Every family has its stories about embarrassing and touching moments that are told hundreds of times over the span of a generation. There are stories about children embarrassing their parents in public, stories of first steps, first words, first haircuts and stories about more children being born into the family. Each one can easily be recited by every member of the family.
One such notable story in my family involves my birth. Upon arriving at the hospital, my father was assigned to wait in the outside waiting room during my delivery. Being his first child, I caused him an extreme amount of anxiety as he waited for the doctor's word, and as most fathers-to-be do in this time of waiting, mine was pacing from one side of the room to the other. On one such trip across the stark white space in mid-stride along the linoleum covered floor, he lost his footing and fell face first into the edge of a magazine scattered end table. The corner of this near lethal piece of furniture caught my father on the forehead above his left eye leaving a large gash in its place. Refusing to allow the nurses to stitch up the wound, he raced from the emergency room displaying a new row of butterfly band-aids across his forehead. Upon arriving at the maternity ward's waiting room, my father was greeted by a smiling doctor announcing the arrival of a baby girl. My mother relinquished her hold on her first child to her bandaged husband as he hurried to her side. He then mumbled something about wondering if I was worth all this trouble as he laughed and hugged me gently in his arms.
Throughout my early childhood I was always very close to my father. I have seen pictures of him asleep on our couch with a baby stretched across his chest dreaming just as soundly. I apparently preferred that sleeping location above any other. Still more pictures showed a toddler dressed from head to toe in heavy winter clothing riding through a thick layer of snow in a bright red Radio Flyer wagon being pulled by a large stout man wearing a brown quilted jacket, thick black glasses and a look of strain on his face. However, my favorite childhood photo is of my father holding me with a single strong arm against the ceiling of our house. In this picture my arms and legs are dangling from my body while my back is being rubbed against the bright white acoustic tile on the ceiling. The expression on my face conveyed exhilaration and terror, while my eyes showed complete trust.
Both of my parents have always worked away from the home. Having extremely different schedules, they would often take separate vehicles to events occurring shortly after the end of the work day. Occasionally my parents, my brother and I would eat dinner with my grandparents at their home. At the end of the evening, my brother and I would have to make a decision as to which parent's vehicle would be our ride home. Without fail my brother would ride with my mother and I would ride with my father. I always wondered why my brother consistently declined the company of my dad. The black Ford pick-up truck's huge cab and soft bench seat were always an inviting sight. On the half hour trips home I could rest my head against my father and sleep the majority of the way. The crook of his arm would wrap around my shoulder as I leaned against the cushion of his chest. Sleep would come to me before I would even notice my exhaustion.
Upon entering the fourth grade at a new school I began to have some problems with my school work. Having been moved up a grade, the homework took me off guard. I would sit at the dining room table for hours struggling to understand the foreign language of multiplication. As the time ticked steadily onward my frustration and fear of failure would begin to overtake me. It seemed as though my father would always know when I was at this point. He would remove himself from his La-Z-Boy, amble into the tension filled dining room, wrap his strong arm around my shoulders and sit with me until I could finish my homework with complete understanding.
Upon receiving an invitation to attend a movie with a boy I knew, I was forced to ask my parents for permission. As I pushed open the screen door leading to the carport where I would find my father, my heart began to leap in my chest and my feet did a little dance on the cold concrete below. I tip-toed down the front porch steps and began to walk around the big black Ford pick-up which stood between me and my first date. As I rounded the corner of the bumper, my father's face turned from the truck entrails he was examining to my anticipating upturned smile. He slowly raised his body out of the truck's mouth while wiping the grease from his rugged hands. The look on his face was one of knowing. He seemed to be able to read my mind and answer my yet unspoken question solely with his facial expression. As I asked the all important question his expression changed to one of mischief. His eyes said yes as his voice asked the 1001 questions I had expected him to ask. Throughout the interrogation which I new to be a formality, my stomach slowly rose to meet my throat as the anticipation of the night's events began to overwhelm me.
I readied myself and then took on the task of persuading my father that the time to go had indeed arrived. As I waited for his eyes to leave the television screen during the last minute of 'The Rifleman' my fidgeting was uncontrollable. Being too young to have a driver's license of my own, as was this evening's date, my father drove me to the movie theatre where I was to meet my 'friend'. As my hand reached for the truck's door handle allowing me to embark on my evening, my father's hand rested on my shoulder. As I turned to inquire, his strong arm pulled me close to him in a gentle hug. He mumbled something about having a good time then released me out into the cold night air. After the credits had rolled and the popcorn box was emptied I hurried out of the theater doors. Just as I had suspected, my father had waited outside in the truck the entire length of the movie. As I approached the passenger side door and tapped on the window his nap was abruptly cut short. I opened the unlocked door and climbed into the warm truck cab. As the rather long trip home began, my father wrapped his arm around my shoulder, I leaned my head onto his chest and was fast asleep in seconds.
As my high school career progressed I began to become more interested in school sporting events and the social life that went with attending the games. Still being unable to provide my own transportation, my father was the next best thing. He would drop me off at the beginning of the game, occupy himself during the event while listening to it being broadcast on the local radio station and return to pick me up after the game was over. One rainy night, the hoard of teenagers rushed out of the gymnasium after the home team had been victorious to find a dark and dreary night ahead of them. As we each looked across the slushy parking lot wondering which car would be our ride, I noticed a large pick-up flashing its parking lights. I ran across the messy lot to the signaling vehicle while shielding my eyes from the piercing raindrops. I thankfully climbed into the warm dry cab while noticing many others bracing themselves for the long walk home.
Although during my high school years my father wasn't as much a part of my social life as when I was younger, he continued to play an essential role in my new life drama. Along with receiving my driver's license I also received a curfew. I was allowed to participate in social activities whenever I chose as long as I arrived home by the designated time. Each night as I pulled my car into the lit carport I knew what I would find behind the large front door. I consistently found my father sitting in his worn brown La-Z-Boy watching some late night movie, denying the fact that he'd waited up for me to arrive home safely before going to bed himself.
After the many years of living with my parents the day came when I was to board the plane at the Memphis, Tennessee, airport en route to Logan International Airport in Boston. As my parents and I loaded my bags into the car and prepared to leave for the airport and the plane that would whisk me away to begin my college career, I could feel the tension in the air around me. My mother gave her usual lecture about what do to and what not to do, call her when I arrived and eat right. My father said only one thing as he hugged me goodbye. "I love you, and we'll always be here if you want to come home."
Whenever I think of my family, I think of things like Sunday drives around the countryside, watching the sun set while playing basketball behind the house and snowball fights in the slushy front yard. At least, those are the first things that come to mind. Occasionally when I dig deeper into my mind I am able to retrieve some more obscure memories, those that get tumbled into the piles of random thoughts. These memories are the ones I grasp when I'm feeling alone or frightened. These memories get me through the hard times and remind me that I will always have a place to go home to, a place where someone will always wait up for me and leave the porch light lit, a place with open arms.