Janet Sheridan: Storing away small things

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Janet Sheridan

In late-blooming Craig, we can’t count on Easter; snow too often falls on the hidden eggs.

With luck, our spring holidays are Mother's Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day — three memory-rich celebrations, when hearts envelop loved ones.

I’m one of seven children raised by hard-working parents who supported us, molded us and enjoyed us. During a recent family reunion, we visited our parents’ grave.

We stood on gentle grass under a fresh sky and told stories of their living and their dying. Our words returned them to us, if only briefly.

It’s a gift to remember and share defining details about those you love. I first realized the importance of storing up memories when I visited my dad near the end of his life.

In 1999, I maneuvered my car through descending canyon curves and arrived in Lander, Wyo., mid-day on the Fourth of July. Along Main Street flags waved, bunting billowed and bars disgorged patriotic cowboys.

At my parent’s house, I opened the unlocked front door and lingered for a few seconds in the cool dimness of rooms filled with the essence of my mother, though she’d died five years before.

Dad didn't answer my call, but I found a note from him on the drop-leaf table that slanted along with the floor of the aging house.

Typically terse, his message read: "At store."

I walked out the back door and two blocks over to the supermarket. Inside its air-conditioned chill, I threaded my way through holiday shoppers buying potato chips and charcoal and watched for my erect, slender, still handsome father.

Then I heard a familiar sound: a series of loud deep thumps mixed with lighter hollow taps. The pattern of rhythmic knocks continued, with slightly different tones: some resonant, some muffled. I headed toward the produce section, pulled by the soft drumming only I seemed to notice.

As I brushed between the carts of two women bemoaning limp lettuce, I saw my dad.

Wearing blue coveralls and a cowboy hat purchased at a garage sale, he studied a bin of watermelons. Curling his hand into a fist, he tapped his chest, tapped a promising melon, tapped his head, and then the same melon again.

He shook his head in disappointment — the good-looking melon hadn’t met his standards — and turned to thump another.

He’d taught me his secret method for selecting ripe watermelon years before: "You hit your chest twice, the melon twice, your head twice, then the melon twice again. Compare the sounds: A ripe one will echo the sound of your chest — deep, bass, solid. One that should have been allowed to grow up a little longer will sound like your head — tinny and hollow. At least that's how my head sounds. You've been to college; it might not work for you."

That day, as I approached my 90-year-old father, he saw me and lit with a smile, "Come over here, Janet, let's hear what sort of clatter your head makes today."

We stood in the produce section and knocked away, oblivious to the glances we drew as we rapped and debated until we whacked our way to a tasty choice.

I believe my memory of choosing watermelon with my dad has retained clarity and importance because, during those moments, I realized I could soon lose this man, and I needed to store up details about him, lest I forget.

I blinked away tears as I thumped.

I don't think he noticed.

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