When it was our birthday, my dad would wake us up very early and take us to the grocery store to pick out a cereal. It was the one time that it didn’t matter what kind it was. You could pick out any kind even if it was the really sugary kind that aren’t really part of this complete breakfast. I remember a few of my choices: I picked Nerds cereal, that had two compartments with two different flavors of glucose in them, just like the candy. I picked Donkey Kong cereal out once and everybody’s mouth bled from the roughness and size of the pieces. It was the only time in my life that I tried Cookie Crisp and felt sick from the chocolate milk left in the bowl after the cereal was eaten.
This was a short but memorable tradition in my family. I plan on doing the same thing for my kids until they’re too old too appreciate it as, I’m sure, I became.
It’s funny the things you remember when someone is gone. I can’t remember how my dad smelled and they say that that’s the strongest sense for memory. I couldn’t tell you very many of the pearls of wisdom that he imparted to me even though I know that a lot of them stuck. I probably wouldn’t even remember the color of his eyes if that wasn’t one of those things that you remember. I can’t picture them very well.
It’s things like birthday cereal that stick. He used to carry me in his Old Green Coat, as my mom called it. We had a house in Pullman and my dad would snap me up in the coat, while he wore it and did chores out in the cold morning. It smelled cold but safe from the darkness of that down jacket. He was the kind of guy that fixed things and duct tape was used to repair a hole in one of the cells to keep the stuffing from coming out.
Many years later, after he died, I wore this same coat in Russia. It was warm and it fit. It’s a weird feeling when your father’s clothes suddenly fit. I don’t remember growing into them; one day they hung off me as a Halloween costume and the next moment they fit. They were still out of style, like all our parents clothes seem but they were no longer my father’s clothes – they were mine.
Metaphorically, this works on many levels.
Without him around and I’ve been told that I’ve grown into him. I like cheap cigars around the campfire the same way he used to. His eccentric taste in style, especially clothing, seems to have rubbed off onto me without any force or effort on his part. He was a lot taller than me but, I’m told, we carry ourselves in the same casual way.
I guess I still miss him. One of the things about death is that as you grow older and the pain lessens, it never really goes away entirely. Two weeks after his Memorial Service and I was numb. Distracted. A year later and I felt, what I thought was a mature loss in the back of my mind. I knew it was there but it didn’t really hurt. Now, I have a hard time remembering stuff but it’s still there – somewhere.
Memories get pushed aside by more recent ones and song lyrics and the phone number of a girl gets first billing. But he’s there still as vibrant as ever and all the little details can be recalled as if on cue. Every birthday and a few trips down the cereal isle and I think of those bleary-eyed mornings, holding my dad’s giant hand as I picked out a breakfast that would rot my teeth. After a cold day of surfing, I’ll wrap myself in a blanket with only my nose peaking out and I’ll think of the womb-like atmosphere of his Old Green Coat.
Even though he’s been gone a long time and the thoughts of him are fewer and with less clarity, I know that he’ll never disappear completely. Somewhere in one of the faraway corridors of the mind, behind a closed door, he’s there. Sitting patiently, with an armful of memories, waiting for their cue.
And the door will never be locked.