“Honey, why don’t you follow me to the file room?” Dad said as I walked into the room. “I found something for you.”
He pushes his 102-pound, 5-foot-10 emaciated frame from the chair with a rustle of denim and a stifled groan and begins the shuffling walk from the dining area through the kitchen, the hallway, the office, the garage, to the file room. As we walk, I note the decay of a house that hasn’t been maintained properly in 20 years, that hasn’t been cleaned since the last time I did it three years ago, immediately before my mother screamed at me to stop touching her home.
When we built the five car garage onto the house, Dad wanted a fire-proof, humidity-proof file room added as well. The size of a master bedroom, the file room is lined with five-drawer file cabinets, standing testament to the endless variety of neutral colors: putty, grey, off-white, dove, tan, beige, wheat, sandstone, parchment, and more. One of Dad’s regrets is that when we moved the file cabinets in, we didn’t line them up in spectrum color order. Perhaps we’ll do that ‘when he gets better.’
Each file cabinet is filled with the massive minutiae that comprises an elderly man’s life. Three file cabinets are dedicated solely to the journals he’s kept every day for nearly 40 years. Each journal is a faithful account of the weather, each vehicle’s odometer reading at the start and end of the day, a time-stamped record of each place Dad visited that day and with whom (noted by their initials), and the occasional annotation of a transaction number from a receipt received from a business he visited that day. Each pad is 5×7 yellow lined paper, written on one side only, in meticulous all-capital letters. One per month, 40 years’ worth. Exceptional are the entries where he wrote his thoughts in addition to a recap of his itinerary. I only know of a handful: The day when each of his youngest three daughters was born; the day his mother died; and the evening he was so furious at my Christmas puppy for chewing through a piece of lawn furniture that he gave her away that evening.
Other file cabinets contain years upon years of rental and property contracts, records of legal disputes ranging from felony charges to small claims court. Birth certificates. Newspaper articles. Phone books of second-rate cities in the southwest, because you never know when you might need a phone number for a typewriter repair shop in Las Cruces, NM. One file cabinet is dedicated to his children, inclusive of step-children. Each child has a file folder containing items Dad thought were of note. For me, he has two.
Dad and my mother live in a home of overwhelming fragrance. Decaying philodendron, parakeet food, urine from stray cats, horse piles, unwashed dog, antiseptic wash, baby powder, coffee, Baby Soft, blackberry brandy and white zinfandel, musty papers, ashes from the fireplace. In such an environment, it’s astonishing I could pick out a single smell as the file folders that represent me were wrestled from their spot in birth order of children.
“Daddy, will you read to me?” I climb on his bed with a handful of Dr. Seuss books and my blanket. I am 4 or 5 or 6.
“Sure, turkey, What do you want to read?”
“Bar…Bar…Bar-tol-a-mew and the ‘Bleks.”
He takes the book. I lean my head on his shoulder, my elbow on his rotund abdomen, and shove two of my fingers into my mouth to suck. In my other arm, I have my white blanket, smooth yellow sateen edges, cheap and nubby with pile. While Dad reads, hot embers from his cigarette fall on the fabric, melting the polyester. Grey ash falls on my arm and I can see them float above the arm hair, quivering. I remove my fingers from my mouth and blow. The ashes float away, so unlike the sticky green oobleks. I nestle in for the rest of the story.
“Dad, it’s cold,” I complain. We’re driving in the white Thunderbird and the air conditioning is on full blast. It over-compensates for the hundred-degree temperatures outside.
“Sit back and put your blanket on,” Dad growls. We’re in a hurry and driving down 7th Street at double the allowed speed. He needs to get something notarized by 2:00 and it’s already 1:57. He won’t wear antiperspirants because he believes it’s unhealthy and he detests showing up at a business meeting perspiring. A hyper-chilled car interior is the result.
I curl up on the floor behind the driver’s seat, under the sun, away from the air’s force. I wrap the blanket around me and rub my fingers over the burnt circles the hot cigarette ashes left behind. In spite of my motion sickness from the car’s speed, I’m comforted as I feel the knobby rough spots.
“Daddy, we forgot my blankie!” I wail from the backseat. It’s late, after midnight, and we’re about 70 miles away from home on the highway to Los Angeles.
Dad and my mother groan from the front. “Use your sweater if you’re cold.”
I feel the prickle of tears. “It’s not the same. I miss it.” I sniffle and start to cry.
Mother looks at Dad who looks at the odometer and then back at me through the rearview mirror. He sighs heavily. “We’ll go back and get it.”
Dad reaches into a file folder and pulls out something raggedy and small. It’s no more than three inches square, although really it has no shape. It’s nubby with cheap pile, more grey than white. It smells of musky cigarette smoke and little girl tears, of car rides and Old Spice, of musty age and sunshine.
“Do you remember what you used to call this when you were a baby?” he asks.
“It was my ‘My’, my baby blanket.”
“I thought you’d like to have it back again.”
His long, thin fingers covered in parchment skin put the fraction of the blanket into my much younger hand. I thank him and make my excuses to use the restroom.
I don’t want him to see me cry.
Loosely inspired by a post on “effeuiller” entitled “Memory, Part One.” I recommend checking out this person’s blog.