The Gift of Story
A Lasting Gift That Will Never Break Or Run Out of Batteries
My father is gone now, so I celebrate Father's Day differently. But I am so grateful I can celebrate, and remember him, and that is because I still have his stories. So when that day rolls around in June, I get with my children, and I tell them his stories.
Now, before he passed away, I was able to capture so many of his memories, from the war in Vietnam, to his practical jokes he played on my mom and his college buddies. I was also there to witness a lot of his antics, myself, and capture them. He was pleased to no end to hear them retold. My favorite line he said after hearing me retell them, was "Yep, that's just how it happened, except for a couple of lies!". (He appreciated my philosophy of "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story").
Being a playwright, I was able to tell some of his stories on stage, and to me, those were the best gifts I ever gave my dad. He was being remembered by his community and family and friends, and he even got to see a lot of these performances before he left this world.
Imagine capturing a story from your own Father, and then telling him his story to him, or presenting it in a pretty scrapbook or giving it to him, nicely written up and framed. It beats a tie any day. It lets him know, "Dad, I have been listening to you, even when you thought I wasn't".
A Story For My Dad
The Fourth Of July Incident
It's legendary now, really. The fourth of July on Wilmont Lane. Not just the bar-b-que and the dozen grandchildren running around the yard, having water fights and playing wiffle ball with their parents, who, a dozen years ago were running around having water fights and playing wiffle ball with each other. It's a time for lawn chairs to be dusted off, bug spray slathered generously, and the event of the summer: Dad's fireworks extravaganza. Never mind that he's breaking 14 state and 3 federal laws concerning fireworks in this part of Virginia.
The family knows. The neighbors know. And friends from times past remember, and drop by to catch the show. He begins in the back yard, near the dirt pile, where the kids are playing. He lights off the colored smoke bombs for the kids. Not really bombs, but they make a really cool smoke screen. The kids love them. Dad prefers smoke bombs these days, too, since the pinwheel incident.
For you law abiding citizens, Pinwheels do what they sound like: they spin and whirl around and around when you light the fuse on the ground. Dad thought it would be interesting if he nailed a bunch of pinwheels up and down a 2x4 and stood it up straight. Then he'd light the pinwheels. In the dark, you wouldn't see the board, you'd just see a vertical row of spinning fireworks. Interesting concept.
And they wonder where we got our fetish for blowing things up?
Dad attaches the spinners to the board, and it's pre-set before everyone gathers for the display. As the pink of the sky turns to black, our house is descended upon by spectacle-hungry visitors. Everyone jockeys for the best position in the lawn, and the master appears. He pretends to look for a lighter, as if to fool mom from knowing he sneaks a smoke now and then.
The first screamer is lit. Then, one after the other, bottle rockets, fountains, shooters, poppers, boomers in every available color. His choices are superb, each burst complementing and overtaking the previous. Then he lights the pinwheels. They begin to whirr, top to bottom. His vision realized, we all applaud wildly. But something has gone awry. The middle pinwheel breaks free, and in a mad dash, as if with a mind of its own, begins chasing the very man who nailed it to the 2x4.
We all sit stunned as we watch the old man run faster than we've seen him go since my brothers foolishly taunted him saying "oh yeah, you can't spank me if you can't catch me" and got surprised when he did.
It was a mad race to outrun the crafty pinwheel. Dad was running in one direction, then another, but the pinwheel somehow whirred in every direction he went.
Dad, sweating, panting, hoping that the thing would finally die off, continued dodging the maniacal firebomb. Then, with a whiff of ozone, the pinwheel puffled out and dropped to the ground. My father was safe. Those of us who laughed were not.
The rest of the evening's fireworks continued in silence- we were afraid that even one word would cause an unstoppable chain reaction of laughter to erupt. The epiphanal moment of the triple fountain flare and bottle rocket medley far outshone any previous fireworks display that the old man had done, but on this night, nothing would be remembered more than the vengeful pinwheel. Even now, we are forbidden to mention it in his presence.