The Daddy of my little girl years was strong and handsome; he pulled me up on his lap and let me drink coffee with lots of creamer. Sometimes on a hot June day in Texas he'd come through the screen door, a watermelon balanced on his broad shoulder. His smile showed off snowy white teeth, and the bare spot on the top of his head shone bright when the sun hit it.
He mostly wore uniforms because he mostly went to work and came home, like everyone else's Daddy did. He wore black shoes that laced up and tied in tight bows, and navy blue pants with stripes up the legs, and light blue shirts with creases ironed in the sleeves that smelled of starch.
The Daddy of my plus middle-aged years wears practical shoes that feel good, and velcro across the top of his foot to make the fastening easier. His pants are a bit too short, and hooched up to cover the expanse of his tummy. No ironed creases, no smell of starch. No crispness anywhere, but rather a comfortable that makes for wrinkles and sags and such.
His glasses make a glare on his face so that it's hard to see his eyes behind them; Looking harder I see the wear and tear of years piled up, and the seeing behind makes my own eyes mist up from the knowing what I'm really seeing is not skin with age spots but time starting to catch up with him.
We take a drive out to his garden, where he proceeds to tell me about each patch; how he saved the seeds, soaked them overnight, tucked them in the dirt and watched them grow. How some made it and some didn't. I nod my head at all the right times, but really I'm taking in the sound of his voice, that funny, crooked way he has of holding his mouth when he smiles and his teeth that are starting to wear down.
I notice he's limping from a sore knee, this man who used to walk miles every day delivering mail. This man I thought was invincible. Everything in me wants to go back to the side of the house helping him dig for worms, and we'll do it all again. He'll be strong and have all the answers and protect me and love my mother and the rest of us. We'll all still fit in that little house on Wilson, with the play house in the back yard.
But you can't go back, time keeps moving and taking its toll. He's getting older, and like the Stevie Nicks song my own daughter, his grand-daughter danced to 12 years ago, indeed - I'm getting older too.
I look at the veins and brown skin and spots and wonder how time rolled by so quickly, and left behind its mark. Does he look at his little girl and wonder the same? See her silvery hair, veins on her hands, wrinkles around her eyes, and wonder what happened to his smooth-skinned little girl? Where did she go? I suspect so.
He tells me he sprayed and dusted all the plants at the beginning of the gardening season, but rains came, and it all washed off, and the bugs came back and they're doing their damage. Eating into the flesh of the pumpkin, a little bit at a time. You don't really notice unless you pull up those leaves covering it and get closer. Then you can see them chipping away. He needs to spray again. Yes, Daddy we do. Let's put another protective coat around us and stop time.
A bright yellow crop duster flies above us, overhead. He's got the birds-eye view of it all; he can see the bigger picture. I see it too, in a Lion-King-circle-of-life kind of way, but still everything in me wants to stop time, maybe even go back a bit.
He tells me summer's been too hot for tomatoes, no matter how much he waters they won't thrive. They put on blooms but no tomatoes and the leaves are all shriveled, and he wonders if he can garden next year or not. He'll have to wait and see how hard the winter is on him, if he has one more garden in him or not.
We walk over to the corn patch, pull back some of the shucks and see the full ears ready to pick, if you're only willing to deal with all the cockleburs surrounding them. We pull a handful for the old ladies in his building because everyone likes fresh corn for supper. Pick the cockleburs off while we're riding home in the car.
Off to the golf course so he can check on his stray cat. Daddy, who didn't really allow pets when we were growing up, has been feeding this feral, no-name cat for over a year. How can he have been my Daddy for 58 years and there's so much I don't know, and it scares me to think I don't have all the time in the world left to get to know the other sides of this man who raised me. A part of me wants to holler at him, "Daddy, we're running out of time and there's still so much I want to ask you about...."
I suggest he name the cat 'Lucky'.
I suggest he name the cat 'Lucky'.
We ride his cart out to the 9th hole, where he's planted an orchard. His figuring is that the golfers may want to get off their carts, pick a piece of fruit when they're hungry, so he's got plums and cherries and apples and peaches and who knows what all, growing right there on hole 9. Daily he hauls 5 gallon buckets of water to keep them going. He shows me his prize peach of the season, hidden in the middle of the tree. He's praying nobody will find this one peach, and some hot day, later in the summer, he'll stop and pick it and stand right there on hole 9 and eat that peach himself.
We lean together for a picture, and we both see that I'm taller than him now. He tells me he's shrinking.
I don't care so much about that as I do that time is shrinking, wafting away while I'm busy with the stuff of life 800 miles away, and how many more visits do we get?
I've only got today, right now, right this minute, so I take a long look around. Soak in this place he loves so much, imagine how many hours he's spent here, and try to imprint it on my brain. I need to take that with me when I leave here.
Daddy, you enjoy that peach later this summer, and you pour over those seed catalogs and plan that garden, and I'll be back for another visit. We'll make every minute we have count, knowing it won't be enough.
I hug him goodbye, say "I love you, Daddy." He answers, "I love you too sweetheart." I walk down the sidewalk toward the car, consider turning around one more time, for another look, and to wave goodbye. No Daddy, you just be here next year, when I come back.