“I will never be like him.”
Gracie let the door slam be her exclamation point. Before I could reply, she was on her way to her room with another door bang. I glanced at the clock, realizing it was the shortest driving lesson on record.
Seconds later Marty came in with his head low and John Deere baseball hat in hand. When he looked up I saw tears fall down his leathery weather beaten cheeks.
“I’m a bad dad.”
I stood up and sauntered to the kitchen counter. I reached for Marty’s favorite coffee mug and poured him his beloved Folgers. His coffee was an instant buffer to whatever life was dishing out. Marty and Gracie were like fire and ice and that was before the teen years settled in like a deep fog. He was certain a driving lesson in his beloved 1987 Ford F150 would put him on the fast track to cool dad.
“Feel like talking about it?”
Marty clicked on the TV, pretending that he let the channel fall on Judge Wapner’s People’s Court by chance. As Doug Llewellyn, the chipper host summarized the drama on TV; Marty cleared his throat to start pleading his case.
“Driving comes easy for me Barb. Been doin’ it since I was thirteen. Tractors, snowmobiles, pick ups, Army tanks, you give me wheels and I’ll drive them. I figured it would be the same for Gracie.”
I could picture the two on the back road below our house. Gracie a bundle of nerves with terms such as clutch, brake and accelerator. Marty inadvertently blowing smoke in her eyes as he reaches over to turn off the radio. Gracie flooding the engine. Once, twice, probably three times.
“The words slipped, you know how it is at the shop with the guys, and I can usually keep those words at work. I mean the truck sounded like a wounded calf.”
I nodded. My own experience with that truck gave off the same sound, even though Marty had no idea. Those words weren’t common in our home but we all knew them well enough. Gracie confessed months before to me that those words made her stomach tighten at the mention of God or Jesus’ name. As Marty continued his story, Gracie’s Bon Jovi music shook the upstairs.
“Aw Barb, it got worse. Once she finally got the truck going, it lurched and stopped. Back and forth. Stop and go. My truck was all I could think of. The words flew so fast, I didn’t stop for a second. It was like this outer body experience took over. All of a sudden I realized Gracie actually had the truck pulled over. She had her door open with one leg out before I realized she was leaving.”
“Did she say anything?”
Marty nodded and let out a sob I had only seen once before, when his mother passed.
“She’s got your smarts Barb; she nailed me with the truth. She turned to me in barely a whisper and asked me if my dad ever yelled at me. I said sure, all the time. She questioned if he ever swore at me. I answered yes. She wondered if I liked it when he did that. I replied no, I hated it, always made my stomach tight even though I didn’t know why. She swung that other leg out and hopped out of the truck before narrowing her eyes at me. She finished me off by asking, ‘then why do you do the same thing to me?’”
I knew the conversation was heaven sent, as hard as the moment was for both of them. Marty kept sniffing but his eyes remained glued on Wapner. I reached over towards the bowl of Hershey kisses near Marty’s coffee.
“Here, take these up to Gracie.”
“She’s never going to let me in.”
“You’re her father and you need to say to her what you said to me. She needs to know she means more to you than that Ford in the driveway. Take that chocolate as a peace offering.”
Marty slowly stood up with the chocolates. He turned back to me.
“Sure she’ll let me in if I show her the food?”
I nodded and held up his coffee mug.
“Her chocolate is like your Folgers.”
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