Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes.~ Gloria Naylor
June is upon us and that means kids out of school, family vacations, cookouts, picnics, watermelons and mosquitoes. June is the month we set aside a day to remember, reflect, and honor our fathers.
When summer sunsets begin to peek through leaf-filled trees or hot afternoon breezes purr up and down shady streets, I become a girl again peddling my bike through my old neighborhood.
Smoke is spiraling up from the Johnson’s charcoal grill. I sniff the thick burgers they’re cooking and my stomach growls in response. Many back yard grilling sessions will take place over the summer because cooking outdoors is what we do during hot weather in the South.
I continue to peddle my bike where down the street, my friend Linda is sweeping the driveway for her dollar a week allowance while her daddy pulls weeds and stuffs them into a basket to mulch his vegetable garden. Linda’s daddy grows the best tomatoes on the block. Every Saturday morning, he and his teenage boys do the picking; that afternoon, Linda and her mother share nature’s bounty with the neighborhood.
I meet up with some friends and we revel in the fact that we have no homework now that school’s out. We talk about the cute boy who’s moved to town from Charleston, the new Revlon lipstick shade, my hot new bathing suit and Friday’s shag contest at the river pavilion. We flap our hands a lot.
Pretty soon I hear the sound for which I have been half-listening. No, it’s not the musical tones of a cell phone interrupting our girly conversations. It is way too early in the century for microchips and fiber optics to govern our lives. Black telephones are the norm, with no dials or touch-tones. Forget about texting. It’s not even on Buck Rogers’s radar screen.
I stop talking and hand-gesturing when I hear a particular sound, and immediately listen for the second one. My daddy whistles for my brother and me to come home for supper.
All the neighborhood fathers whistle, but Daddy’s is unique, used only for calling my brother and me home. With two fingers in his mouth, he rolls up his tongue and somehow blows through his fingers. The whistle has its own timbre and gains in pitch as it reaches a final crescendo. ‘Whew-a-WHEW!’ It’s loud enough for us to hear it a block away.
Although the other whistles are recognizable, it is to my daddy’s distinctive sound that I respond. He whistles twice, allowing ten minutes for us to stop what we’re doing and start peddling.
For supper, Mama has made a big pot of soup and a full steamer of rice. The soup is thick with vegetables straight out of Linda’s daddy’s garden with added chunks of stew meat for even more flavor. My brother and I fill our tummies with soup, corn muffins and big glasses of milk left on our doorstep in quart bottles before the morning sun came up.
If any soup remains in our bowls, we sop it up with the crusty corn muffins smeared with Aunt Polly’s country butter — a sweet, slightly tangy taste of which Land O’Lakes can only dream.
After supper, Mama and Daddy retreat to the living room to quietly read the Times and Democrat newspaper. My brother and I are consigned to the kitchen to do the dishes and try not to kill or permanently disfigure each other.
We say grace before meals; my brother washes the dishes and I dry. My parents read the day’s paper directing only an occasional comment to each other. It is the ritual played out by our Southern family of four and it is how we close the door on another day.
It all begins with Daddy whistle.
Electronics now play an essential role in all of our lives, and cell phones provide a far better form of communication between parent and child. However, electronics can never replace the warmth that fills me on summer evenings when I inhale the aroma of grilled hamburgers, when I recall the importance I placed on buying a new bathing suit every June, or when it’s time to cook a pot of vegetable soup and call my family to supper.
I wish I could hear Daddy’s whistle again. If I could, I would tell him how that small piece of himself has now become a part of me.