The fifth stair step to the attic creaked beneath his foot just as it had those many years ago when, as a young boy, he had sought solitude in this upper chamber. Then, his purpose was to escape the constant harangues of his father and his daily “success” lectures. Now, the silence of death had come to his father and to the house. It filled the spaces and, save for the creaking interruption, sought the son as he climbed the attic stairs.
Little had changed since the man had last been there. Old family pictures stood stacked together, fading into the same oblivion as the moments they once captured. Fishing poles hung on the wall, tackle dangling like small memories on the lines of life. His school yearbooks lined a bookshelf, replete with yellowing markers his father had placed there, signifying pages that boasted his many awards and achievements. Tarnished trophies like bookend sentinels guarded them.
Turning away quickly, he was startled by a figure in front of him. He smiled as he reached out and touched the old dress form his mother had used many years ago. Even now, his heart raced as it had done so many times when he was young and had imagined it a headless monster woman. Once, satin and lace had adorned the form, fabrics his mother’s deft needle transformed into beautiful gowns that draped happy moments on the lives of women who bought them. Now, the form stood clad in rusty pins, dust and cobwebs, making him wonder what those women wore now.
He made his way slowly to his former place of refuge – a small chair tucked away in a corner where he had spent many hours silently contemplating the meaning of it all. He slapped the pillow seat, which protested with a puff of dust. Lowering himself into the chair, he noticed how small it seemed now, when once its arms had afforded him comfort with room to spare. Immediately, his thoughts reverted to those of 25 years ago. What did his father expect of him? What was enough? Could he ever please him?
Even now, the questions provoked him to well up, but he resolved not to cry. His fingers smoothed the worn and fraying velvet arms, their covering etched with stains, much like the tears, which had punctuated his life during those moments of refuge long ago. His eyes fell on the large scrapbook resting by the chair. He thought it just like his father to place it there, knowing he would find it. It was a monument his father had kept of his past – a testimony of what his father had prodded him to be.
Now, he was free of both the prodding and the scrapbook keeper. He turned the pages filled with colored ribbons and certificates, carefully mounted and dated. His father’s voice seemed to emanate from each page. Aren’t you pleased with yourself? Don’t you see how happy you are when you do your best?
He answered to the emptiness, “Did this one make you happy, dad? Or, was it this one? Which one made me good enough in your eyes?”
The cleansing flood of tears came without reproach. Through them, he spoke to the scrapbook keeper, “Dad, I forgive you. I know you only wanted what you thought would make me happy.”
The creaking of the attic stair broke his reverie and the small voice of the intruder floated up to him.
“Dad, where are you?”
“Here, son.” The man quickly wiped his eyes. “Got some dust in my eye.”
“Dad? It’s creepy up here. Is this all grandpa’s stuff? Whoa! Is that the headless woman you told me about? Wow! Are all these trophies yours?”
“Hold on, son. One question at a time.”
“Hey, is that your scrapbook? Wow, look at all these ribbons – you must have been the best at everything!”
“I tried to do things well to please my father.”
“Well, you must have succeeded – look at all these things he kept. Will you keep a scrapbook of all the ribbons I win for you?”
The man lifted his son’s chin and gazed steadily into his eyes, “Son, you never need win a single ribbon or trophy to please me. It’s not the things you do that make me happy. I am happy because you are you and because you are my son. If we keep each other in our hearts, that will be the only scrapbook we’ll ever need keep.”
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