In His Pockets
Daddy bought Certs—white disks with colored flecks of flavor in a tight aluminum paper roll. Spearmint and wintergreen burned my mouth—cinnamon was my favorite. Daddy made sure his breath wouldn’t offend; I just ate candy. Church went longer than a child’s stomach could stand. I whispered into Daddy’s ear, a hot breathy request. I sucked the sweet spicy coolness, swallowing the juices that filled my mouth, quieting my hunger. I asked often. He rarely said no.
The Certs were eaten long ago; I use Altoids now.
He brought clenched fists from his pockets and opened his hands over a bowl that lived on the yellow Formica kitchen counter. It was a dull pewter dish with a rarely seen engraving on the bottom: “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.” Using cash instead of cards meant coins raining down with a rich clatter every night. Sometimes he gave me a quarter so I could visit the row of red metal machines at the grocery store. A brassy adjustable ring with an opaque pink gem, a blue plastic alien, or a handful of Runts—lime and cherry were best; banana was gross so I gave those to Daddy.
Mom spent the change from the pewter dish at garage sales; it’s her dish now.
Daddy used his pocketknife to help me—slicing my apple, hacking stalks of sugarcane for chewing, cutting tags off toys, etching my initials tree trunks. He would usually say one of his stock phrases before starting the task I set him, “That’s what daddies are for.” In his boyhood woods we cut “chadrons,”—a Cajun French evolution of chardon, the French word for thistle. He taught me to eat the stalks. Crisp and watery, the chadrons tasted like celery with a wild sweetness. Dad ate them as a child—a snack on the go for a leather-footed boy.
My younger sister tucked the oldest and dullest knife into her pocket without discussing it with Mom, who was too disoriented, too disappointed, too dissolved. She chose the one I would have chosen. It’s the one she remembers being pulled out to help her; she helps herself, now.
He wiped up my tears, blood, snot—whatever was needed—with his thin white handkerchief. I held the filmy fabric up to the light to see the world through a haze. He never carried tissues, only handkerchiefs—a habit I’ve never seen in anyone else. Mama prepared the handkerchiefs for him until I was old enough to handle the hot steamy iron, and then I took over. I gingerly sprayed the linen scented starch before smoothing the hissing iron over the soft cloth. Daddy always kissed me on the cheek and said, “Thank ya, darlin’,” when he saw the neat stacked pile of white squares in the hall closet. I’d found something I could do for him.
I don’t know where Dad’s handkerchiefs are. He wasn’t buried with one. The plastic bag of ashes—Dad reduced to so little—sat in a cardboard box. My mom, newly widowed and already worried about money, told the mortuary there were many vases at home already and she didn’t need to buy another. The pocketknife thief offered to do the necessary task. She sat in the pastor’s office of the small-town church, minutes before Dad’s memorial service, and set her jaw. The transfer required only a disposable coffee cup and Mom’s lidded brown ceramic container. The container was meant for flour, sugar, maybe coffee, but not Dad. My sister later divided the remaining ashes into more containers. She bought these, scanning the shelves for something suitable, a home nice enough for the reduction of a great man. She offered one to Mom and her siblings. I turned her down; Dad lives through us, now.
Sarah Broussard Weaver misses her dad, who left this world two days after Christmas, 2013. Her essays and poems have been published in Full Grown People, Hippocampus, Literary Mama, and The Nervous Breakdown, among others. Find her at sbweaver.com or tweet her @sarahbweaver.