The smell of car grease and WD-40 and rubber and sweet sweat. The sight of dirt mixed with black smudges on his knuckles and up his bulky forearms and under his short groomed fingernails.
When I was little, he was allowed to chew tobacco in the garage and when he worked in the yard so I’d catch shadowy glimpses of the package in the glove box of his truck and the little bulge in his cheek.
Faded Levi’s and a plain white v-neck t-shirt and dark chocolate brown boots. When it was cold out, he might have on a quilted flannel shirt or his old beat up denim jacket. In the summertime, he’d have on cutoff jeans that hit halfway up his thighs, shirtless and shoeless. He always tanned easily and looked healthy.
Daddy could be a real horse’s *ss. He was a smart*ss through and through.
It was as if sarcasm were a part of the man’s thought process, as if he weren’t capable of a thought without criticism. He had a better way of doing everything and was an expert at virtually every task. This was all the more irritating since he actually could do damn near anything, fix anything, figure out anything.
He was smart and creative and confident, great with his hands and a free thinking problem solver.
He was determined under pressure and calm in an emergency. He was a trained EMT and volunteered for our small town’s fire and rescue service.
Daddy served on the school board, worked all the football games, escorted us for countless homecoming courts and attended all of our pageants, plays, piano recitals and dance recitals. He worked day and night, long shifts at his job and longer hours at home for his girls or our school or our church or our town.
He was dependable and honorable. He took us all over the world, traveling amazing places and sharing adventures, dressed in fine clothes and feasting on fine meals. But he never needed or wanted the biggest house or the finest car or the flashiest things.
He wanted a life with his girls—and to work with his own tools, use his own hands and decide with his own mind.
He taught me about screwdrivers and wrenches and drills and circular saws. He taught me about motors and engines and toilets and power sources.
He taught me about being organized and meticulous, about having processes and repetition. He taught me to shoot a rifle and to bait a hook. There were instructions and explanation to everything he did and as often as not it drove me damn crazy.
But I heard him. It got through. Daddy, I heard it all.
I know why a man is supposed to walk on the curb side of the sidewalk when accompanying me. I know why he’s supposed to open the door to a building, a room and a car and hold the elevator door for me. I know why he’s supposed to pull out my chair at a dinner table and why he’s supposed to offer to order my drink or my meal for me.
I know why he’s supposed to offer me his arm when going anywhere in public or in a crowd. I know why he’s supposed to get on the boat first and offer me his hand and go down stairs in front of me and up stairs behind me.
I know that the best men can fix a lawnmower and wear a crisp suit with elegance that same day. I know the best of men can laugh with all of their joy and cry softly and wrap their arms around a little girl so she feels all of his silent comfort.
The smell of fresh cut grass and gasoline. The feel of Lava soap on my hands. The sound of an old pickup truck door slamming shut. His deep gravely voice coming from across the house. The safety of his hugs. The way he looked at mom every single day. I didn’t miss it. Any of it.
It’s with me, Daddy.
Author: Cristy Courtney
Editor: Renee Jahnke & Ashleigh Hitchcock
Image: Andrew E Laresen-Flickr