My eldest daughter just called to tell us the Dean of Students at St. Edward’s is giving us her piano.
“What does that mean?”
“I met with her today, Mom. She’s going to have it delivered to our house. We just need to give her our address.”
“Did you tell her our story?” I asked. Me and my stories.
“Yes, I told her about your piano, and how we could ever bring it up. That’s when she gave us hers.”
My father bought me my piano when I was about 10. Family you-knows made it a sore issue once we moved to Austin years and years ago, so, over time, it was one of the many things I learned to let of when it comes to my extended family. In my youth, I got the hint and stopped asking for Grandma’s little table — “yah know? the one that sits in the corner and no one uses?” and anything else that would disturb the peace back home. I have siblings. And I don’t like emotional mess. So, poor piano got left behind.
As a result, I have very few things that belong to my father. I’ve begun to make peace with not having things that belong to him. What I want is his love and a part of his spirit. His love, I valued tremendously because I knew how to recognize it before he receding into the Alzheimer’s shadow. I carry it with me. His spirit, I feel when I am moved by humanity. Dad was a tough guy and an alcoholic. He drove everyone crazy, but there were moments when I could see the soul of another person resting in his eyes .. and it moved him. I carry this with me as well.
Sometimes I carry a wind-up key to the grandfather clock he bought with the piano — this, I took from the house in a fit of rebellion when I had to make Dad’s Daughter’s Presence known so that others would understand the importance of keeping my father safe. He could not speak for himself by now, I hammered away a solution the way I know my father would. He would not want this is how he would want that. And, by the way, he said it this was mine, that he intended to put a plaque on it that said “For Veronica’s 10th birthday, 1983,”together with my piano, so there! That ruckus made Dad safe. The key to his grandfather clock is my silent resolution to keep him safe. The grandfather clock and the piano can never, ever end up in my possession, and I give up whatever else on this earth. It’s a small consolation to hold in my hand what he held in his own hands to wind up his precious chime will remain with me. Like a bridge.
Sometimes I carry with me one of his old Memorex cassette tapes in an old tin box. Dad sang Rancheros and other songs from our Mexican heritage and recorded himself. I cannot ever remember him hearing himself on playback, I don’t think that was his point, I can’t ask him. He would just buy these packs of cassette tapes and record himself singing and stored them in a box. I have a few of them, and I occasionally carry one with me. The old tin box, I found in an antique mall, but I imagined had he been with me, it would be something Dad would stop to admire. He liked old sciency-looking stuff that could hold something important. Film that needed to be processed. Crystals from his Chemistry lab. A lens for his camera. A magnifying lens for pulling thorns out of my toes. To me, it’s his. This soothes me from what just is. Sometimes you just have to make life up as you go along. Like a fiction.
Sometimes I make up the sound of his voice in my home. His baritone echoes through my kitchen and he shuffles his way to our back patio door, inviting the children to come with him outside. Offering a push on the swings, Dad sits beneath the oaks, wearing 20-year-old longsleeves rolled up, an old military cap he found at the Airshow shading his very 80s bifocals. He enjoys the sun and the laughter of the children and smiles when you look at him. Are you okay, Dad? Do you need anything? “Si, mijita. No, I’m fine.” I don’t know what he’s thinking, but I know he prefers to keep his thoughts silent, a change he welcomes. He’s no longer the man who always needs something to say. He’s safe in the moment and he knows this. Like a child.
Over time, the more Dad’s voice grows silent, the more I support myself by reading the letters he wrote me when I was in my early 20s. “There’s another hurricane in the gulf, mijita, if you only knew. I had to board up the rent houses. Your brother helped me.”
And then, “The only thing that keeps me going is that at least I’m teaching what I like, Chem I. I’m very happy for you for doing so well in your classes. Believe me it makes my days.”
And then, “I’m sending you the insurance waivers you need to sign. Send them as soon as you get them so I can get them back to Caceres, our agent. Don’t forget to pray.”
And then, “Don’t forget to vote against Clinton. Bush needs all the help he can get.”
That was 1992.
Some of his letters are in red ink, a clear indication he broke away from grading papers because he was “rushing through this letter because it has to go out today.” Most of his letters are typewritten on the same Sears portable typewriter he used to compose his weekly tests, the typewriter he gave me several years on the sly. On the sly! As though he knew giving it to me would cause havoc, destruction and despair in the family.
“Take it, mijita,” he said as he slid it to me beneath the counter. “You want it?” Sure, Dad, am I gonna get in trouble? “Not if you put in your car, so hurry up!”
Not a week ago, as I was washing dishes, I looked up to discover Dad’s typewriter, in its case, sitting on the tendril-covered stump in our backyard. The day was marked with that beautiful 5 o’clock glow of the sun gracing the air through the trees, but I knew looking at the case that it would be another memory of my Dad I would have to let go.
My eldest tiptoed in my husband’s Keens to bring it back. “Don’t tilt it, Lauren. Just bring it in,” I told her.
When I opened it .. well. It had rained. You know the rest of the story.
I’m still letting Dad’s typewriter go.
Like the piano, the typewriter’s are another set of keys I can’t tinker with and explore, letting my fingers trace the thoughts of my Dad and his proximity to these things.
But they’re things. I have my memories. My Dad’s love and spirit and the strength he birthed in me. He knew what he was doing when he stoked the fire in little Verónica, hispanic accent on the “o.” I told you once he was a tempestuous guy. Tempestuous guys raise tempestuous daughters, tempered by experiencing the lives of family.
In a few days, Dad’s Daughter gets to see her father. I will live in the Moment. In these Moments, I remember the Living.