It is a Saturday evening at my parents’ when I pour the wine into a jewel-toned glass. I wear a crisp white blouse and designer jeans, my brunette hair at a uniform shoulder length. The clear liquid licks the sides of the glass to a polite level. I splash in just a bit more.
I leave the bottle to chill in the wine fridge. Whites from California occupy a different shelf than those from Italy. I check the labels, and notice they are all from the same region. Sighing, I glance across the granite countertop and glinting custom cabinetry. So typical. As in my childhood, everything is still spotless, perfect, enumerated and categorized according to style.
Though I grew up with him, I know little about my dad. I know he lost a brother at an early age. I know he majored in history at college and hoped to become a teacher. I know that he likes engineering challenges. His emotions, however, remain a mystery.
Several inches of tile, wood and insulation separate me from my father as he works in the basement, his strong hands tinkering with copper and a soldering fire. As I carry my glass down the stairs to the unfinished basement, the odor of tools, sawdust, and concrete brings forth decades of familiar memories: metallic, masculine, paternal. My father, a master plumber by trade and historian by degree, is a plumbing genius. In the span of fifty feet, I pass a burgundy oil tank, a cluttered workbench, and a myriad of toolboxes.
I pull up a dingy stool, my black patent ballerina flats inching around his tools. Trusses line the ceiling. The piping, wiring, and insulation lie as a cook might set icing on a cake. Copper gleams by the yard. All installed by him.
My father sits in his working blues under buzzing fluorescent bulbs. Glasses smudged and covered in flecks of sawdust, he is absorbed in a length of pipe. This is his element: the cool silence of the basement, tools in a perfect arc around his workbench, his work in view.
“Daddy, this is amazing . . . really.” My eyes fix on his art instead of on him. A brand new geothermal heating system sits ready to pulse with life.
“How did you do this?”
“Well, I have had the fortune to work with some amazing people my whole life.” His back arches over the soldering torch. Still, no eye contact between us.
“The part over there . . . those cost sixty-five dollars apiece. I knew if I didn’t put them in, I would regret it. It’s like a barometric measure; to make sure the pressure is right at the right places.”
I don’t follow the mechanics, but nod as I count sixteen or so of them.
I clear my throat. Thirty-two years came to one moment, this moment. Though my voice and hands are unsteady, I forge ahead.
A hint of a nod.
“Um, . . . I was just wondering . . . I’d like to talk with you. Have a conversation with you. To understand where I come from. You know?”
He further fixates on his soldering while mumbling about how “we shouldn’t overthink things” and how “women are from Venus, men are from Mars.”
Taking in the awkward, almost silent moment, the shiny brown glimmer of copper, the whole of my father, I make a decision. “Well, I’ll see you upstairs,” I simply reply.
“Yep.” My father does not look up.
I leave, letting the exchange fall from my thoughts as crumbs from the apron.
As crumbs from the apron.
There is a Greek phrase that roughly translates as “shake your troubles as crumbs from the apron.” My mother-in-law taught me that honest living is about loving and letting go of pain. Life is too short.
My mother-in-law Maria was born and raised on the Peloponnese in Greece. Sparta to be exact. Spartans are stoic and strong in the face of adversity. My mother-in-law is no exception. So I had taken my concern to her; surely, she would have an answer.
“What do I do?” I asked her. “I don’t understand my father. I want a relationship with him, but he is out of reach.” Tears trickled from my eyes.
“Oh, Christinaki. Honey, he is an adult trying to find his way in the world, just like you . . . .”
This was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted her to fawn over my pain. I wanted her to scoop me to her chest with words. I needed sympathy.
“. . . He and your mother have their own problems, their own fears. Know that they love you or you wouldn’t be where you are today.”
“Yes, but I need them to be there for me right now, in a way I fear they can’t.”
“Oh. I know. But life is far too short! Let them enjoy their lives, as they want to. And while they may not be there for you in the way you need, I know they love you. Shake these troubles as crumbs from the apron.”
And she was right.
I have my mother-in-law to thank for turning my cheek for me, for helping me realize the beauty in the ones I love, in the moments that pass. The night I tried to connect with my father his whole focus was his work—as it always is—and I didn’t get what I sought. His attention. My mother-in-law gave me permission to see that this is okay, and that he is, nonetheless, a good father, a good man.
Though my family of origin and physical characteristics were inherited, I am an adult woman creating my own path. I have control of my decisions, my energy, my definition. It is my hope that I can give my sons the support they need as they create their own paths in the world. And I will teach them, as I have learned, to shake the crumbs from the apron as often as possible.
*******************************************Author Bio: CHRISTINA MARIE SPEED taught overseas and in the US for several years before admitting to herself that she needed to give in and just write. She has written a short column for The Lahontan Valley News, and is currently a Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant at LiteraryMama.com. A full-time wife and stay at home mother, and part-time literacy coach for children, she writes creative non-fiction, poetry and books for children.