Wednesday, July 8, 1998

Beyond a Lifetime

          The ocean sparkled with diamonds of sunlight.  A warm breeze stirred the ends of the towel draped across my shoulders.  I stood just beyond where the sand was wet by the tide, and heard the lap-lap of waves as they diminished onto the shore.  I watched his head bob like a distant beach ball in the water.

          "Daddy!" I called, "don't go out so far!  Daddy!"  But the sea noises swallowed my words.

          I watched and worried until he turned and started to swim back to shore.  I saw his arms alternate above the water in quick, powerful strokes.  Only then did I spread my towel on the sand and sit down to catch the rays of sun.

          He was smiling as he stood and shook his arms to dry them, and climbed up from water's edge.

          "Che volevi?" he asked.  ["What did you want?"]

          So he HAD heard me after all.  I suspect now in retrospect that my concern pleased him, although he feigned indifference.  I can still see that little half-smile of his, as though he had a secret known to him alone.

          Oh yes, I know my worry for him pleased him.  I also know that he knew I was proud of him as he was of me.  I was reared at a time when daughters were seldom given reason to think they knew anything or were much to look at.  "Don't tell your girls they are pretty," I once heard my grandmother tell my mother, "or they'll grow up conceited."  I think it was the prevailing philosophy of the time -- keep them humble.  Thank goodness my father did not subscribe to it.

          When I was very young, he liked to show me off.  How my poor mother must have cringed at his inflicting my performances on friends!

          To this day, I remember in its entirety, the Italian Christmas poem he taught me when I was no more than three or four, and I remember, too, how he delighted in my reciting it.

          I see the scene still.  It was summer, and I wore a white and red sundress and little white shoes.  Louie and Sis were visiting for dinner.  It was a warm evening, and we were to eat on the back porch.  While Mother prepared the meal in the kitchen, Daddy perched me on the table on the porch and had me spout poetry.   Louie and Daddy were best friends.  I knew this even then, because Sis and Louie had given me a maple highchair when I was born, and in those Depression Days, a highchair was no mean gift.  Mommy had said so.  They were such good friends, in fact, that they smiled as I recited on and on.  "E Natale.  Si!  E Natale....,"  ["It's Christmas.  Yes!  It's Christmas...."] and Daddy, dear Daddy, was oblivious to their boredom.

          Reminiscing about my father makes me smile.  I remember the year, my eighth one, that he taught me to ride a bike.  He bought me the bicyle a few days before we drove to Ocean City, New Jersey, for a week-long vacation.  As he strapped it on our old green Chevie, I didn't say so, but I figured it would take me the whole week to learn, and that we wouldn't have any time left to ride the Boardwalk together.  "Maybe next year," I thought, but I was wrong.

          The trip to the Jersey Shore was up one mountain and down another.  The scenery was lovelier than the turnpike trip of today, but it took a good ten hours.  Mother never learned to drive, so Dad drove the whole way, with me and my younger sister sometimes singing, sometimes fighting, sometimes sleeping in the back seat.

          The very next day, Dad wakened me at six.

          "Time for the bike lesson," he said.

          All morning long, he had me ride up the alley behind our rented cottage, and back down the alley again.  "Go on, go on," he said.  "Pedal!  Pedal!  I've got a hold of the back of the seat.  Pedal!  Pedal!  I've got you!.""

          "But you'll let go," I whined, and sure enough, he did, and I went off, curvy-durvy up the alley, knocking down neighboring cottages' garbage cans all the way.

          "Keep going!  Keep going!" he shouted.  "Pedal!  Pedal!"  And of course, finally, the bike tipped over.

          I got up and brushed cinders from me.  "You said you had a hold of the seat!"  I accused.

          "I did," he said, "and then I let go.  How will you learn to bike-ride if I have to run behind you holding the seat the rest of your life?  Now come on.  Set those garbage cans straight and come back and we'll do the same thing again."

          And so we did, over and over and over.  Soon I was knocking down only every third garbage can, and finally, none.

          "Okay," Dad said, "I'm proud of you.  Tomorrow morning at six we ride the Boardwalk.  I'll rent a bike for me for the week."

          The next morning, my tail-end was so sore, I could hardly get back on the bike, but I did, and it was worth it.  My father and I rode the length of the Boardwalk and back, and then stopped for breakfast -- just the two of us.  We did that every day, the rest of the week.


          There are many other stories about Dad that surface in my mind, and I relate them often.  So long as he lives in memory, he lives.  If this is the sum and substance of immortality, isn't that enough?