Once upon a time.
How many stories begin that way? It is the most classic beginning to a tale. One time, long ago, or perhaps not so long ago, there was an event. That is, I suppose, what it means.
And once upon a time there was an event. There were many. In my life, in yours. Life is an adventure, and a collection of many little adventures strung together into a symphony. There are deep chords of pain in the composition, and trilling tones of joy. Sometimes they run right together until they are almost one and the same.
That is life. It moves, and flows, and swells, and crescendos, and then it just keeps moving on.
When I was young, I ran through the yard, that field-sized yard with flowering weeds up to my knees that snagged at my socks. I remember the hot sun and brilliant green everywhere around me with lowlights of deep grayish brown. In that yard, I could be a fairy or an elf or a Pokemon trainer or a pioneer girl – like the ones from my dad’s stories that he told us night after night. Oh, those stories. Some had dinosaurs. Others melon-eating-bears, or butt-wagging-dogs, or vultures that nursed humans back to health. They were quirky stories, and I probably still carry some (or a lot) of that quirkiness in the way I tell my own stories to friends (or at least they seem to think I tell stories in an inherently amusing way).
These are all some my fondest memories as a kid. My dad would play with my younger brother and me outside, and the large magnolia leaves were fish that we would spear onto sticks and roast over a fire that only we could see. And then we would take off down our long and winding driveway to hunt a deer that was as hard to spot (to the untrained eye) as the fire.
Once, my dad got me a guinea pig for my birthday. I turned nine that day. I show up to my third grade classroom, after spending the night at my mom’s the day before, and found something on my desk. A little box, complete with a squealing orange and white guinea pig, delivered to me in my classroom. When you’re nine, things like that feel like the coolest thing in the world. I had my own pet in my own classroom at school of all places. Most likely, the poor guinea pig was frightened as all get out, with at least a dozen grubby kids wanting to play with him, but he went on to live what was probably a pretty happy life for a guinea pig. Food, adventure (of both the travelling-to-a-different-state variety and the wooden block mazes we constructed for him and his mate), and (see mate) plenty of procreation. Which for a little critter, is pretty much where life is at.
Sometimes my dad would look at the weather report and decide that the next morning would be perfect for fishing on the gulf and some early morning crabbing. So we would load our kayaks or boat into the back of his 2003 Toyota Tundra, and wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning, and head to the beach (stopping for snacks, of course). After a long day, that felt longer than it was, we would load back up a little bit crispy from the sun and crunchy from the sand. The carpet of the truck would be sandy for weeks.
Living with my dad has always been an adventure. It has provided me with countless stories to amuse my friends with, and occasional awkward moments. But ultimately, my dad has made more of an amazing positive impact on my life than I can even put into words. He’s there for me when I’m being irrational (it happens a lot). He makes me laugh, and lets me cry when I need to. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of such fond memories of my dad and with my dad. I remember him carrying both my brother and I – one in each arm – from the YMCA (after he had worked out, mind you) – to the nearest Starbucks. One of those times, my dad got coffee. Well, he got coffee every time, but one time in particular he told me that this coffee was special. It was ant coffee, made from real ants. Of course the little me sitting on the light wood chair wanted to try some. I was disappointed. It tasted just like regular coffee, which I wasn’t exactly fond of at that age. I later realized that (surprise!) it was regular coffee made from regular coffee beans, and that if any ants were involved in the process – which honestly is pretty likely – it wasn’t on purpose. On another Starbucks-related note: There was a rat named Migor that had escaped from a research lab and lived under the bench seats at Starbucks biting people’s toes for revenge (not really – don’t call the health inspection folks).
But that was (and is) life with my dad. It was stories and weird food and stories about the weird food. It was jars of canned jellyfish that looked like snot that we kept around for far too long. It was pine needle or goldenrod tea as a snack. It was grasshoppers, rattle snake, raccoon, or deer heart served up with the rest of (the normal parts of) Thanksgiving dinner.
Life with my dad is a little disorganized and a little crazy, but ultimately it is simply beautiful. Either way, the point I’m trying to make is that my dad has made my life so much more amazing, so much more colorful, and so much more exciting. Through all the imperfection, my dad has been there. He’s taught me and helped me grow into a better person. I tell people so often that I don’t know what I would do without my dad in my life. And it’s true. I have no idea what my life would look like without him in it. Sure, life would go on, I would have survived and possibly even thrived – but my life wouldn’t be as great as it is, and I would be nowhere near who I am today without this amazing man in my life.So, Dad. I love you. Thank you.