I am a pig-tailed, 4-year-old girl, demurely leaning against my dad’s extended knee. He is half kneeling in some wild daisies beside tall sheltering pines. He is grinning with pride at the camera, my right hand is thoughtfully touching his chin. My adoring eyes are on his face as I take the first bite out of a perfect red apple. It is a 1969 photo of peace and approval. It is the goal I seem to be always reaching for.
I can still remember the look on my dad’s face when I first told him that I was going to change my major to education. The stunned shock on his face turned into a theatrical, head shaking from side to side grimace. “Oh, No,” he lamented, holding his hands up toward the heavens. He supplicated God in Mock horror, “My daughter, a teacher?!?”
He let his hands fall to his sides, his eyes closed, shoulders bent. “No, not a teacher,” he mumbled.
You see, my dad believed that teachers must take a class in college on how to irritate salespeople. It is probably called “Retail 101:How to Annoy Salespeople Because You Know Everything”. Every teacher he has ever known has taken the course and they strolled through his store like prim know-it-alls.
“Dad,” I comforted, “Maybe I won’t be a teacher forever, but it’s what I need to do now.”
The Family Furniture Business
Nine years later, I was sitting in a Windsor chair at an oak harvest table. Its worn, distressed finish gave a warm glow under the battered blue catalog. I was working on a drapery estimate. The customer wanted “dusty emerald” swags and jabots on her living room windows. The doorbell rang and Pat rambled in through the double glass doors at the front of the store. “Hi, Art!” he greeted my dad heartily and reached out to shake hands.
“Hi there, Pat. How’s business?” my dad questioned. (I’m sure that he was hoping mattress sales were going to be picking up soon.)
“Ahh, May has always been weak, but, you know, June always seems to pick up a bit.” It sounded like Pat had used this line a few times already.
“Anything new to show us today?”
“No, I was just going back home after being over a Bob King’s place,” Pat laid his beat-up briefcase on the tired aqua counter that separated the sales area from the office. He held up his hand to the woman with the graying bouffant hair in the office, “Hi, Nancy.”
“Hi, Pat,” Nancy responded, somehow flattered.
My dad probed, “How is Bob doing these days?”
“Same as everyone. Customers are outside working on their yards instead of shopping.” Pat offered. This was the accepted justification for the current slump in furniture sales. He looked around the store to take in the scenery. “Leeeesa,” he coaxed, wanting to draw me into the conversation. “How’s my favorite salesman doing?”
“Crazy as always,” I offered in response with a happy smile. I knew what was coming next.
“Listen to her,” my dad glowed, “We’ll need to send her on vacation soon so some of the other salespeople can make some money. We sold two Society mattresses last month. I got one and Lisa popped the other one out of here.”
“Well, well,” Pat looked from my dad to me, winked, and then turned back to my dad. “Just a chip off the old block.” Pat nodded his head and lifted a finger to make a point. “It’s a good thing though, that she got her looks from her mother.”
Right there, right then, my dad’s cup of pride was full and running over. He grinned at me and I smiled back. I softly giggled, shook my head, and got back to my drapery order.
Spring, my 8th-grade year. I was on the track team that practiced every day on the black oval that encircled the high school football field. I was one of the girls that the coach tries to put in a variety of events, always searching for the one where I would do the least amount of damage to the team: the 440- and 880-yard races, maybe the long jump, the shot-put or discus.
Whenever we had a home meet, I would always watch and wait. I can still see the dull, red AMC Hornet parked at the closest edge of the parking lot, my dad resting his arms on the silver cyclone fence. He was supposed to be at work–maybe he took a late dinner–but I knew he’d come.
I waved as I slipped off my thick, mossy green BDHS sweatshirt. After a few moments, his eyes found me. He returned my wave and his graying beard broke into a smile.
It was a black Saturday night just after Halloween. The wind was alive and the fallen leaves were wet from the rain.
Trevor and I had been to the only movie in town with Lori and Greg. Both couples had been having private disagreements. My dad pulled up to the curb to chauffeur us all home.
