Equipped for Life
The other day I saw a television commercial of a man working on a plumbing problem beneath a kitchen sink. His little boy asks if he can help. The father turns down the offer, and the kid trudges down the hall looking forlorn. Seeing that, Dad changes his mind and asks the child if he wants to hold the flashlight. The child’s face lights up brighter than any flashlight, and the next scene shows big legs and small legs poking out from beneath the kitchen sink. That was one of the best things that father could ever do for his child. The passing on of information and the teaching of what one knows prepares a child for the kind of challenges life will throw at her.
That commercial brought to mind my father and some nice memories of my childhood. These memories light my heart the way that child’s face lit up in the commercial. My dad has been gone now for more than a few years. He was quiet, a man of few words. But he worked hard every day, often missing suppers at home to put in overtime to meet the obligations of raising a family. On weekends he could be found beneath the hood of the car doing whatever repairs were needed, or repairing or remodeling something in the house or garage.
My father was the king of the castle, or so it seemed to me as a child. He wasn’t imperious nor did he rule his tiny kingdom with a heavy hand. Rather, it seemed as though he ruled it with a kind of benign neglect or disinterest when the truth was he was bewildered at being the only man in a house full of women. He didn’t know quite what to make of us all, especially when we hit our teens. As youngsters, though, if any one of us wanted to help with one of his many remodeling projects, we were given the chance. By the time I was 12, I knew how to lay cement, remove paint from glass with a razor blade, pull up linoleum and wield a hammer with a reasonable amount of authority. I could repair a lawn mower and my own bicycle. And I knew what all the tools in the toolbox were for. It was an education many of the boys I went to school with didn’t receive.
Because my father was “the strong silent type,” anything that issued from his lips seemed to have enormous import. One of the loveliest memories I still carry with me today were the times he would read to my sister and me. He didn’t read kiddie books; he read novels aloud to us—books like Treasure Island, Toby Tyler, Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Kon Tiki. These books did not have pictures to add to the story. It was his belief that we could see the pictures in our heads and feel the emotions that rode on the words the way seagulls ride waves on the water. He had grown up in a world of radio and imagination, not in a world of television where tales are told visually as well as verbally. It left a strong impression that the best pictures came from within. Those evenings, when we would sit on the floor at his feet after supper and a bath, encased in warm pajamas, made for peaceful times and interesting dreams. I would be filled with anticipation as I waited to hear the next chapter of the story in my father’s seldom heard voice. Listening to him read was a pleasure. He would change accents and inflections based on the characters, and I still remember being in awe, wondering how he knew how all those people sounded. It was years before I understood that it was the force of his imagination that brought those characters to life. The tapestry of my dreams was rich. I aspired to be everything.
I especially loved it when he read for his own enjoyment, and it made him laugh out loud. Those times felt like a holiday or an unexpected snow day.
It is nice to have such wonderful things to remember. I was the only kid in second grade that could not only spell the word epistemology but knew the definition. For an unpopular and gawky young girl with no discernable talents, being able to spell extraordinary words was a real confidence builder. He’d spend the hours as we waited for my mother to do the payday chores and grocery shopping or doctor visits coming up with wildly amazing words to wrap my curiosity around and teaching me how to spell and giving me the magic of definitions. I adored that time.
It’s funny how those small and seemingly insignificant things stay with us throughout our lives and can, in fine ways, define who we ultimately become. I don’t believe I ever got the chance to tell my father how much those things meant to me. Perhaps it is because the spark that lit that dusty corner of my heart or soul didn’t happen until I saw that commercial, or maybe I took it all for granted. I don’t know. What I do know is that if you have a wonderful memory, it is a fine thing, indeed, to share it, especially with the one who gave you the richness of such love. I hope you’ll tell the person who did that for you how much it meant before heart disease or Alzheimer’s takes them. If you can’t, I hope that trip back in time makes you feel so very good. But I hope you’ll tell them at a time when there is no obligation of a holiday like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. It will mean so much more that way.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at