The Memories in Objects
Not long ago, I was digging through a closet looking for a pair of sandals as I switched from winter to summer footwear. My hand hit something hard, wrapped in plastic. I couldn’t imagine what it would be. I pulled it out. Through the clear bag, I could see my dad’s wingtip shoes and a patterned, bright red necktie. I had forgotten that I had saved those after his death more than 15 years ago.
The shoes immediately took me back to my childhood where I would sometimes sit beside my dad on the edge of my parents’ platform bed as he polished those wingtips. A college professor beginning his career in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, my dad always wore a tailored suit with an impeccably ironed shirt (thanks to my mom) and a nice tie – and those wingtips. The exception being a stint in Canyon, Texas, where my brother and I were born, when he wore a cowboy hat and boots with his suit and tie.
My dad grew up on an apple orchard in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. His father was a Croatian immigrant who left home at 18 and never saw his parents again. My grandfather married the daughter of an immigrant from his village in the Old Country when he was working in the mines in Leadville, CO. They later moved to the apple orchard in Penrose. Going through college, getting his doctorate at the University of Colorado and ultimately landing a job at a large state university was my dad’s dream.
It’s funny how certain objects hold memories. My dad almost always rode his bike to work at Oklahoma State. I remember how he turned his pipe upside down in the rain, wingtips pumping the pedals with the tie whipping behind him. That old Raleigh bike is in my garage. My husband had it fixed for me, and I still ride it, memories of childhood bike rides embedded in that frame.
My dad loved his job. As an educator, he encouraged questions and invited struggle over opinions and ideas. When I was in the 5th grade, I wanted to enter an essay contest sponsored by the local Daughters of the American Revolution. While that was not my dad’s favorite organization, he didn’t discourage me from entering. In fact, he took me to the massive Oklahoma State University library. We rode the elevator to the third floor where he showed me the section where I could find information about my subject – Molly Pitcher.
I remember the musty, but pleasant, smell of the books. The stacks loomed way over my head. I loved the quiet. Students whispered in corners. I felt so important. My dad waited while I browsed the books. I pulled out a few that looked promising to my 10-year-old self. We carried the books to one of the massive tables. As I began to look through one, my dad guided me to the very back of the book. An index! What a marvelous invention! He showed me how to use a book’s index as the key to unlock exactly what pages I would find information about Molly Pitcher in those big books.
As Father’s Day approaches, memories of my dad flood back. The big shoes are an anchor to his memory, and that red tie knots me to all the things he taught me, mostly by his excellent example. I keep his things. Maybe they hold past energy of the person who wore them, or maybe they just shake loose something inside of me. On Father’s Day, I wish I could magically fly away on that bike to see my dad for just a few moments.