Approval Rating © 2004 Ginger Hamilton Caudill
Dad doesn't talk when he comes to visit. He doesn't call beforehand; he lets himself in with the key I didn't give him. The only evidence he's been here is the scent of his pipe smoke floating through the rooms and halls.
"Hi, Dad, I missed you at Thanksgiving. You should've seen the turkey I made. Phill said it was the prettiest one he's ever laid eyes on. Everyone loved it too. I fixed it with pure maple syrup,the kind you always liked, and bacon. Sounds weird, doesn't it? I got the recipe from Redbook. It was splendid.
"Made my first apple pie this year too. I even did a latticework crust. It came out perfect, all golden and just right – not burnt or raw like so many apple pies. I didn't make my pecan pie this year. Every time I think about pecan pies, I see Joe throwing that chair across the dining room. Maybe next year. I did make a pumpkin custard though, and homemade whipped cream. You would've loved it.
"We missed Mena at Thanksgiving again this year. She's still out at BYU, you know. I worry about her, wonder how she survives, how she's handling her diabetes, if she has enough money for everything she needs. She is hoping to get in for Christmas though, and I'm very excited about that. Keep your fingers crossed.
"I've had several pieces accepted for publication since you were here last. Most of them don't pay but a few do. It's a start. Used to be folks framed their first dollar. Guess I'm gonna have to frame the Paypal printout for my first payment, huh? I'm due a nice check from a print publication but it won't come till they actually print the issue, and that's not due to come out till sometime in December. "
Dad remains silent. I wonder what he thinks, why he came. Does he enjoy me blathering on about my life? Or does he still judge and find me unworthy? The aroma of pipe smoke fades as he wanders into the kitchen. My cat Sam follows happily behind him. Frosty seems oblivious to Dad but Sam always shows interest. I don't know why. It's not as if Dad ever pets Sam or feeds her or even acknowledges her existence. Sam seeks his approval as I do.
"I could fix you something to eat if you're hungry." His face is expressionless, dead flat. He shakes his head slowly, scornful. My cheeks burn with shame. "Sorry, I wasn't thinking."
Dad moves through the hallway to the back door and leaves without a word, a lingering trail of pipe smoke the only substantiation he was here. I draw the scent deep into my lungs. It's the only physical connection we maintain. The pipe smoke is my Dad and my Dad has become the pipe smoke. In life he seethed and smoldered. Anger and disappointment with me were his dominant sentiments. In death, the fumes hang in the air long after his departure.
I forget his anger and concentrate on the sweet scent of the smoke,and smile.~~GHC