It’s interesting, what memories remain. John Berger states in his collection of essays titled About Looking that only the frame of a life continues, while the rest, the idiosyncratic experiences that act as content, is like daily newsprint: forgotten practically before the ink is dry. My memories seem to follow suit. I remember my childhood vaguely as happy and well adjusted, but individual memories have largely become the fodder of yesterday’s news, composted into the foundation of my adult life. They are my maker, and I not their master. Blame this on one too many nights of heavy drinking during my “experimental” college years, the fact that computer memory now substitutes for its organic human predecessor, or whatever you desire. Regardless of the reason, in the wake of my father’s death I’m acutely aware of what my memory chooses to frame.
As a wee little lassie my Father would take me with him to pick up a Racing Form from the local newsstand around the corner from our humble house situated in a Horse Racing mecca at the southern end of California. I piled my gangly, uncoordinated limbs into his Acura, which always smelled new with a hint of the vanilla air fresheners so despised by my Mother, and away we’d go through traffic with the greatest of ease. He navigated using a system I would come to call ‘Blind Driving”–a technique which entailed drifting from one lane divider to the next. From the center, slowly to the left until eanh eaNH EANH!! Thwump thwump thwump. Whoops. Center again and then the process repeated to the right of the lane. Back and forth, back and forth; a relatively soothing sway to an unlicensed driver with no concept of danger.
It was during these trips that I came to understand I was special because my Father had magic powers: he controlled traffic lights. When approaching a red light, my Father merely had to blow in its general direction and the light magically turned green. My Father was the Jack Frost of traffic control. Once we arrived, I waited for him in the car certain he’d return with a treat. What would it be this time? A lollipop? A Kit Kat? No, a Snickers?! It was anyone’s guess. Inevitably he’d shower me with more candy than one kid could stomach (a diabetic vicariously indulging his sweet tooth through his daughter), and we would eat most of it in the car so my Mother would be none the wiser. While exceeding my sugar intake for the week, he taught me how to whistle and snap: two valuable assets for a tomboy living in the Land of the Boys. I cannot convey how many hours were spent snapping and whistling. Or rather my Father snapping and whistling and I snapping and spraying soundless wet air onto the Acura’s dash, much to his chagrin.
I never did learn to whistle. As for my Father’s magical powers, well, I suppose you can chalk it up to a slight of wind executed by watching the opposing signal as it turned yellow and thusly timing his gust to coincide with an inevitable green. Be that what it may, I know what I remember. I remember a life filled with green lights, free passages, and cloudless intersections thanks in no small part to my Father’s protection and guiding wisdom. And now that this memory is framed in print, saved from the cyclical scourge of forgetfulness, my Father’s magic is no longer a hazy biographical fragment but an integral component of narrative in the story of a daughter and her father. Act I, Scene I.