Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)
TITLE: Jacob's Ladder
By Karen Deikun
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I hold the check in my hand as my eyes mist with tears. I picture my father leaning over the old oak kitchen table, pushing back the red-checkered vinyl cloth, and placing the check on the hard surface to carefully write his name. Memories flood back. I feel him ruffle my hair and use the silly nickname he had for me, “Khaki” like the color of an army uniform. I don’t know why he called me that, and I never thought to ask him.
I recall the day I got my knee stuck between two of the banisters on the stairs. In spite of being warned many times, I would climb up the staircase on the outside, clinging to the handrail and putting my feet between the banisters. I loved the staircase, calling it “Jacob’s Ladder” because I’d learned the name in church. I pictured myself climbing all the way to heaven just as the angels in Jacob’s dream had done. But that day I somehow wedged my knee in between the banisters so tightly that I was imprisoned near the top. Above my head was the hall ceiling, so I had to cling there, bent low so my head wouldn’t hit. My arms trembled from holding on for so long. Dad tried everything he could think of to get me loose. First he tried greasing my knee with Vaseline, but it didn’t work. He tried pushing downward and he tried pushing upward. My knee became so swollen, that finally all he could do was get his saw and cut one of the railings away. While he worked I stared at the banisters, thinking of prison bars, my arms aching. It took considerable time to free me and I thought several times that I couldn’t hold on any longer. But finally he finished and I was free.
He reminded me gently that I wasn’t supposed to go up the stairs on the outside and that’s why I was stuck. “It’s better to do things the way you ought to.” Exhausted from the ordeal, I went right to bed.
I remembered how my heart ached when I spent my Dad's final father’s day on earth with him in the hospital. I sat beside him, stroking his hair. I remember how thick it was still, though gray instead of almost black, falling into place from years of training it in place with comb and water. I cut his toenails that day, and smoothed the covers over him. He had a feeding tube and an intravenous line. This time it was he who was trapped on Jacob’s ladder, caught in a prison of pain and tubes, but I could do nothing to free him. All I could do was be there. It was up to his Father in heaven to cut him loose from the pain and entanglements. I knew he was tired of holding on, and I imagined him feeling exhausted and wanting to let go. It was weeks before he finally reached the end of Jacob's ladder and went home.
My mind returns to the job at hand. I take all the other checks to the shredder. Checks for food, electric, or credit card payments all go into the maw of the shredder. None of them matter. I place the check with Daddy’s signature back in the box. It’s one of the few tangible reminders I have of him and I will never throw it away. I will look at it every year at income tax time as I have for eight years, and every single time, I know I will remember these same things with tears in my eyes.
I miss you, Dad. But you made it to the top of Jacob’s ladder. You’re free - home free.
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