I can finally wear shoes again, but only loose ones, with the thinnest of socks. So I was rooting around in my sock drawer a few minutes ago, fuming and fretting that none of the socks I wanted to wear have mates. Mateless socks are the damnedest of petty annoyances. How is it that I bought three pairs of the same socks-- hoping to eventually have at least two matching pairs-- but still have only one left?
Then something crunched at the back of the drawer. It was one of my mother's old nylons stuffed with dried bay leaves. I held it to my nose-- and it was still redolent of my last hike with my father, maybe fifteen years ago.
It may have been my first hike with my father, too-- while he exercised vigorously for his health in his later years, I don't recall any exercise for pleasure other than golf in his earlier years, when I would have been around to join him. This hike was in the aftermath of all that--after he had given up his twelve-mile morning bike rides but before he couldn't walk the three steps down to their garage without falling. I was visiting my parents in Santa Rosa and was restless and told them I was going for a walk in the state park behind their house. I asked my father if he wanted to come and was surprised when he lumbered to his feet-- his "big fat feet," as he called them. At that point, I just think he wanted to do anything to spend time with his children.
There was a steep, rocky baked-dirt path down a gully, then an equally steep path going up the other side. I remember turning back a few times in a panic because I'd hear scuffling. I was afraid he had fallen-- he'd had two knee replacements and had those big fat feet and was around 80-- but even though he was doing a little slipping, he didn't fall. He grinned and hummed, as he always did, and kept going. I could hear the wild turkeys that set up such a racket every time my parents opened their garage door making noise somewhere, and I worried that one of the boars that lived in the park might charge us. It was an anxious hike, and I turned us around before we got to the top of the hill. The highlight was coming upon a few bay trees. "We used to put the leaves in our drawers to keep away the moths," he told me. So we stuffed our pockets and made them into two sachets when we got back to their house, not because of the moths but because they smelled so good. After he died, my sister and I cleaned out his closet. I found his bay-leaf sachet hanging on a hook, under his bathrobe, and took it back to Ohio with me. I'm not sure if the one in my sock drawer was his or mine.
It reminds me of a good day, one of the last good days, before so much started to change with my parents.
called a few minutes ago to ask me what I was doing. It was one of those conversations we have where he pretends to be interested in what I'm doing, but I know he's angling for a ride home from work. "Did you go to church today?" he asked. I told him no. "Why didn't you go to church? I thought you went to church every Sunday." I try, I told him, but usually don't make it. And I asked why he even cares when he fulminates so often and earnestly about church, religion, and all related topics?
He doesn't have an answer for this, but I do. He looks like my father, walks like my father, laughs like my father, hums like my father, and tells a joke like my father. My father never missed church. I think that buried in some part of my son's inheritance from my father is the wish that I'd go to church, too.
(The photo is from 1953, when my parents and my siblings went on vacation to Hawaii)