Dad walked through the front door, nodded to Mom who was poring over the stove preparing dinner and set his cumbersome work bag down on the other side of the kitchen wall. Mom and I had finished cleaning up our mess from playing in the living room just in time for him to get home. I watched him from the tan couch covered in a hideous floral print attempting to decipher his mood. Was he going to be angry with me again? Was he going to take off his belt and spank me right away? Or would he cuddle me close and shower me with affection? I was hopeful for the latter. He looked in my direction as he settled down into the velvety brown rocker chair in the corner of the living room and his gray eyes grinned with pleasure at the sight of me. His right hand reached up to pull the hat off his head. He tossed it on the side table and rubbed his hand back through his sandy-blonde hair, ruffling it up in attempt to undo the linear indent left by the hat. I giggled, jumped off the couch, and ran towards him, awaiting embrace. His camouflage covered arms were stiff as they wrapped around my tiny body and squeezed. The overwhelming scent of sweat, old paper, petroleum, and shoe polish filled my nostrils, the scent of Dad.
“Do you want to take Daddy’s boots off?” he asked, planting a firm kiss on my pliable right cheek.
I squirmed my way out of his arms to the foot of the chair. Mom and Dad talked through the small cutout window in the wall between the kitchen and living room and I tuned them out completely as I set about my task of taking off Daddy’s big boots. First, I shoved his starchy pant legs up to the middle of his shin. Secondly, I had to undo the laces from each little eye hole one by one until only the first 4 holes were filled up with the lace. Then I slid my hands down inside the top of the boot and stretched them outwards before pulling with all my might to get the boot off. Next, I moved to the other foot. Lastly, and my very favorite part, I pulled his pant legs back down and unrolled them from the inside revealing the tiny little green band that fell around his ankle like a bracelet. There were two little metal hooks keeping it together that I always struggled to undo. He usually let me fumble a bit before leaning over to undo them. It seemed something he and Momma were talking about upset him because he didn’t wait before leaning over with agitation and moving my hands out of the way so he could take care of it himself.
I loved those little green bands. They were like my Daddy’s tiny secret that he was carrying around all day but no one else could see. I used to try to run off and play with them but I got in trouble after losing them once. Dad yelled at me and spanked my bottom. Later he told me they helped keep his pants from touching the ground because he would get in trouble if they did, and they helped keep bugs from getting inside his pants and boots and biting him all up.
“How long until dinner?” he asked through the window.
Mom looked back at the stove before responding “about half an hour.”
Mom watched Dad’s face as it turned disgruntled. She hollered to me from the other room, “Kayla, come in here, please.”
In the kitchen, Momma handed me the peanut butter jar with the green & red label and a spoon. I raced back to Dad’s lap excitedly and he unscrewed the cap and let me dip the spoon in for the first bite. Instead of taking it myself, I gestured for him to open wide and shoved the spoon right in his mouth.
“Mmmm, Thank You, Kayla,” he indulged me with exaggeration.
We ate. We licked the spoon. He smelled my peanut butter breath. We giggled. I pointed out the food caught in his mustache. He spun around in the chair, holding me tight to his chest. I had his undivided attention. It’s my earliest memory and one of my very happiest.
I’m sure we only sat there eating from the jar for a couple of moments but it is such a distinct reflection of mine. Mom, just out of reach on the other side of the wall, visible only when she wanted to be seen through the littlest frame of a window, me completely content just to be in my dad’s arms as long as mom was very nearby, sheltered by the enormity of his figure compared to mine. Standing alone, apart from everything else I felt about both of my parents throughout life, this particular and minuscule stretch of time on one singular evening from my childhood foreshadowed a time I’d live through many years later, a time when my Mom’s person and motives would become fuzzy after her death but my dad would be right there resting on the swivel-y and rocky brown chair of life, earnestly trying his absolute hardest, with or without my awareness, to keep me firmly planted on himself, on solid ground.