My middle-aged brain regularly forgets that my sunglasses are perched on my head, can’t remember where I parked the minivan and compels me to walk around my house muttering, “Now, why did I come in this room again?”
But for some unknown reason, I have incredibly detailed memories of my childhood.
My recollections aren’t perfect; instead, I experience photographic flashbacks of certain mundane, seemingly unimportant occurrences like climbing my neighbor’s tree or eating dry Tang out of the jar. It’s as if I can transport myself back in time and re-experience all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings.
Simple childhood memories have a way of clearing the cobwebs away to reveal hidden truths in my life.
I had one of these nostalgia-induced grounding experiences a few years ago, while I was at Walmart buying cards for Father’s Day. I thought it would be a quick errand, and promised the kids I’d be done in a jiffy.
But I could only stand there, reading card after card, mumbling to myself, grimacing and shaking my head. None seemed to fit my complex circumstances. None described our complicated relationship. None communicated the mixed emotions between my father and me.
The kids began protesting, so I sent them to find a gallon of milk to buy me more time. “Stop overthinking this,” I said to myself. “There must be something here with relevance.”
I stopped, stared into the distance, and tried to remember how I felt about my dad — before.
Before my marriage to my Navy husband emptied my parents’ nest. Before my parents got divorced. Before my dad resented me for not speaking to him for five years. Before I resented him for breaking up our family. Before we butted heads trying to form a new relationship. Before we had to forgive each other.
I thought back to a time when I was just a kid and he was just my dad.
As the details of my childhood awoke from hibernation, vivid scenes flashed in my mind. Dad taking out his false front tooth (college football injury) on a family road trip, and talking to the toll booth operator with a fake hillbilly accent, just to make my brother and me laugh. Dad letting me skip school to go with him to Pittsburgh for business, and me throwing up peanut butter cookies into the air conditioning vents of his Buick on the way.
Dad lying shirtless on the floor so my brother and I could draw on his back with ink pens while he watched golf tournaments on TV. Dad lecturing my brother and me at the dinner table on report card day. Dad trying to explain to a police officer why he was teaching me how to do doughnuts in the icy natatorium parking lot after swim practice one night. Dad handing me an old tube sock filled with tools — a small hammer, screwdrivers, pliers — before I left for college. Dad nervously walking me down the aisle at my wedding.
One memory led to another, and to another.
Then, my mind was seized by one early recollection, which ended my paralyzing over-analysis.
I could clearly see my father lifting me from the back seat of our station wagon. I had fallen asleep on the way home from some evening event, but woke up when my parents pulled into our driveway. I kept my eyes closed and pretended, lazily allowing my arms to drape limply around my father’s neck and my head to rest upon his shoulder. I bobbed gently as he walked through the house and into my yellow bedroom, where he laid me in my mock brass bed, removed my shoes and tucked the covers around my chunky little frame.
I felt him kiss my forehead. Then, he just stood there a while. Pausing, watching in the dark silence, before he turned and left the room.
Suddenly, there at Walmart, the Father’s Day cards on the rack had relevance.
My father raised me, protected me, cared for me, loved me. I love and appreciate him. Enough said.