No one believes me when I tell them I do not know what my father did for a living. In elementary school I had a friend whose dad was a doctor. I had a friend whose father was the conductor of the Philharmonic orchestra in our city. My mother pushed me to be friends with both those girls. I think she hoped it would raise our status by association.
My father was rarely home. His business trips took him away for indefinite periods of time leaving my mother with bills to pay and no money to pay them. I knew that she asked my grandfather for money which couldn't have been an easy thing to do. My grandfather was not the type of man to say I told you so, but his eyes were sad when he handed my mother money to pay for groceries and to keep the bill collectors away for another week.
If there had been a "Take Your Daughter to Work" day in the '60's. I would have ended up in an old warehouse. A small, tool filled warehouse that smelled like old tires. My father had a desk and a swivel chair in the corner of the room but it was piled high with junk.
Instead of saying he was going to work or going to the warehouse, my father would say, I'm going down to "S"street.
66 "S"Street was in the black neighborhood. My father, a white man, never seemed to have any problems with them and they never seemed to have a problem with him.
The people my father had problems with were the people who wanted their money. One afternoon when I was seven my mother opened the front door to some men who needed to see my father about "business."
My husband is out of town, she told them, glancing nervously at her company. I quickly offered the ladies in the dining room more cake and coffee so they would not be so intent on the conversation in the hallway. I felt sorry for my mother. I knew she was ashamed and embarrassed in front of the women. These women knew where their husbands were and what they did for a living.
When my father returned from that particular trip he brought me a present. While he and my mother argued over unpaid bills and strange looking men at the front door, I played listlessly with a doll dressed in a Japanese kimono. She was almost my height. I remember not wanting her in my room.
I always hoped my father would start doing a real dad job. I wanted him to have an office in one of the tall sleek buildings downtown. With elevators and secretaries. Not a sliding wooden door with rows of padlocks and the number "66" painted on the front.
The few times I was there, I pretended the warehouse was a fun place as I spun around in the dusty swirly chair. I did my best to make beautiful stories in my head about the dismal surroundings.
Until the day my father threatened to kill a man with an ax and my uncle begged on his knees for my father to let the man go.
No one died that day in the warehouse.
Forty years later I live near a restaurant with a wood burning oven. Outside my bedroom window I can hear the chop, chop, chop of the ax as they split the wood for tomorrow's pizza.
I shut my window and turn up the volume on the television until they are done.