We hopped in, I was sandwiched in the front seat between dad and Trevor. WXRO. the local country and western station was crooning loud enough to mask the edgy silence between the couples. I don’t remember what led to Todd’s demanding, “Stop the car…let me out, NOW!” But my dad wouldn’t. He slowed up to take a curve that ran past the old rusty brick shoe factory and Trevor popped the handle on his door.
“What the hell…?” my dad’s words ignited the tension in the car. He slowed, Trevor jumped out and the door swung closed. My dad screamed the station wagon to the curb. The door thundered as he slammed it on his way out of the car. My dad roared, “Don’t you ever…!” It was all I caught of their screaming duel. They pointed in hatred at each other and accusingly at the car. I could almost see the verbal fire that they were trying to burn each other with.
“It’ll be okay, Lisa. It’ll be okay.” Lori consoled me from the back seat. “Just stay in here. Let them get it out.” Her words barely register in my ears. I held my hands to my face, only partially protecting my eyes from the warfare. My mind was numb with the fear that Todd would tell my father…that we’d been intimate.
Trevor’s thumb jabbed at his own chest as he yelled. They were standing on a small patch of grass beneath a watery yellow street light. The misty drizzle had returned and my father suddenly looked defeated. His hands became silent as he stood listening to the angry boy before him.
Then, almost as abruptly as it had begun, my dad walked back to the car. Trevor walked home and we dropped off Lori and Greg at their respective homes.
I remember the mourning silence between us as dad drove. Once in the house, we hung our coats on the hooks under the mirror by the kitchen door. Standing in the deathly still, I pleaded, “Dad, I’m sorry.”
He turned toward me, wrapped his arms around my shoulders, and in a voice that I had never before heard, he wept, “It’s just, that…I love you so much…I never want anything bad to ever happen to you.”
He let go of me, quickly turned, and walked to the basement door. He went downstairs where the TV was and closed the door behind him. I ran upstairs and grabbed the limp feather pillow off my bed. I sat in the dark corner, on the soft pick carpet and rocked, hugging the pillow to my chest as it caught my tears.
It was a Saturday, 5:25 pm, and only a couple of minutes until we would turn off the lights and lock up. I had been putting off this moment for the entire day, the entire week. I walked to the back of the store, past mauve swivel rockers and royal blue wall-away recliners, a cherry, “Queen Anne” table, and a hand-painted Bob Timberlake lamp. A burnished brown leather sofa lured me to sit with its sweet aroma. But I walked past it and into my dad’s work area. He had a recliner upside-down on a carpeted work table. The corrugated brown fabric was worn. A spring had sprung and he was putting it to rights.
I put my right hand on the pine workbench as if to stay myself. Leaning my head to the side, I began rambling, “I promised myself that I would talk to you before we left today…I have decided that I will be leaving the store.” My mouth felt like I had been talking all day…I pushed on, “I’m going to be taking classes towards a Master’s degree starting this summer, and then I will be teaching again in the fall.”
My dad focused on the insides of the chair. I don’t remember if he continued to work or if he stopped. He didn’t look at me but asked, “When will be your last day?”
Feeling the gouged, bruised workbench under my hand, I answered, “the end of the month, or two weeks. Whichever the new boss wants.”
“Have you told him yet?
“No, not yet.” I stumbled on, “I wanted you to know…before.” After leaving teaching a short two years ago, dad and I had complimented each other in the family business. But when it was sold to a new owner–it felt like a job–I wasn’t personally invested anymore. I had already talked to my mom and she had stressed how disappointed my father would be if I left.
“Well don’t wait too long,” he continued to peer into the underside of the chair.
“No, I’ll tell him when he comes at the end of the week. I want to talk to him in person, not over the phone.” Then there was a moment of silence, the theme song from a cop show jangled in the background. “Love you, dad.”
“I love you too”, he kept his eyes focused on the movement of his hands inside the chair.
Turning around, I moved in a daze to the single back door to lock it and flip off the switches in the power box. I walked fast and took deep breaths.