When my bloated gas bill arrived the other day, I just about fainted.
“Well, (expletive deleted)!” I said out loud in a clenched-teeth growl. “Just can’t win! They gotcha comin’, they gotcha goin.’ It’s one thing after another. What next?!”
At that moment, I felt as if I’d been struck my lightning. In that flash, I knew my dead Dad lives. I was startled; I sounded just like him. He’s been reincarnated. Into me! His cantankerous ghost was afoot, and I was channeling his voice, his words. Spooky.
It’s so strange how our departed parents resurface. They’re waiting in the wings, teasing us, surprising us, popping up when least expected, playing peek-a-boo as we discover, with an odd mixture of dread and delight, we are them. Their sweet revenge.
Once upon a time, I used to think my parents were hopeless. So un-cool. They’d get tears in their eyes watching the Lawrence Welk Show. What squares. They hated early rock ‘n’ roll and later complained when we kids played Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Come on now, jeez, how dumb can you get?
Mom, a farm girl from Benson, graduated from St. Cloud Teachers’ College (SCSU now) and worked as a grade-school teacher until she met Garrett “Mike” Dalman, a music-loving auto-mechanic and life-loving-sometimes-grumpy wild card. They had six kids. Ma was a housewife, but in later years she worked as a clerk in several stores.
Born in Maple Lake, Dad was a fun-loving but hard-working man who loved playing violin, clarinet and saxophone when he wasn’t working on everybody’s cars – except ours. He enjoyed his snorts of brandy – too much so – but he never missed a day of work in his life. He worked hard, played hard. He was a member of an old-time band and sometimes sat in as a clarinet player with the St. Cloud Municipal Band when they’d play in the 1950s in the bandshell in St. Cloud’s Barden Park, a block north of our house.
Mom and Dad loved to go out on weekends, especially when Dad was playing at some ballroom or another. We kids loved it, too, because when they were away, we mice would play. The house was all ours and – oh boy! – did we let loose. We’d rearrange the furniture and play a hooligan game of house tag, leaping like monkeys from one piece of furniture to the next, using the beds as trampolines, having pillow fights, sneaking snorts of Dad’s brandy that he dumbly hid in the most obvious corner of the kitchen cupboard. Then, at the Pumpkin Hour, near 1 a.m. – quick, hurry up, they’ll be home soon! – we’d put the house back in order, sort of. Then we’d rush to our beds and pretend to be sleeping. Fake snores. Our complicit, naughty babysitters were always in on the fun and mayhem.
In the morning, we’d wake up to a sweet variety of treats our parents would leave for us on the dining-room table: Snickers, Mars bars, Walnut Crush, Old Dutch chips. Sweet-tooth rewards for being good kids? Oh, if they only knew.
When I was in my 30s, I realized my gray-haired parents were smarter than I’d thought once upon a time. One day, I apologized for all the grief we kids caused them.
“Golldarn it, sonny!” said Dad (he called everybody “sonny.”) “We did the same things when we were kids.”
Mom flickered a mischievous smile.
“Son-of-a-gun, have a snort!” said Dad, chuckling, pouring me a snifter of Petri’s brandy.
The older I get, the more I miss my parents. I miss their humor, their voices, their lively conversations. When I was a pre-teen, so many late nights I would lay on the floor of my upstairs bedroom, next to the stove-pipe vent, to overhear my parents having a roaring good time talking and laughing with their guests in the room below. The sound and mysterious meanings of adult conversation both puzzled and mesmerized me.
I can still hear their voices channeled through me when I say:
“You just never know.”
“They gotcha comin’, they gotcha goin’.”
“If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.”
“You just can’t win.”
I can hear Mom’s weary sigh; I can hear Dad spit those phrases out in a kind of dog’s growl, usually preceeded or followed by a few scorching unprintables.
I can just hear Mom saying: “Mike, watch your mouth!” In fact, I can still hear her saying it (“Denny, watch your mouth!”) every time I add a scorching word, just like Dad, to one of their sayings.