Sunday, May 29, 2016

To the Tree and Back

To the tree. That was as far as dad, the frequently over-protective insurance executive, allowed my siblings and I to ride. No less, only on the sidewalk. A fine scenario for Big Wheels and traditional tricycles, but once graduating to two-wheeled bicycles, with multiple gears, it became ridiculous. Despite a decent sized sidewalk and front yard, a few strides and we were at our destination; then, we had to stop, turn around at the tree and head back toward the driveway leading to the backyard. All on the sidewalk, and, upon occasion, to the mockery of other neighborhood kids. Any deviation from the path, like, perhaps, in the street, would be met with a grave warning - which I experienced more than once transgressing the rule whenever possible. It was not that he thought we could not recognize an oncoming car in order to avoid it. In his professional capacity, he just had seen too many kids who had not - and, even more, drivers not paying attention. This simply carried over to his duty as a dad.
  Decidedly, this ludicrous restriction would be eased and eventually abandoned as gradual disregard triumphantly won out in the battle of wills.
  When my 16th birthday approached, my buddy Kevin and I finally were able to take my birthday present - my 1970 Mustang convertible, powered by a modified Boss 351 Cleveland engine - out for a short spin. An extended short one. Not too extended, but still more than around the neighborhood. I only had my learner’s permit at the time, but Kevin, a few months older than me, already was licensed. Thus, I could drive with him in the car. Besides, we were just driving to the grocery store...and to the popular strip mall across town for a lap around it. There was a grocery store adjacent to it as well, but that wasn’t the one to which we were headed.
  After visiting the grocery store, we backtracked in the opposite direction. A movie theater anchored the strip mall, with a few fast food joints and a gas station. Many high school students hung out there on weekends, just cruising and loitering. The latter, of course, according to the police. As we reached midpoint into our cruise around the main strip, Kevin noted a car beelining toward us as it crossed the large parking lot.
  “Hey, that car looks like your older sister’s Firebird,” he casually stated.
  Turning to my left to look, I noticed the license plate. Exasperated, I shook my head.
  “That’s because it is my sister’s Firebird. And we’re in trouble.”
  She wasn’t the one driving though.
  He pulled behind us, honking and flashing the headlights. I immediately pulled into the movie theater’s parking lot, which was surprisingly empty. Kevin and I sat still, as my dad leapt from the car and slammed the door behind him. He was more frustrated than angry, but it seethed. At least he had taken the time to tuck his red nightshirt - yes, dear reader, a nightshirt! - into his pair of fading jeans, along with throwing on his low-cut blue Converse sneakers. His graying brown wavy hair, however, was disheveled – probably further turning gray as he approached. Thankfully, there was no one around, i.e. high school girls, to see this epic display of fashion.
  “What the hell are you two doing?” he questioned, leaning into my open driver-side window.
  Incredulously looking up at him, I held my nervous laughter. “W-We went to the store, like I said we were, and now we’re heading back home. Did you follow us, dad?” I tersely asked.
  “Funny, it looks to me like you’re cruising around,” he retorted, wagging a stern finger at us. “And, yes I did. Now, get your butts home immediately.”
  He stormed back to the Firebird.
  I calmly drove away without protest and out of the parking lot onto the road toward the waiting intersection. Kevin and I stared ahead in silence as we waited for the red light to change, the music emanating from the vintage radio barely audible over the grumbling engine. Dad was directly behind us.
  Kevin broke the veiled sullenness. “Was he wearing a stocking cap?”
  I laughed, breaking my frustrated glare. “No, that was his hair sticking up. Apparently, he just got out of bed to come look for us.”
  Kevin nodded his head, laughing as well. “Looked like a stocking cap.”
  That blithe peculiarity amused both of us. When the light turned green, we proceeded on without further comment. Privately, as we traversed the road back home, I pondered the events. I had tested the boundaries of my understandably cautious, albeit seemingly inane, subjection, yet again breaching the imposed barrier of the watchman tree. Surreptitiously, I brashly grinned at the thought...also remembering that he was just adhering to his duty as a dad, looking out for his many sons - blood-related or not.
  Today, he would have turned 77 years old.
  See ya at the tree, dad! Wear your stocking cap!

[Read similar stories and much more in my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life -]

©2016 Steve Sagarra