During those idyllic days of Eisenhower – when the hottest days of summer were temperate and rain fell only at night; when the streetlights all worked and flickered through the leaves of the oak trees and children played outside all day and always obeyed their parents – Leslie and I sometimes said, “Let’s meet Dad.” We walked up Cedar Avenue, then climbed the steep hill to the water tower and the bus stop. The sun was still high in the summer evening.
Finally, the red and cream-colored Hudson bus struggled up Park Avenue, circled the water tower, and stopped beside us. The folding door banged open and Dad descended the stairs. What a treat for him, I thought, to be met at the bus stop after a muggy day at the office. Dad said, “Hello.” He may have asked us a question, but then the three of us walked down the hill in silence as if there was nothing else to talk about. We must have spoken, yet his silence seemed unusual, or why else would I remember those increasingly infrequent meetings? But that was the way Dad was. No matter my excitement and anticipation climbing the hill, I always arrived home disappointed.
Although I was older than Leslie, we went to bed at the same time until I was ten. Before going upstairs one evening, she and I played on the sun porch next to the living room. I sprawled on the floor, working on the Evening Traveler crossword puzzle, straining my eyes. I could only solve a half-dozen clues, but once I solved eleven and proudly showed Mom. I was particularly pleased knowing that obi is a sash for a Japanese kimono, a nugget of knowledge you learn once and never forget.
Mom looked up. “Okay, time for bed. I’ll come up to say goodnight after you’re both in bed.” Leslie jumped up and kissed Dad who was reading the evening paper on the couch. She always wanted to be the first to brush her teeth.
I put the crossword away and went over to Dad. When I leaned over to kiss him, he pulled away. “Aren’t you a little old for this?” His words stung, and I blushed as I straightened up. Without meeting his eyes, I went upstairs.
I was surprised and confused. I didn’t care about kissing my father goodnight. Doing so was simply part of the nightly routine, something I did every night without thinking about it. Instead, it was the stern rejection. If he had said, “Let’s shake hands instead of kissing,” or “I don’t think” (chuckle, chuckle) “we need to kiss anymore,” I might have laughed with him, gone upstairs, and forgotten it. But his rejection cut like a cold knife. Was he repelled, inferring I was a sissy and not worth his consideration? Or was he reacting to some other fear? Who knows? That’s what happened, and it hurt. I didn’t kiss him again for almost half a century.
The scene – Dad sitting on the couch, wearing his glasses, reading the paper, the lamp shining beside him – was burned with acid in my brain. This will be another image I’ll see at death when my life flashes by. Did I suspect at the time how indelible those five seconds would be? Or was I more worried about myself, wondering if something, deep down, was wrong with me?
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish