredible to me. The old rocking metal animals, swing set, merry-go-round, teeter totters all formed that mythical playground made real in the humid, southern summer. Pop was in charge–my mother was with my great grandmother. This didn’t often happen. At home, it was limited to the trips to Dunkin Donuts when I was small or some small errand. We also would go at least once to see the U.S.S. Alabama which I loved and the Drum, which convinced me I could never live on a submarine.
The Dew Drop Inn was a secret from my Great-grandmother (though I doubt it really was a secret.) My parents went there on dates. There were stories of buckshot in the odd meal or two. It wasn’t really a place for kids in my father’s mind. It did have incredible food in the way of local hole-in-the-wall places. It was a place to escape the light end of day meal at my great-grandmother’s house.
The main meal was served mid-day and it was an affair. Imagine china, crystal, cake on cake stand, my great-grandmother reigning supreme at one end of the massive table and my father at the other end. There was my great-grandmother’s “help” serving–endlessly refilling the glasses of iced tea which I adored. (and my father loathed though he was brought up too well to ever say so.) Meals with my great-grandmother were a test of sorts for our manners as children and for my father’s manners as the Yankee at the table. Upon entering Nini’s house, my father became sir. My yes m’am and no m’am got a work out. No slouching. No elbows. Cloth napkins, and for goodness sake, use the right fork/spoon/knife. It was a complicated bit of pageantry that stifled as well as thrilled. This was a grown up occasion and one must behave to get the peek into a magic world.
I always pondered over my father’s reserve on these trips. Yes, it was respect, but there was always something else and I never could put my finger on it as a child. After all, my father had lived in my great-grandmother’s carport apartment. (That is how he met my mother.) Yes, Nini was informidable, prone to a sharp tongue and obedience. My father carried much of the same in his world though differently. I don’t think it was until I was an adult visiting the in-laws and in-law equivalents that I realized that no matter how welcome and at home you are with this family you have through your love–you want to exceed expectations.
A break from those things meant an outing with his kids for my father. In those outings, he was the dad from the television, the Disney movie. I think perhaps his need for a few hours of escape could have easily been also cast as an escape for bored little girls, before this one at least, lost her manners or came up with serious mischief.
This week my first-born turns 18 on their birthday. I will muse over the similarities between my son and my father. I will wish my father was here to see his grandson, to watch the Macy’s parade and for me to have to come up with a ham for Thanksgiving. Instead of just picturing him at Thanksgiving and decorating the tree, I can also picture the trips to Mobile and those moments our generation calls quality time.