Ice cream. Vanilla. Mayfield’s. Zap 8 seconds
Once the progeny had flown, responsible (or not) for the procurement of their own grub and dental bills, the Keeper no longer had reason for denying the Master of his sweets. His favorite: Ice cream. Vanilla. Mayfield’s. Zapped 8 seconds. The microwave timer became his constant companion as he aged. It pleased his chemist’s soul. It provided ritual.
Only as he aged? I asked myself…Ah, maybe not…
“Three minutes to hamburgers!” Dad had always used precise timing rather than firmness or juice color to discover the doneness of the hamburgers on the grill. Our generation’s epitome of a happy summer memory: the cook out. Mother's enthusiasm for cooking potatoes in pots of melted resin. Swinging in Polly’s Island rope hammocks. Watermelon seed spitting contests.
It took twenty years and my importing a foreign Chemist husband who offered to take over the grilling before my father admitted he’d never really cared for that task. Shock! Disillusionment! Dad's quiet smile had lied, perhaps intimating a respite from mother’s testiness offered by the presence of neighbors and copious amounts of Budweiser. So much for the emotional truth behind childhood snapshots.
It had been cerca 1950 when he took a job with the Health Department of Washington County, in Upper East Tennessee. There, my dad-to-be met a local beauty, buxom with white-blond hair. She had been her high school valedictorian. She had a pilot’s license. She was vivacious and funny; perhaps he failed to recognize the anger than coursed through her veins. Perhaps he knew his tortoise-shell would be strong enough to enable him to plod on through any maelstroms.
John Craven had to be discovered. Noticed. Coaxed to share a quiet smile, a love of quip. A hug.
Direct inquiries about his likes, dislikes, histories, successes or failures were of little avail. I managed to garner just two stories about Jack as a boy. One was about running behind the Memphis street cars and pulling on a wire that disconnected the vehicles from their source of electricity and watching them grind to a stop. A joyful malicious, nine-year old grin accompanied that one.
The smile was younger that accompanied his retelling of eating all the donuts bought for the whole family before his mother could drive home with them.
I asked him about his experience in World War II. All I got was, “Oh, I went to Kansas to take a WAC’s place so she could go into battle.”
After I was born, so the story goes, someone asked him if he was disappointed at the fourth girl and his reply was “Nah, I’m too old for Little League.” Self-deprecation was one of the principle scutes in his shell.
I discovered by accident his preferences regarding female attractions. A young woman, I had driven my own car to rendezvous with the family for a celebration. The next morning I was returning to the motel to fetch the last of my things when my Dad gave an involuntary, perplexed shake of the head when I greeted him in the parking lot. He later came to me offering a quiet confession, “Katie, as I was walking out to the car this morning, I saw a young woman with pretty legs and she said to me, ‘Good morning, Daddy!’”
His it was his very deference, his precision, his preference for following the lead of the women he married which allowed him to keep on plodding on, loving quietly and allowing the branches to flail about him, wounding not.
A respectable amount of time after Mother’s passing, he began to step out around town. Met a second lady of quality, courted and married her. His last 10 years of life were the happiest that I ever witnessed. I envy him not his happiness, but there is one thing which I have yet to forgive.
Let me back up. Dad’s was a working class family. His father was a plumber. He was the only of 5 brothers and sisters to finish college. My cousins of whom I know very little (I blame his tomb-like quiet) were policemen, hairdressers, insurance agents. Jack, on the other hand, finished college. After the war, medical school. When questioned about his choice of specialty, he joked that he’d made the choice because it promised the most normal working hours. His love of natural science was only revealed years later when he gave the name The Photon to his boat years later.
He was generous with his money, yet never ostentatious.. It was there to be used, the fruits of which to be enjoyed in a discreet manner. You never spoke about money around the house. Yet for a man who rarely offered any expression of his affection, there was a temptation for his daughters (I speak at least for myself) to confound his material generosity and his love.
His second wife had to give up her military widow’s pension. He asked her to give up her job. He wanted to be the breadwinner. I know, now, that that was his one need. That soft-spoken, wife’s-lead-following-man had his pride and it was his ability to provide. She understood.
After his funeral, it was she who had to explain the intricacies of the will, the division of his investments. And it was that that I envied. With her, he had managed to honestly state his needs and explain the financial manifestations of his love. He had denied that intimacy to me.
As is the child’s wont, my sisters and I have had to measure the meanings of his mysteries: to discover when his silence meant appreciative quiet and when it hid mere tolerance.
I mean, “Gosh Dad! If you never liked to grill, what can I count on?”