Here's another "absent father" piece, this one with the added leitmotif, perhaps, of a creative vocation discovered as a child! The Dad in question is caught in the black and white photograph, below. Gregg Chadwick is today a Santa Monica-based painter whose work is widely exhibited and acclaimed. His blog is titled Speed of Life. His boyhood memory skirts subtly around the pain of separation, deflecting it first, jokingly, onto a prank played on his mother with his toys; then on a treasured book, a parting gift from Dad. But by the end, we're left in no doubt that the pain is there, along with a misplaced sense of responsibility for Mom...
HOP ON POP
By Gregg Chadwick
As a kid, I liked to build private worlds out of drawings that I would cut up and paste into scenes with soft plastic bugs pulled hot from my Creepy Crawlers molds. I would squirt the Plastigoop from a small bottle into the empty molds and heat them up on my Thingmaker. Once, late at night, I cut out a darkly drawn semicircle, taped it to the kitchen floorboard in our rented carriage house, and placed dark rodent Creepy Crawlers around my invented mouse hole. As a last surprise, I hid one in my mom’s coffee cup. My brother and I would get a great laugh, because my mom hates rodents of all shapes and sizes.
I woke to the baconesque smell of Tastystrips and the caramel espresso smell of Mom’s percolating coffee. She was at the stove pulling strips from the pan and lining them up on a golden, grease filled sheet of paper towel. Her coffee mug sat nearby. My brother was already at the table reading a cereal box before turning to my mom to chat about a birthday trip to the Revolutionary War encampment up at Jockey Hollow with his friend Casey Jones. Yep, the same name as the famous railroader. Our portable transistor radio was on; it should have been playing "Cannonball Express" in honor of that other Casey. I sneaked a quick glance to be sure that my mouse hole was still there with its attendant rubbery rodents. OK, the plan was still in action. I walked over to the stove and looked into my mom’s cup. I gulped as I saw myself reflected in the dark liquid.
“How’s the coffee Mom?” That sounded wrong. Was I in a Folgers commercial or something?
“Fine dear. Careful of the hot stove. Don’t burn yourself.”
I sat down without a word and quietly ate my breakfast, glancing at the line of dark Crawlers on the floor.
A honk outside interrupted the quiet and my brother jumped up to run out the door. My mom called after him, “Don’t forget your jacket.”
“It’s June Mom,” my brother said.
“So it is," said my mom as she marked off another day on the calendar.
“One day at a time,” she told me. “That’s how we get on until your Dad comes home.”
I didn’t mention the Crawlers on the floor and especially not the one in her coffee cup. She never mentioned them either. I did make some Crawlers that day for my Dad, though, and Mom and I placed them carefully in an envelope and addressed it to his Fleet Post Office address in Vietnam.
My dad didn’t really need any more bugs in the jungle. But I kept sending them anyway. They were small packages of memories. And I wanted to thank him for the going away gift he had given me before he went to war in 1965. We were in the car. I remember ripping the paper off that package like it was the wrapper on a popsicle on a hot summer day.
It was a book! I could begin to make out the title as I shredded the wrapping. "'Op on Op” peeked out at me through a hole in the paper. “I can read it all by myself Beginner Books," it said.
I tossed the decorative wrap onto the car floor and held up my prize with its aqua, white, orange, and yellow cover. “Hop on Pop” by Dr. Seuss. I laughed at the two small bears jumping on the daddy bear’s tummy. “We like to hop. We like to hop on top of pop.”
“Thank you! Thank You!” I said, in between pages.
Mission accomplished. My dad and mom smiled as we made our way back to my grandmother’s house. But I was sad, too. I knew even then that a good little Marine didn’t cry, and that my brother and I would need to be tough for Mom. I put the book down, held my tears back and looked out the window. As if in a movie, the scenes scrolled by. Even though I had been born here, it seemed a new landscape for me.
We would have to run our recons without Dad for quite a while.