Oh how I hate college, especially when an unwelcome ice storm decides to lacquer the tender buds of spring here in Lexington. I’m sitting here glaring out the dorm window – ice crystals frozen – on the inside. Part of me feels like I will never be warm again.
How far from home this feels - this drafty dorm room of chipped paint and creaky floors. Looking down from my room I see happy parents retrieving their offspring so they can be home in time for Easter – but not me.
Oh how I miss my father…
Daddy was a reporter for the Somerset Gazette, and the master of colorful commentary. There was a handsome picture of him at the top of his articles – Daddy was my hero -and he made me love reading.
In April of 1957 he was sent to cover an auto accident on Hudson Pike Road. An ice storm was to blame for the fatal spin of the Pontiac – they say Mama died on impact - Daddy was never the same.
He quit writing and became an editor after that. He had a mahogany desk with a candy jar filled with jelly beans. While working he would always hum, “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” I loved his office – especially the smell of his Swisher Sweet cigars.
Growing up I bounced between the Gazette and “Harriet’s House of Hair,” owned and operated by my aunt Harriet. After Mama died I became the daughter aunt Harriet never had. Each year I was tortured the Saturday before Easter with a jar of ‘Dippity Do’ styling gel and an arsenal of pink sponge rollers. On Easter she dressed me in frilly pastels and polished patent leather shoes.
Every July she hounded me to enter the Somerset Fair Beauty Pageant; but Daddy wouldn’t stand for it –he ordered her to stop trying to dress me up and parade me around like a show pony.
Daddy retired from the Gazette in 1965 – and died just one month shy of my high school graduation. Uncle Orville found him in his favorite fishing spot – the bank of Percy’s pond. He was still holding his fishing pole – night crawlers still squirming in the Folgers can beside him.
I felt my heart would stop beating…
Aunt Harriet closed her shop for a week and posted a sign, “Death in family – Please come again.”She cleaned out Daddy’s closet and ordered me to drive Daddy’s pick-up to the Salvation Army and donate all of his belongings. The attendant helped me unload – a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth – his jet black hair styled like Elvis.
I picked up the last Piggly Wiggly bag – it was full of Daddy’s ties. “Not this one,” I told the attendant in an apologetic tone. ‘Elvis’ gave me a flirty wink of approval – I cried all the way home.
I treasured that paper bag of ties stashed under my bed – Mama had made most of them – and Daddy loved them all. I wondered how long they would smell of Swisher Sweets.
When packing for college I went to grab the bag but it was gone - I hated Aunt Harriet for that.
And now I sit waiting for my nemesis – the only limb of the family tree I’ve got left to hang on to – Aunt Harriet.
I see her park her pink Cadillac and cross the slick lot in high heels – once again her sense of style comes before her sensibility. A few minutes later she’s pounding on my door. Reluctantly I open it to see her standing there in a white rabbit fur coat, and I’m thinking, “Great, she killed the Easter Bunny.”
Her hair is died magenta and styled in a beehive perched on the top of her head. When she hugs me I can smell the residue of ‘Aquanet’ hairspray. Her hair feels like a birds nest and her horn-rimmed glasses are spotted with drizzle. She smiles wide, “Ready to go home?”
Once we reach the house she presents me with an Easter Basket – to her I will always be a child. I plop down onto the couch and grab a handful of jelly beans. I’m still chewing when she approaches and hands me a gigantic white box. I swallow hard - surely this will be a flowered and frilly Easter dress - I cringe at the mere thought of it.
I was wrong…
I unfold my new treasure – a memory quilt – a stunning tapestry of Daddy’s ties.
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