When I was too young to remember, and memories act like faint whispers of wind passing by your ears, I was three.
I picked up a fat, diamond shaped piece of dried out wood in a parking lot of the Fair Grounds.
My dad had just taken me to the 9th annual Jazz Fest. Before it became a national attraction. I can’t believe I don’t remember the actual music. Just that piece of wood that I swore spoke to me. I had to have it. It still sits in a purple plastic box from 1980 that contains trinkets and loose ornaments from my childhood. Things that have acrylic paint on them with round little dots on the end points of the letters of my name.
There’s a great picture of me, and I remember when it was taken. It was that same year. No shirt on. Just some small shorts and me standing on a chair at our kitchen table sucking on the head of a crawfish. My dad proudly sitting nearby, sipping on a tin can of Dixie. I had an amazing childhood.
He smoked then. He smoked in his office in the French Quarter. And I can remember the smell of it when he’d take me up there. So vast, in an attic-like part of the museum, looking out on Jackson Square. It smelled like cigarettes and old paint. I was so proud to have him show me around. He knew everyone at his work and they all smiled as we walked by. He loved showing me where he worked and what he did. I envy the love he had for his job.
Sometimes, he’d take me with him on his bead and doubloon shopping. Almost all men inside those stores in New Orleans that serviced the Mardi Gras krewes. We picked up some pincer-like tools with plastic alligator heads. I called them Humphreys for no good reason. The Rex den where his float was parked was so huge and it scared me tremendously just to see those looming, decorated machines ready to roll out as if they were going to roll right over me. But, my dad held my hand and made me feel safe. Later, when he’d get ready the morning of his parade, he would fill a plastic bottle with what I thought was Apple Juice. It was like celebrating my birthday when we would see that Jester float go by, and I tried to pick him out behind his mask.
Even when we moved to New York and I was a little older, he still loved showing me around his work. One time, I read a Christmas Carole on the marble staircase of the museum, to a large crowd. I focused on him down below me, smiling with that signature sparkle in his eye.
He smiles with his lips closed. Pursed lips. His smile is all in his eyes.
We spent weekends exploring West Point or the Lower East Side. Navigating the pickle stands or the fishmongers of South Street Seaport. New York smelled like sea air and cement. I wish I had known then how much he knows of that great city and begged to see more of it.
In Fall, whether I was 10 or 20, we’d drive to Armonk on the weekend to see the farm stand and eat warm, fresh baked donuts washed down with hot cider. The crisp air and changing leaves awakened me from my week. He was always taking me on adventures.
Now, even though I am married and our time is short and infrequent when we do see each other, I will always remember all the warm and engaging moments that infused my world with wonder. Simple, wonder.
I know there is more ahead and this essay is my request for his promise to show me Bulls Island, the secrets of downtown Charleston and the hidden meanings behind our family’s history.
You will always be my dad, and I will always be your daughter.
I’ve been told that I look like you. At least I heard that a lot when I was little. Now, it’s more in my smile. The one that you can see in my eyes.