Saturday, June 18, 2011

day 29
Chasing Lee

Tomorrow, millions of Americans at kitchen counters and restaurant tables, in newspaper columns and phone conversations will recount a "dad story." Most who know my father will recount him as a man who grew up on a rural Virginia farm where he began working at age 5 with the rest of his brothers and sisters. They will recall that after a year of college at Virgina State he traveled north to Washington DC to seek his fortune.  That fortune would be my mother, his city mouse to her country mouse: beautiful, well-read, and capable of baking a triple layer chocolate cake while beating him soundly in cards. Of course, I could also wax on Dad's yard, Edenesque and envied on our block for the green lawn and beds of fragrant peonies, or his signature French  vanilla bean ice cream which he would make each 4th of July. But for some reason, when I think of Dad tonight, I think of him chasing my doll's head down a city street.

He had come to pick me and my sisters up after a week's visit at my Grandmother's. The car had been acting up as it was known to do, and because this was before my parents had scrimped and saved and purchased the blue Ford Country Sedan with actual cool seat belts and an automatic back window, we set out for  the bus.  My grandmother lived miles away from us and even in the car, it would take a half an hour in traffic. Imagine additionally that we were weighed down with our overnight bags, Monopoly sets and yes the dolls

Each of us three girls had received that previous Christmas a rather tall doll--- over two feet with chocolate skin, short ponytails festooned with red ribbons, and peppermint striped overalls. Their claims to fame--other than the smooth brown skin was an alleged ability to walk if you guided their hands just so. Of course this was manufacturer's hype and bunk, and when you were struggling with your vacation gear, this became even clearer

For whatever reason, my doll, Lee or "Big Lee" as I sometimes called her behind her back seemed to have suffered the injuries of a veteran after two tours of duty and an ill-fitting helmet.  Twice she had fallen off the top bunk bed. Once she has been in a doll carriage accident and ambush commandeered by my brothers.  Unbeknowst to me, her head was loose. 

The day was windy despite the season --summer--which tends to be stagnantly humid and hot in DC.  As we proceeded down 44th street toward the nearest bus stop, with Dad carrying our largest suitcase, a Monopoly set, and Lee, her head suddenly popped off. We were on a hill, and she kept rolling, her eyes in a permanent blink and stare. Dad dropped the suitcase and began running. 

 I had never seen my father run anywhere--ever. This was the era of Dads who wore hard shoes and sweaters to the hardware store, not track suits and sneakers. They ate buttered toast and eggs for breakfast and tossed the baseball around with your brothers for exercise. Down the street Dad ran. Of course, the bus which barely ran on Saturdays passed us, as we girls shrieked and Daddy dashed. 

As I type this in the midst of a humid Washington night, I think about dad in his nice slacks and hard shoes running to rescue Lee's head. All I can do is grin.


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