A Father's Day apparition

Erika Young

June 18, 1993|By Erika Young

FROM my bedroom window I watch the morning mist rise. My eyes search the distance. Will I have another vision? Chat with you on Father's Day again? The mist parts, I see you coming toward me. I wish to embrace you, but this I know I cannot do.

Instead of an old man ravaged by disease, you appear in the prime of life with a body used to physical labor, with eyes that reflect kindness and understanding.

Your rejuvenated look takes me back to the time we lived in Berlin, Germany. I see us sitting around the kitchen table: Mama with the coffee grinder between her knees, the smell of coffee blending with that of the rolls in the oven. I sneak away to get the little vase with the red rose.

"A little Father's Day present," I announce, shifting my present shyly toward you.

"Isn't that nice, Eka," you say, asking in the next breath, "You want to go on a picnic, have a swim?"

Instead of answering, I jump up to get my swim suit, then help Mama make ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Suddenly, you are in a hurry, reaching for your battered cap. You go off to start the tomato-red 1921 Daimler. You worship that car. It is always polished until it shines like Mama's stove. Does it appreciate your loving care? Answer your call when you put your foot on the starter?

Not on this day. Begging it to behave, you lean against the steering wheel. It answers by gurgling. Another try. Another gurgle. As a last resort you crank it, crank it until your face is as red as the car.

"Can't you be nice to Papa? At least on Father's Day?" I scold the Daimler. But the car is either hard of hearing or not in the mood to transport us to Lake Liepnitz, about a two-hour ride from Berlin.

You are a little cross, but all is forgiven when the Daimler suddenly comes to life. "Good boy," you say, your eyes aglow as you tap its well-cushioned --board.

A tire blows on the way home. That means more cranking for you, this time with the jack. Mama is upset. "Why don't you take that stubborn old mule of yours to the graveyard?" she asks. You shake your head. Get rid of that aristocrat?

"You shouldn't talk," I read in your face. I know you are thinking about our '61 Lincoln, the one that Ned, my husband, bought 40 years later from a New Jersey used-car dealer. We usually called it "Pearl" because its headlights were shaped like pearls, but we referred to it as "The Menace" when it misbehaved.

"Just like my Daimler," you said after Pearl left us stranded halfway up a mountain in the Adirondacks. You pointed to the carburetor. You were right. Soon Pearl had a change of heart, jerking a couple of times and then shooting forward. "A Father's Day treat," I remarked with an undertone of sarcasm.

It did behave on the way to Washington though, taking us to the Weisse Haus -- the White House -- where you touched elbows with Hubert Humphrey without having an inkling of who he was.

At the Capitol, we held hands. "That cupola. Just like the cathedral where you were baptized and confirmed," you said.

We held hands again at John F. Kennedy's grave. You took off your cap and then repeated his words: "Ich bin ein Berliner."

I swallow hard, refrain from reaching out. I mustn't bring your visit to a premature end. I think of something to say.

I follow your eyes to the poster on the bedroom wall. New York, the city that took your breath away. Standing before the Empire State Building, you gasped, "Ein wunder!" You did so again at the stock exchange on Wall Street. And we took you to a tavern on 86th Street for a glass of Lowenbrau and a good look at a full-bosomed fraulein.

Striking out on your own on that red bus from New Jersey a couple of days later, you headed straight for New York and another look at the fraulein. When night fell without your return, I became worried. I paced the floor, went to the window, had a cup of coffee, then another. The doorbell rang. "The police!" I thought. "Something's happened to him!"

It was you. Stomping up the steps to our apartment, you couldn't wait to tell us about the white car that had rescued you after you got lost.

"The police brought you home?" I asked.

"Ja."

You get restless. "Must you go? Can't we chat a while longer?"

You shake your head.

"Until next Father's Day," I tell him.

And he is gone.

Erika Young writes from Baltimore.

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