For love, man endures much. Too much, if you ask me. And if there was ever a man who loved his wife, it’s my father, aka Papa or Pop. His devotion is enough to make you believe that chivalry should be dead.
When I was engaged (the first time), I, unlike my father, set limits. No pansy-fication allowed. It was a short-lived engagement.
My parents, married forever, emigrated from the coastal town of Isabela on the island of Puerto Rico, where the tiny stucco houses were a fiesta in themselves—each painted a vibrant hue. My mother’s childhood home had been purple, and she missed it with the beating of a thousand hearts.
Pop fell for her big watery eyes and painted our stately brick townhouse in Fairfax, Virginia, Grape Cluster purple. The trim color was called Lilac Garden. The other townhouses had a field-day with us. Every time I walked up to our Lilac Garden entry, their somber doors intoned a drawn out “Ohhhhhh,” while their brown-shuttered windows judged us.
It took a year for the Home Owners’ Association to convince Pop that he was in violation of the covenants he’d signed. It took a professional-grade pressure washer four passes before most of the paint flecked off.
By then we’d been branded with a capital “P”—as conspicuous as Hester Prynne’s capital “A.”
“Papa,” I said one day, “why don’t you stand up to Mama?”
“You theenk I don’t?”
“That’s exactly what I theenk.”
“I stand up for love, Alberto. Your Mama is love.”
My father was a tailor by trade and a recreational inventor by love. Once my mother went to the beauty parlor and came back with a sore neck because the rim of the sink was hard and angled her neck uncomfortably. My father went to work. He rubber-cemented a vinyl air pillow (purple, of course) to a vinyl floor mat from our car. The mat bridged the back of the chair and the sink. The pillow portion rested in the basin, awaiting my mother’s delicate head.
How her Puerto Rican friends clucked—one had to be ordered for every station.
Later when my mother was “blessed” with a mid-forties pregnancy that made her back and shoulders ache, Pop sewed her a “u”—shaped pillow (purple, of course). She rested inside it when he wasn’t there to hold her. After Marisela was born, my mother used it to support her arms while nursing.
More Hispanic clucking, more orders.
The most ridiculous invention Pop ever came up with was The Purple Light.
My mother had been the victim of a road-rage accident on a street close to our house. The neighbors were fit to be tied—which surprised me given our earlier branding. I mean, specks of Grape Cluster were still embedded in the crags of our townhouse.
Pop believed road-rage happened because drivers felt isolated, no way to communicate. He rigged our Accord with The Purple Light. It was attached at the top center of the rear window. A switch on the steering wheel operated it.
The Purple Light was supposed to signal, “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” or “take the right-of-way.”
I listened to him explain it at the Neighborhood Watch Meeting—I’d never heard of anything so hokey.
Amazingly enough, the women in our neighborhood wanted one. The men—not so much. “Papa,” I said when he looked disappointed, “what did you expect? You made it purple. Why didn’t you make it green—or something?”
“Green is for go.”
“Red is for brake light.”
Every other color had something with the road or car already associated with it. But the women didn’t care—young and old loved purple. Puerto Ricans and Americans and beyond loved purple. The Americans just didn’t want it covering their houses—that’s what our neighbor, Inga, explained as I stood there muttering to myself.
Inga thought my father’s efforts adorable—the way he conveyed love, lionhearted. Her words, not mine. In spite of this, I began dating her. And as hard as I fought against it, something about her slowly dissolved my limits.
Then yesterday, I walked into the house and my father laughed. He pointed at my shirt. “Look what you have.”
“The purple. You’re having the purple shirt.”
“It’s not purple; it’s eggplant—Inga said so.”
“Ahhh ,” he said, nodding and winking.
For his smug attitude, I’m waiting a week to announce my second engagement—mostly because Inga has decided on a lavender wedding.
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