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Friday, September 30, 2011

Heidi

When I first remember my dad he was a tall man and slender.  About 6’6”, probably 160 pounds.  Straight bearing, like a soldier, broad enough shoulders.  He did a lot of physical labor at the house after work—turning gardens (with a spade), trundling wheelbarrows of dirt.  Building a room out of the open front porch.  We kids went to sleep many, many nights to the sound of the Shop Smith in the basement.

Dad had some amazing skills he brought out of the army.  He could wiggle his ears, for one.  At the end of his army career, before he was medically discharged, he spent months on his back in the hospital because of ulcers.  To amuse himself he learned to isolate and use muscles.  Like ear wiggling muscles. One eyebrow muscle.  He could make an arch of his little finger and index finger and dance the two middle fingers in and out of the arch.  He could pull off his thumb (which really was a sleight of hand trick).    Of course we children tried and tried and, unlike not being able to take out our teeth like our grandma did, we developed some small dexterous skills ourselves.

And, dad read to us.  It was my 8th birthday and I’d received Heidi as a birthday present.  He was reading it to Walt and me, and had Heidi half way up that mountain when he got sick.  He went to bed on my brother’s birthday, the day after mine, and then went to the hospital.  We kept waiting for him to come back and read what happened to Heidi at her grandfather’s house.  When I couldn’t wait any more, I found the book and kept on reading.  Walt got bored and wandered off, but I had to know. 

When dad came home he was very skinny and ate baby food from jars for a long time because much of his stomach had been removed to cure the ulcers.  He probably weighed 140 pounds, and stayed that way for years—until he tore down the chicken coop and contracted histoplasmosis.

After a while dad was feeling better and asked me if I wanted to hear more of Heidi.  I had finished it.  “Well, well,” he said.  He took all three of us to the library.  Dad sat on a chair at a table in the children’s section.  His knees were up near his elbows.  He held my little brother, Melvin, on his lap, and all three of us wrote our names on a little white card.  Each of us received a library card to use to borrow any book we wanted from the library.  Mel could print only his name; he was only three, and had sat and practiced it over and over at the dining room table so he could get a library card, too.   The library was downtown, and either mom or dad had to drive us, but it was a weekly outing.  Thanks, Mom and Dad. I’ve never been over the habit.






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