This is a picture of me and my dad. It was taken on May 13, 1967. It was the day of my first Communion and the last day I ever saw him. I remember that my mom was upset that he arrived late (I think he may have missed the entire ceremony) and they argued on the steps of the church. I vaguely recall her saying something to him about drinking but I don’t recall smelling liquor on his breath. I didn’t care that he was late. I was just glad that he showed up to take this picture with me.
I don’t have a lot of photos of my dad. The few I do have are grainey and faded. This wedding photo is the best photo of him that I have.
As a child I would look at this picture and think my dad was as handsome as a band leader and my mom looked like the queen’s image on those Irish Sweepstakes tickets she always bought.
A year later, I was born.
Daddy was never around very much so when I’d ask mom where he was, she’d tell me that dad worked three jobs. I accepted this explaination because in the early 60s lots of kids’ dads worked more than one job to make ends meet.
As a child I worshipped my father and whenever he was home, I’d follow him everywhere. He didn’t seem to mind and allowed me to tag along while he mowed the lawn and fixed things around the house. He was handy and I liked this about him.
I remember being fascinated while I’d watch him shave. I’d stand quietly in a corner of the bathroom by the sink and watch him whip up a lather with his brush then apply the soap to his face with rapid, tiny little circles. With his face properly lathered he would turn the small knob at the bottom of the handle of his razor and the top would open up wide like the jaws of a hippopotomus. Dad would drop in a new blade and twist the knob again to close the jaws. By this time the mirror was fogging over from the steamy hot water running from the faucet to fill the sink. He’d swish the razor in the hot water and lift his hand to begin the first stroke. I liked this part the best because he made funny faces when he shaved and I’d try not to giggle. If I did, he’d reach for his brush and put a dollop of soap on my nose and chase me away.
Sometimes my dad would be gone for two weeks at a time and when he was gone that long we’d run out of food. Eventually he’d show up with a couple of bags of groceries and we’d be able to eat again. It was always very exciting when he’d arrive because he’d bring home candy. I don’t know if any of you remember the scene in the movie “Lillies of the Field” with Sidney Poitier where he comes in with bags of groceries for the nuns and pulls out a string of lolipops, but that was just what my father would do.
My dad had been a US Navy cook. I think that was the highest ranking thing a black man could be in the Navy during the second world war. I loved it when my dad was home because he would do the cooking. Mom couldn’t cook worth beans. She hated cooking but dad seemed to love it.
We always had a can of grease (bacon fat and such) at the back of the stove and I remember him scooping big tablespoons of grease out of the can and watching it sizzle in the big cast iron skillet. He’d fry bacon, then fry sausages in the bacon grease then save that grease to fry chicken. Can’t you just feel your arteries hardening?
Sometimes, after dad had finished up with his chores he’d snatch me up and take me for a ride in his Impala. He’d stop at a corner store and buy me a Dr. Pepper. A few times we’d stop in at a boxing gym and watch the men spar. That was a pretty smelly place but dad would let me wander around while he visited with his friends. One wall of this gym had a calendar with a picture of a naked lady who had big balloons on her chest. I had never seen a naked lady before and I remember asking my dad what was wrong with her chest. I thought it was some kind of disease like the pictures of chicken pox and measels rashes I saw in mom’s big medical book. Daddy never brought me back to the gym after that.
Most times when dad was finished his chores he’d go stretch out in front of the TV in his black, naugahyde lazy-boy with a cold Miller in one hand and a Winston in the other. As long as I changed the stations for him I was allowed to curl up on his lap. He’d watch baseball (he was a Yankee’s fan) while I buried myself in his chest. I liked the way he smelled. His feet were a bit stinky and sometimes he was sweaty but I liked the smell of Old Spice and tobacco. I’d stay cuddled up on his lap even when he fell asleep and started to snore. He didn’t seem to mind except when I’d pull at the little hairs on his chest.
One time, while I was nestled with him a news bulletin came on announcing that a skinny man with glasses and no last name had been shot at a ballroom in Washington Heights. My dad looked at me and said, “Remember baby girl, you ain’t never gonna be far off the plantation.” I didn’t know what he meant but I was scared when I saw him blink back his tears.
I don’t know if it was before my first communion or shortly thereafter but after nine years of marriage my mother learned that my father had two other wives. Three months later, my mom moved us to Canada.
I’ve since learned that my dad died February 18, 1980. He was only 10 years older than I am right now. Last year I found where he is buried. I’d sure like to see him one last time.