There is a story that I think of this time of year without fail every time we get close to Christmas. The memories I have of my father are for the most part when he was old, when his mind and body were failing him but this is one of my very favorite memories of the two of us together.
It was Christmas open house at my elementary school. I was about six or seven and I had been in the annual Christmas play which was followed by a tour of our classrooms and meeting our teachers. Showing off our neatly written stories that were hung all along the chalkboard, letters in a straight line and all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted, a display of our very best work to astound our families. Art projects at our desks and the classroom tree that showcased our homemade ornaments made out of ivory soap bars with that particular years school picture glued to one side and a string rope poked through the middle so the ornament could hang weighing down the prickly branches of the douglas fir that hovered over us in our classroom. I remember proudly dragging my Mom and Dad around showing them everything that had my mark on it from the waterfountain I drank out of to my very own cubbie where all of my belongings were kept throughout the day.
My Mom was on the PTA so when the evening events were over my Dad and I got to walk the four blocks home together in the dark while Mom stayed after to help clean up. My Dad had just gotten a new winter coat, it was light tan, suede and very soft. I know it was a lot of money because they ordered it special from the store in Cincinnati that we had gone to a few weeks prior. It looked like he could be in a cowboy movie with that coat, it had big square pockets with wide stitching and it was lined with wool. He looked so handsome in his new coat.
I had left my gloves in my cubbie at school and it was a very cold night, snow was lightly falling so I shoved one hand in my pocket and my Dad took my other hand in his hand and put them both in his coat pocket. I can see his smile and the wink he would always give me, a reassuring gesture that over time would prove to be the one form of communication that could not be crippled by his disease. Then it happened, and I can still see it in slow motion just like a stolen base replay on tv…I tripped and fell hard to the ground…the sound of the pocket tearing away from the body of the coat echoed in the silence of the night. The skinned up hand and scraped knee would not bring the tears, but the sight of the new coat with one floppy pocket did.
“Are you okay kiddo”, he asked as my Dad looked me over, he kissed my hand and forehead telling me it was okay, that it was an accident. Through the tears and quivering lips I mumbled “but your new coat… mom is going to be MAD…” he assured me he could fix it…”Have a little faith in your old Dad”. We walked the rest of the way home and once inside the house my Dad told me to run and get mom’s sewing kit from their bedroom. How he was going to do this was beyond me, but I raced to get the kit and sat in front of him on the floor waiting in anticipation. I still thought we were going to get in trouble, me for causing the tear and Dad for making it worse. His big calloused hands worked with the small needle and he picked a color that matched perfectly, the needle was threaded in no time and he started the task at hand. I sat in awe of how quickly his fingers worked magic repairing the pocket in what seemed like just a few minuets. “All done, how do you think it looks”….I shouted at him “YOU CAN’T EVEN TELL DAD!” When I asked him how he learned to sew, his response was not unlike his answer for most things “in the Army, kiddo”, which always seemed crazy to me as a kid, what in the world would you sew in the Army! He smiled his big grin and said it will be our secret that no one else would know. And so it was, it was never mentioned again, and I have never had the heart to ask my mom if she knew about the pocket incident because I have a feeling it really was our secret. I figure now is a good time to share this secret with you and also share a glimpse into the kind of man my Dad proved to be through out his life. Tender, loving, gentle and one hell of a seamstress!