June 11, 2010

Daddy's Girl

My Father's Day Homage to my Dad
My sister was eight and I was six the year we gave our dad pencils for Father’s Day (I never said we were creative gift-givers).
Mom gave us fifty cents each and sent us off to Saveway for our first solo shopping expedition. You could do that then, in the 50s, before child abduction was a common news item and, “Don’t talk to strangers,” was drilled into your head in-utero.
We walked by ourselves, waving at neighbors, the quarters in little plastic purses hanging from our wrists. We felt very grown-up going shopping by ourselves to pick out our own gift.
Bunny and I wandered up and down the aisles, surveying our options. What would Daddy like, we asked each other. There were razors, magazines, hankies, ashtrays, books, miniature cars. There was shaving cream and after-shave (Old Spice, Dad’s favorite), there were golf balls, batteries for Dad’s transistor radio, baseball caps and sunglasses. Each aisle beckoned us to buy, but we needed to see everything before we could pick out exactly the right gift. So we continued wandering.
Then we got to aisle five, which was like quicksand. There were coloring books and crayons, Silly Putty, Mr. Potato Head, paper dolls, pop-beads. Bunny and I giggled excitedly. It was a treasure trove of things we absolutely needed.
“You know what?” Bunny said. “We can buy something for us and still have money left for Daddy.”
It was so exciting. “What can we get?”

There was so much to choose from. We spotted a tin of Playtime watercolors. It had eight shiny squares of color inside and two tiny brushes, one for each of us. Oh, what art we could create with that! Then we found colored chalk and imagined the fine-looking hopscotch games we could draw on the sidewalk in front of our house.
Thirty-nine cents for the watercolors, fifteen cents for a pad of drawing paper, eighteen cents for the chalk, and we still had twenty-eight cents left over for a Father’s Day present. We looked around and found a package of pencils for twenty-two cents. Perfect! We even had enough money leftover for a jawbreaker each.
We skipped along home in our little matching shorts with ric-rac stitched along the pockets that Mom had made for us. She was sitting on old Miss Harriet’s porch, chatting, when we walked by.
“Want to see?” we asked excitedly, waving our bag.
“Go ahead on home,” Mom called. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” 

So we scurried on, anxious to play with our treasures.
By the time Mom came in we’d set up shop on the kitchen table. Ever so responsibly, we’d spread newspaper on the Formica and there we sat with the drawing paper, two glasses of mud-colored water and our paint tin. We were busily creating our masterpieces. What fun, dipping the brush in water, swirling it in a pot of color or two, creating hues of our own imagination and artworks of impressive flair.
Mom surveyed the scene. “What have you got?” she asked.
Bunny and I smiled broadly. “Watercolors,” we said. “Look!”
We displayed the works of art we’d already finished, anticipating exclamations of delight.
“Mmmm,” she said, not quite as enthusiastically as we’d expected. Bunny and I looked at each other.
“And what’s that?” she said, her eyes on the box of colored chalk.
“We’re going to make colored hopscotches,” I said, wanting to be excited again, but her expression was like a pin pricking my balloon.
Mom leaned against the counter, arms folded across her chest. She wore a green print sundress with wide, gathered straps on her shoulders. “You went to the store to get something for Daddy and you came home with watercolors and chalk for yourselves?”
Oh, I thought, she thinks we didn’t get anything for Daddy.
“We got a Father’s Day present, too,” I said. “See?” and I held up the package of pencils.
“So, you had one dollar for Daddy’s gift and you spent all but twenty-two cents on yourselves.”
Oh. I looked at Bunny, a look that said, “You’re the older sister. Do something!”
She looked at me with big, sad eyes. But then she came through, ever my hero.
“We can give him the chalk, too,” she told Mom.
“And the watercolors,” I added.
“Used watercolors?” Mom said. She didn’t have to use the word selfish.
The excitement we’d felt was puddled around our feet by now, our sparkling artwork dimmed, hopscotch a faint memory.
Bunny brightened a little.“We didn’t use the chalk and the pencils. We can take them back and get something else.”
“Well, that’s a good idea,” Mom said. My sister’s so smart, I thought, and looked at her with admiration. “But I don’t think that’s necessary.”
I studied Mom’s face trying to figure out if that was good. She smiled gently.
“Why don’t you put your things away for now,” she said and we hastily dropped our brushes in the water and gathered our paintings, relieved to be getting it all out of sight.
“When you’re done,” she said, “we’ll get some paper and you can wrap your presents.” She watched us for a moment. “I think Daddy’ll be happy with the gifts you picked out for him. I bet he’ll even let you use some of his chalk for hopscotch.”

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