Wednesday, April 10, 2002

When My Dad Wakes Up Today

When my dad wakes up today, the first thing he will notice is that he is dead. But he'll take that in his stride, because my mom will be cooking bacon downstairs and getting the coffee ready and these divine smells will keep him from worrying too much about it. He will dance a jig as he jumps out of bed, to realize he's got his young healthy body back. He'll pant with excitement to find a Life Magazine on his nightstand. It will be 1948 and he will be 30 and he'll be in Youngstown, Ohio long before they had a zip code of 44444.

He'll dance a "ain't I cute" happy dance in the mirror to look at his strong, lanky, 6'4" body all dressed up in a perfectly well-worn pair of red plaid flannel pj's, size XL, his boyish dark brown hair thick and devilish. He'll marvel at his graceful dancing feet, like a baby in a crib discovering his own new toes, ready to do their entrancing steps. He'll fly downstairs to grab my mom for an impromptu kitchen Lindy, cranking the post-war Big Band music on the kitchen radio and arching her backwards into a ballroom swoon, safe in his steady, strong arms.

She will say with a sexy sneer, "What the hell's gotten into you?" And if the frying pan weren't full of hot, greasy bacon, crisping up perfectly -- even she can't burn the bacon in heaven -- she would take the pan and give him a whack on the butt with it, but instead a swipe with the spatula will have to do. He will yank her by the apron strings reeling her towards him, into a big hug and kiss. She'll finally just give in and let him mess up her pretty make-up. But then back to business, she'll push him away. "Get out of here," she'll warn with a phony sternness. "Go get the kids."

He'll stop dead in his tracks to realize he even HAS kids. She'll point out the kitchen window to the yard -- a green heaven of wavy, windy, grass and flowers, daffodils blooming, bending down to bow to him, on a perfect spring morning. Jean and Bill will be 10 and 8 and mucking about in a mud puddle with sticks and leaves, fascinated with the tiny boat they've built. My dad will choke up to see this, but my mom will have none of this early morning lollygagging, pushing him out the door.

The screen door will slam with a happy familiar whack, and my dad won't miss that often ignored sound of home. Look at him grin. He will relish it, but not for long, because he'll nearly fall over his old retriever dog, who will shoot from stage left to see if he can upend this happy man. The dog's got the paper in his mouth, and every damned story is good news, one better than the next, but he'll have no time to marvel at it. He'll run to his kids and scoop them up, squeeze them so hard they'll whine, "Dad!" They'll roll on the grass in a mock wrestling match, the two of them unable to keep a good man down.

When he drags them in the house, my mom will see two kids covered in mud, and her husband up to the usual malarkey. "March," she'll order, pointing towards the bathroom. Dad will supervise the soap and make the thing bubble, splash and spill all over the bathroom, making a bigger mess than either kid could muster, much to their delight. They'll be in giggles and my mom will hear them playing. She'll serve up the fried eggs, over-easy, just right and the perfectly crispy bacon, the A&P coffee will be dark and rich, she's pouring it now. She'll take her apron off slowly, hang it on the hook, sit at the table primly, a shapely wise and wonderful brunette, suppressing a grin as she hears them horsing around. And with a yell, she'll begin a new day, "Get in here you ruffians!"

They'll come flying in a pandemonium of boyish, girlish crewcut and braids, grins from ear to ear, trying not to laugh. But where's my dad? Obviously planning an entrance, the kids can barely control their giggles. My dad will turn the corner now, all eyes on him suddenly. He's still his pj's but now sports a porkpie hat, and has a beard of bubbles, "Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!" he sings out. The kids run to swipe the bubbles off his chin.

"Cut that out. Get over here and eat your breakfast," Mom gives Dad her best scowl, makes her "no-foolishness" face. They sit down to breakfast, she passes my dad the biscuits. He deftly applies butter and honey. "Katie, my girl," he says, with a smile that can never stop, "I've died and gone to heaven."