The other day my 75-year-old father came for a visit.
My father and I have always lived close by but we’ve never been close. After my parents divorced when I was 6, he remarried and started a new family. I’d sometimes visit them on weekends, but don’t remember spending much time with him. For a year in high school I went to live in his house, but he was so busy earning money, dealing with his family, and tinkering in the garage that I rarely saw him.
My father and I are familiar strangers. I can hear his voice if I close my eyes, I can predict exactly what he’ll say, I know what he smells like and I have memorized the contents of his pockets, but still, I don’t really understand. It’s like we speak different languages. Over the years he has expressed his approval or disapproval in my choices, but we’ve never gotten any deeper than that. He knows what I am but not who. Maybe it’s a generational thing, or maybe it has something to do with gender? I don’t know. I used to hold a grudge but it got old and heavy and I had to put it down to make room for my family.
Now when I see him, we’re polite and friendly. There is warmth and interest there but not much to talk about. When he came for a visit the other day, I took him with me to pick up my daughter from school and then to a cafe where dad bought her a hot chocolate. (They have a sweet tooth in common, so I always encourage him to indulge my kids with chocolate. It gives them to have something to talk about.)
I dabbed the ring around her mouth with my napkin and said, “Guess what your grandpa has in his pocket?”
Her eyes sparkled with interest. She loves a secret. “What?”
“He has a little square cloth called a handkerchief.”
“What’s it for?”
“For blowing his nose.” I gave dad a wink. “That means he carries his boogers around in his pocket.”
She was grinning wide. The idea that her grandfather might be a regular guy who might know something about boogers, one of her favorite topics, gave them even more to talk about. “No he doesn’t.”
We both looked at him, waiting.
“No, I’d never do that.” He smiled primly and shook his head, made a show of fumbling around in his pockets. Then his face changed as his fingers closed around something. “Oh! No, there’s no boogers in here but there is something for you, Annie.” (He still calls me “Annie.”) He pulled something out and handed it to me, a wooden cylinder about four inches long. “It belonged to my father. Your grandfather.”
“What is it?”
“A crow call. You use it to call crows.”
“How did you know?” I gripped the warm wood tight in my hand, searching his face for an explanation. “But how did you know I wanted one of these?”
“I read your story.”
Awareness flutters down from the ceiling and settles on my shoulders. I have been writing for all these years but my father showed no interest at all. It’s nothing personal, I told myself, he just doesn’t read fiction and he’s not very computer-savvy. But what happened? How did this seventy-five year-old man suddenly turn on the computer, find my blog, and read what I have written?
My daughter takes the crow-call from me, holds it to her lips, and blows. The air is filled with a horrible noise, a creaking screech that hurts my ears. We all laugh.
And something stunned and wild flaps inside me, a childish hope resurrected.
Even as I write this, tears run down my face: foolish, childish tears.
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