My Father's House

When he died, my father, we were left to take the house apart and to sell it and all the bad and good feelings that it held to some stranger who would paint the wall where the water stain was that looked like a flying dragon (Sarah thought it looked like a horse, but it depended on which end you thought was the front) and tear up the rug where the dog had peed and re-finish the cabinets in the kitchen where I had chipped the veneer when I threw a cup at it and smashed the cup after Dad had hit Mom and knocked her down and then left the room and I helped her up, and she left the room too and I threw the cup and broke it and chipped the veneer.

And I wondered what the new owner of the house would think of the footprints on the ceiling in my bedroom that I had put there by dipping the soles of my shoes in ink and stamping them on the ceiling on the end of the head of a broom like a giant rubber stamp. They never got painted over.

So we sorted through all the junk that my father had collected; paint cans of every shape and description, jar after jar of nails, nuts, bolts, and screws, screw drivers of every size, a coffee can full of dull, used hacksaw blades, another coffee can full of stubby pencils each about an inch long, parts from electric motors, castors from a bedstead, wrenches, awls, hammers, clamps, and squares, the steering wheel from our 1957 Oldsmobile that was kept on blocks in our driveway ‘til the neighbors complained, and Rossi Brothers Salvage came and took it away.Dad kept the steering wheel as a memento.

And Sarah found a picture of her and Mom and Dad when Sarah was a baby.And there were other pictures too of Woofy who was white with a black ear and a black eye and a birthday party with Mom and Dad and Sarah and Frank and me where we couldn’t decide whose birthday it was from looking at the picture.Frank died from cancer three years ago.

Sarah found other pictures and pointed out Uncle Sam and Aunt Elsie, and Grandpa and Grammy, and Butch Finch from next door, he’s in California now, and Allison, her best friend from school who married a guy in Britain somewhere.They were all dressed from another time.Sarah and I looked at each other and saw reflections of our mortality. “You either get older or you die,” that’s what I told her--and she cried on my shoulder.

One of the pictures that Sarah found was Dad holding me as a newborn infant.I looked and looked at the picture and tried to see him.

Then I found a box on a shelf in the garage, a brown box of heavy, rough cardboard like wood, a drawer box, a box with a drawer pull that you pulled and a drawer pulled out. I pulled the drawer out. It was stuffed with papers, old papers, yellow papers, folded papers.I took one and unfolded it.There was a pencil sketch of a woman along with a picture of the same woman taken from a newspaper. It was a good likeness. There were more drawings, poems, songs with music written out on music paper with Dad’s name at the top and somebody else’s name I didn’t know, all this from when Dad was a young man, much younger than I am now, the young man holding me as a newborn infant in the picture Sarah found, a different man than ever I had known, a man who might have looked up at the stars and asked, “Why are we here?” a man I would like to have known, but I only knew the owner of this cluttered, ragged house, this dingy house, whose dumb walls speak plaster.