The bus was long gone, the Griffith Elementary School parking lot was empty, the girl scout leader slowed as she drove away, waved goodbye and said, “I’m sure your mom will be here any second.”
My little sixth grade self sits on the Samsonite which was deposited on the sidewalk, on the outside of the fence, not even worried a bit; my parents always showed-up…at least they did … until today.
They had to remember, after all, I had been away to camp for a week!
The sun was starting to slant, I stared across the street to Pierce Park, looking at the giant trees lining the west side of the park that I had always wanted to climb. They were already casting large shadows; giant dark fingers grabbing the grass.
The dark. It was starting to get dark. Time to get home, time to get in, time for supper, time to check in, be home before dark… time.
I was only really afraid of the dark.
The closet in my room, the string from the light hung down seemed to move all by itself and changed everything into a monster.
Then there was the dark under my bed.
I jumped a long way from the door to bed each night, so whatever moved in under the bed while I was gone all day, couldn’t get me. If I was very very brave, I would hang my head over the side, and slowly pull the covers up, and peek under. But that didn’t happen very often, and never when it was really really dark…
I was still safe if I had to put one foot down after I jumped for the bed, but not two. Two steps, and then I would have to call out,
He always came, and tucked me in, tucked arms in couldn’t move tight, tight like a wee sausage roll, tight and safe; he on his knees next to the bed would kiss me, smooth my hair from my face, tuck my hair behind my ears, away from my eyes, and suddenly the dark things weren’t so scary anymore.
I wondered which way to go, through the park, through the dark fingers to Thomas mall, and then look for the movie sign.
The movie sign, the billboard was just at the top of my street. If I could find the sign, I could look across 44th street and see Lewis Ave. and I would almost be home, sweet home.
But the dark fingers were all the way across now. There was no going that way.
I turned into the sun and made for 44th street. I would follow the sidewalk down, then across Oak St. and then walk until I saw the movie sign.
The Samsonite had two little wheels, and a strap on the opposite side, convenient! Not.
The little me pulled that giant suit case down the sidewalk, the two-wheel and strappy handle Samsonite down the sidewalk muttering the entire way…In my imagination I was greeted with cheers and tears…
“Oh I can’t believe we forgot you, our golden child, oh what terrible parents we are, oh will you ever forgive us?”
I plotted my revenge, what gifts they the parents who forgot would have to bestow upon me, the golden child, because of their forgetting….what could I ask for….? The world was mine for the asking…
It was a long while before I reached the house, the suitcase was heavy, I stopped and sat, and started out each time with a new want clear in my mind…candy, shoes, or a new pet? Oh boy they are going to pay for this!
I opened wide the door triumphant, pull the Samsonite its last few yards and slam the door behind me.
NOW they will pay!
My baby sister Michele skips through the living room singing, it takes me a moment to hear her words…
“Papa’s dead, Papa’s dead, Papa’s dead….”, she sings.
She is only 5, one does forgive, eventually.
Papa, my only Papa, my mother’s father, the gentle giant.
The breath is gone, I go to my room, head hung, can it be true? Can it be my Papa is dead?
I count my memories of him on a single hand.
Splinters in my feet.
Dad built a deck off the house, i am 4 or 5… i sit then stand, then run, the tiny pieces of wood enter my feet, painful.
Papa, my mother’s father, takes me in his lap. The pain fades with his soft hands as he takes the splinters from my tiny feet.
Christmas 1967. Wispy Walker Doll. She is blonde, taller than I am, and walks, how? I take her to the cellar and take her apart, trying to discover her secrets, then can not put her back together. He finds me there, puts Wispy Blonde Walker back together and never ever tells anyone, never ever, crossed his heart and hoped to die he promised me, never to tell, and he never did, he kept his promise and told no one, ever.
George… George … George of the Jungle, watch out for that tree! My Papa is learning to drive. He has moved from Springburn Scotland after retirement, and my sisters and I are in the back of the wagon as my Dad is giving Papa a driving lesson. Papa’s name is George, George of the Jungle is currently a cartoon high in our cultural vocabulary. So my sisters and I sing and rock back and forth from the backseat, “George, George, George of the Jungle, watch out for that tree! ” as he learns to drive. He is not pleased.
Papa now driving has driven across the United States to Arizona, I am up a tree in the front yard, see him pull in to the driveway.
“Is it a dream!” I yell as I dive into his arms.
Pumpkin Pie. Driving from the Worlds Fair in Toronto, he spies a church bake sale, and buys a pie. Approaching the U.S. border, he is compelled to toss said pie out the window, as all immigrants in the car fear they will be jailed for bringing a Canadian pumpkin pie across the border. I think of Papa every time I spy, a pumpkin pie.
Harris Tweed jacket, stingy brim hat, and always a shirt and tie.
A bookbinder by trade, with the magical ability to gild the edges of a book, create swirled end papers, and then bind it all in leather. Springburn Scotland Masonic Lodge member, a moustache that tickled, proper, smiling, finger missing Papa.
He had lost the four fingers of his left hand mid joint as a lad working at Collins Book Binders.
He would tell us when we asked, “Papa what happened to your fingers?”
“Cut them off and ate them as sausages!”
We would squeal.
It was the only time I saw my mother cry, standing there ironing, getting ready to travel to her fathers funeral. Well that, and the time she got bleach in her eye. But that doesn’t really count.
Dad says, “guess you have heard…”
There was no sorry, no excuse, no reason given. even my little sixth grader self understood.
He was gone, my mother was an orphan forever more, my Papa who had crossed oceans, sworn oaths, bound books was gone forever.
I know my wish now, know what I want, and know it will never come true.
I just want him back, for a little while.
And still as I sit and tell the tale almost 40 years later, George is still missed, as much as that day I walked home alone from camp, and I still want him back.
There is so much I don’t know about George.
I have another hand to fill with memories.