The dining room of our house had a swinging door to the kitchen, blue wallpaper, mahogany veneered furniture, and two windows. By the left hand window hung Doc, my small blue parakeet, in a cage on a stand. A couple of years later the right hand window would hold a precious new air conditioner aimed at my father’s end of the table. It blew chilled air across his chair, the only one of the six with arms. The two windows overlooked the driveway where the cars were parked between our house and the neighbor’s.
I must have been about eight when we got that bird, my third choice because Mamma did not want either a dog or a cat in the house. I knew I would love him, so I named him Doc, after Daddy. My parents laughed when I told them that, because my daddy’s name was Ed. But he was a physician, a pathologist at the VA hospital. Every week day he would come home for dinner in the middle of the day. Every morning we had breakfast there and in the evening, supper. At all three meals, we drank from silver goblets because my mother had been poor growing up and she'd lost her mother at thirteen. It comforted her to have the mahogany and the silver. Ice water from those goblets was sweet and so very cold.
Meal time was frequently interrupted by the telephone when Daddy was on call, and he would have to abruptly leave to go perform an autopsy. I don’t suppose too many children grow up listening to descriptions of autopsies at the dinner table, but my siblings and I did. Mamma was a registered nurse, so Daddy was able to talk shop with her. We ate and we listened. But it was not a cadaver he referred to one Sunday when describing a lady in our church choir as having “bushel basket” breasts. He was right. She did. Mamma shushed him and we laughed.
In that dining room one year, we had a large refrigerator box house with a window cut in it. It was through this window one night my five year old brother, Ed, Jr., thrust his pointing finger and poked me in the eye so bad that I had to be carried to the doctor. I wore a patch for a week.
That same little brother, five years younger than I, was playing in the dirt when he got his leg run over by a car. I can still see Daddy on a ladder in the dining room hanging wallpaper and Mamma with her arm raised to hand him another strip, as I dashed in the front door hollering, “Ed’s been run over by a car!” Daddy scrambled down the ladder, and they ran with me as I led them on a race through the backyards. They climbed behind me through a hole in the fence to where Ed sobbed there in the dirt with tire tracks across his leg. The distraught woman who had backed over him knelt in the dust beside my little brother. He was a lucky fellow. Not even a bone was broken.
That hot summer when we got the air conditioner was heaven. My father was quick to adopt a new convenience, later buying me contact lenses at thirteen. With a stack of Nancy Drews to last me from the first of June until school started again in September, I settled back, undisturbed, in cool comfort in the arms of Daddy’s chair and did little else but read that summer.
In the sixties, the stereo found a place of honor there against the wall. I played the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations and Chubby Checker albums and twisted right out of the dining room and into the living room. There, I could watch myself in the mirror as I gyrated and sang into an imaginary microphone.
By the time I was a senior in high school, the window ac had been replaced by an outside unit that cooled the whole house. One spring night while finishing up supper, I suddenly and urgently told Mamma I needed to borrow her car and quick. I didn't tell her, it had something to do with a boy who had just driven a Vespa by the house and beeped his horn. In a mad dash of frenzied teen impulsiveness, I ran out with keys in hand and jumped into the driver’s seat of Mamma’s car. Through one dining room window, I could see her still at her place at the table as I threw her Buick into reverse and slammed it into the front end of my father’s station wagon that was parked behind it. The evening was cool, the ac off, the window up, and the crunch was loud. From where I sat in shock at my own stupidity, I could see Daddy, frozen in space and time, framed by the window, fork halfway to his mouth, looking straight ahead at Mamma.
Decades have passed. The house long ago sold. The veneer on the table has pealed, but today I sit with my laptop upon it and my elbows resting on the arms of Daddy's chair.
by fran cardwell