My first memories in life all involve my father.
I was born in New Mexico. I love this because it is strange and random and out of place…and perfectly delightful.
My dad was the pastor of a very small church in the city that harbors the sprawling Philmont Scout Ranch. I do not remember our home from that time: my parents tell me it was very small and very humble. But my parents had good friends in the town that I called “Grammy Lou” and “Papa Harry.” They were like a third pair of grandparents, and their home I do remember. It was just down the road from where we lived. I remember vividly walking toward it one night: the valley below us, the stars all around us, and my father either holding my hand, or bearing me up on his shoulders.
When I was about 3 years old, my parents moved from New Mexico to Kansas. We lived in Kansas briefly, then we moved to Kentucky. My second memory in life occurs during this move: we crossed a bridge and I was sitting beside my father as he drove. The bridge terrified me, and maybe I told him it did. But my father was driving, and I knew it would be ok.
My Dad was so many things to me. Above all, he was “my comforter.”
As a very little girl, I would often wake up in the mornings just before the break of dawn. My room would be filled with the bluish-grey light that comes just before the sun peaks its head over the corner of our world. I loved this time of day for its color and for its calm, and also because of what accompanied it: the smell of my father’s coffee brewing and the sound of his voice. He was always awake at this time of day. Sometimes, I would hear him in the kitchen talking to my mother. On other days, he would be on the phone with my aunts or uncles or grandma and grandpa, chatting away in his deep, jovial voice. Other days, he would play his guitar and sing. These sounds would lull me back to sleep…a little child in my bed…knowing that those I loved were only a few feet away.
As I got a little older, I developed a bad habit of needing to sleep in bed with my parents. Between this and my habit of sucking on my finger—not my thumb—and twirling my hair into wicked knots in my sleep—I created quite a dilemma for my parents. So did my brother, who also developed a need to sleep with mommy and daddy around the same time.
We learned the hard way that my mother was not the one to wake up when sneaking into the parental bedroom. She was (and still is) a light sleeper. Poor Charlie (my brother) was greeted by a terrible scream one night when he approached and disturbed my mother’s side of the bed. This was how we all learned to go to my dad.
I can still picture the journey in my head right now: the moment I woke up and realized the darkness was too close and too great. So I slipped out of my bed, perhaps a blanket or favorite animal in hand, and snuck down the hallway, carefully pushed open the door, and tiptoed to the side of what was (in my perspective) a very large bed.
It was at that moment that I would reach my little hand up and tap my father’s arm. He would stir, look over the edge of the bed at me, and instinctively move over and push his right arm straight out. This was my pillow. This was where I slept. And laying there, on my dad’s arm, warm and safe…the fear of the darkness would melt away. I was safe.
Sometimes as an adult I still wake up in the early morning hours to see my room filled with the greyish-blue light of my childhood. Before my father was stripped away from me, I would see this morning light, breathe a sigh of relief and whisper “thank you” before drifting back to sleep. Now, when I wake up to this time to day, I find myself wishing—more than anything—to hear the sound of my father’s voice echoing from the kitchen, and for the sound and smell of his gurgling coffee pot to fill the house.