“Oh, Lord, sweetheart. Lordy, don’t get me started on your mother." I didn't get him started. I had just mentioned that my mother had dropped me off at the airport. "That woman. Man. She would walk into a room and not a single head in there didn’t turn. She was like that.” Steve was telling me, once again, what my mother was like as we sat eating terrible quesadillas and fajitas at the restaurant on top of the mountain. The sun was falling in through the windows, reflecting off the white snow, illuminating my daddy's face, lighting him from the inside out, highlighting his grey hair, deepening wrinkles and red lines of broken capillaries. “I’ll tell you about the first time I saw her.” I already knew about the first time he saw her.
“I was running Cutter Bills. Making a thousand dollars a day, darlin, and that was in the late 70s and I didn't do that whole tax thing. Your mother walked in the door and now, I gotta tell ya, she wasn’t dressed her best. She had on her sweats and that hair of hers was all over the place.” He chuckled, deep from his lungs, laced with a smoker's cough, and kept going. I knew the story well. She walked in his high end Western wear boutique looking like she didn’t have a dollar to her name, looking like she couldn't afford what they were selling. No one would help her. My daddy was busy charming the ladies and the gentlemen at the bar in the store – yes, they had a bar in the store – “Honey, we would give, you know for free, our customers the goddamn best alcohol and let ‘em shop or let ‘em get drunk or let ‘em do both. I don’t understand people these days. I don’t understand what the hell happened to customer service. It's really a shame.”
Now, my mother was looking around and not being helped and my daddy noticed. He noticed her and then he recognized her. She was the wife of a very well-known musician, the drummer from that goddamn band. Before he went to go help her, she had already left.
“Your mother was out the door before I got to her. And I’ll be damned, right on to hell, if I didn’t call a meeting after that and ream the shit out my staff about judging customers on their looks. Goddamn idiots. You never know who someone is, oh Lord, especially these days. These goddamn kids buying garments that are already ripped? Damnnation, I don’t know what that’s about. What's that about?" I stayed quiet because I didn't know what that was about.
"But you know, your mother, she came back." Deep lung chuckle/cough. "Everyone came back to my store. Darlin, a free bar brought everyone back. I liked drinkin but I liked makin money more.” That was true, at least at that time in his life. It wouldn’t be long before he liked drinking more than he liked anything else.
Steve's eyes kept drifting in and out of the present moment, looking past me and then at me and then past me again. They say your eyeballs stay the same size throughout your life. I kept imagining his light blue eyes sitting in the face of a younger man, a different man. A man with only a few fine lines and clear skin free of discoloration and red strokes. A man with cleaner lungs and a vibrant heart. He looked around at no one and nothing in particular, “I’m telling you, people don’t do it right these days. Where’s our water? Where’s our waiter? Damn turd.”
My mother did come back to my daddy’s store and he didn’t miss a step in his cowboy boots this time. Offered her a whiskey, she took a glass of wine and they laughed and laughed as my daddy charmed her wedding ring right off her dainty, lonely finger.
My dad kept telling me his story, their story, undoubtedly, glamorizing his memories. This old man, I had never thought of my daddy as so old before, but in this light, I knew he was old, reliving his past and what was and what might have been. I chugged my ginger ale, stomach getting more nauseous due to the jet lag and dehydration of being 12,000 feet above sea level. I couldn’t stop fixating on the tiny red tributaries sprinkled on his face, breaking off in every which way, connecting ears and chin, eyes and lips. When did my daddy get so old?
He suddenly looked at me, real serious, coughed without a chuckle and very softly said, “You know, I haven’t seen you in some years now. Too many years. And it’s crazy, you look like just like your mother in this light. I mean, just like her, darlin.”
And we sat for a while in the sunlight, not saying anything. My daddy looking old and me looking like my mother when my daddy knew her best.
3 weeks ago