The Tomatoes Always Tasted So Sweet.
My dad is the only one I can remember who frequented the cafeteria of J.J. Finley, my elementary school in Gainesville, Florida. Every week he came to eat lunch with me, and every week he left with tomatoes all over his crisp white shirt, tie, and suit.
Even when my dad wasn’t at school eating lunch with me, we communicated. He packed my lunch each morning, and along with his staple goodies—a hunk of cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes, sandwiches on wheat bread—he always wrote a note and stuck it in my brown bag. On the front of the piece of paper, my dad unfailingly wrote “Kate” encircled by a red heart. The text of the note went something like, “I hope you have a wonderful day! Love, Dad.”
I was too young to be embarrassed by such parental affection. It might have been different in middle school, but in elementary school, I was the Queen Bee with the Adoring Dad.
When he came to visit me in the cafeteria, he had steadfast confidence that I would learn to eat my cherry tomatoes without biting into them and squirting the juice all over his clothes. He was (and still is) a law professor and dean, and while his attire has always been formal, his position in academia was such that a little red stain once a week just wasn’t a big deal. At least that’s what he told me.
When I was a little older, my family moved to a lake house just outside of Gainesville. We skied year-round, after school and on weekends. I, the youngest of three, would wait with baited breath for my dad and older siblings to clamber into our old blue motorboat (it had just enough umph to get us up on slaloms).
Often we motored into the middle of the lake without our Golden Retriever, Kipper. Sometimes he simply wasn’t around when we left, but sometimes we just thought we could have a dog-free trip.
Once we were in the middle of the lake, my dad would inevitably spot Kipper swimming frantically toward us, doing the doggie paddle like he was in the Doggie Olympics. Dad would get a resigned look on his face. He knew it was going to be unpleasant, but he knew what he must do to keep his kids and his dog happy.
Kipper would swim right up to the edge of the boat, and dad would idle the motor. He lunged over the side of the boat, wrapping his forearms around Kipper’s forearms. Kipper would continue the doggie paddle, scraping his toenails along my dad’s chest. Dad would lift our 95-pound (who knows how heavy soaking wet) dog out of the water, getting lake water, sand, and burnt sienna hair all over his chest. He would drop the grateful dog onto the floor of the boat, and warned everyone to quickly move away for the dog’s giant shake.
It wasn’t a pleasant job, but I know my dad never minded.
Fred Freaky Ferdinand.
My dad put me to bed every night, and every night he manufactured a new tale about “Fred Freaky Ferdinand” and “Frances Felicia Fernwood.” Fred ran an ice cream shop and Frances ran a flower shop. They were madly in love, but were consistently foiled by one quirky event or another.
I have friends’ parents who still ask me about Fred Freaky Ferdinand, and whether my dad has written a children’s book out of the stories he spun. He hasn’t, but I can only hope that he’s still making up more so that when my children are old enough, they too can dream in the land of the sweet people whose names all start with “F.”
Cooking in college.
Dad is an introvert, and I am an extrovert. When he visited me in college, he always marveled at the fact that I had twenty-five (or so) best friends. Every night, the phone at my apartment rang off the hook as my college roommate and I arranged the evening’s activities. When my dad came to visit, he got a goofy look on his face and chuckled. He loved how different we were.
One time when my dad visited, he decided he would go grocery shopping and make dinner for all of my friends. He bought a load of wine, fixings for pasta, and hunkered down in my apartment kitchen. It was just after Halloween, and my roommate and I still had the Spice Girls (it was circa 1997) outfits we’d donned for a costume party. Dad thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
My dad’s dad’s birthday.
I just had my first baby in September, and my dad could not get to Atlanta until several hours after my son was born. I had not slept in a couple of days, and had pretty much been through the ringer, but my emotions did not get the best of me until my dad walked in the hospital room. I broke down crying. So happy for me. So happy for my dad. So happy for my dad’s dad, who had been born ninety years—to the day—prior and was most certainly watching us from his comfy lounge chair in heaven.