My Father’s Footsteps

…from the age of four or so, I came into my own as the wrapper and unwrapper of china and other small items that we cushioned in newspaper and carried in cardboard boxes over country roads. Each of us had a role in the family economic unit, including my sister, nine years older than I, who in the summer sold popcorn from a professional stand my father bought her.

Now I know that both the palaces and the movies were fantasies created by Hollywood in the Depression, the only adventures most people could afford. I think of them again whenever I see subway riders lost in paperback mysteries, the kind that Stephen King’s waitress mother once called her “cheap sweet vacations” –and so he writes them for her still. I think of them when I see children cramming all five senses into virtual images online, or when I pass a house topped by a sattelite dish almost as big as it is, as if the most important thing were the ability to escape. The travel writer Bruce Chatwin wrote that our nomadic past lives on in our “need for distraction, our mania for the new.” In many languages, even the word for human being is “one who goes on migrations.” Progress itself is a word rooted in a seasonal journey. Perhaps our need to escape into media is a misplaced desire for the journey.

Still, I thought I could get through the hospital procedures without breaking down. And I did–until I held my father’s worn wallet in my hands, its leather shaped to the curve of his body by years in his back pocket as he drove the road. I can feel it still. I will never stop wishing I had been with him.