Jewish World Review June 24, 2011 / 22 Sivan, 5771
By Greg Crosby
There was a magical quality to Dad's stuff, more so than anyone else's. Maybe it was because Dad's life was more private than the rest of us…or so it seemed to me as a child. All I know is, his stuff was the good stuff. He had a gold money clip in the shape of a dollar sign, old key chains, pocket knives, bus tokens, a skeleton key, old rubber stamps, large red dice and poker chips with the names Desert Inn and El Rancho Vegas printed on them, matchbooks with alluring graphics, a Horner Harmonica, ball-point pens (some used as promotional give-a-ways with various company names on them), a wealth of collar stays, tie bars, tie-tacks and tie pins. Cuff links in every conceivable size and style. Cigarette lighters and a couple of cigarette cases (each stored in a soft cotton pouch). A pocket comb, nail clippers, monogrammed handkerchiefs. Tools of the trade for a previous generation of American man. These were not expensive things for the most part, but they were his and because of that, treasures to me.
He kept most of these things, when not on his person, either on top of his dresser (in cufflink boxes and within an ugly ceramic kangaroo figurine valet) or in the top drawer. That top drawer was the real cache--the crème de la crème of Dad's stuff. I remember it being quite expansive and deep by today's furniture standards.
Naturally I knew I wasn't supposed to be going through that drawer, which of course made sneaking in there all the more exciting. The practical function of the top drawer was to store his socks, undershirts and handkerchiefs, but it held much more. This was where he kept the switchblade knife hidden in a reading glasses case beneath the underclothes. Here, too, were the old personal address books, letters and business cards with people's names I'd never heard of. Odd little black and white photographs of people I didn't recognize. Anniversary cards with private hand written notes at the bottom, sometimes extending to the back of the card. A dog-eared pocketbook of poetry. Decks of playing cards. There was definitely a life here that had nothing to do with me.
There was a cigar box filled with birthday cards from Mom and us kids going back years. There were the little things that we made in school for Father's Day--he actually kept them all. Even his socks were interesting. I never knew there could be so many variations on navy and black.
Everything he had smelled like him. Canoe, I think, or maybe Brut, but mixed with his own scent to create a smell as personal as fingerprints. It was a warm comforting smell. A smell I haven't smelled since he died twenty five years ago. The "stuff" is still around, I've got some of it, but the scent, his scent that his belongings acquired, has long since dissipated.
There were a few rare times when Dad took me to work with him. How special and exciting it was to be alone with him, riding downtown in his black Pontiac. Some of the people in Dad's office made a fuss over me as he walked me to his desk. "You sit here, son, at my desk…here's some paper and pens to draw with. I've got to meet with some customers, but I'll be back soon."
Alone at Dad's desk, I discovered more of his stuff. Purple ink pads and stamps, strange wheel-like hard erasers with little brooms at the bottom (I found out later these were for typewriters). In one of his desk drawers there were matches, cigarettes, and a deck of cards. A pack of Sen-Sen, some Blackjack chewing gum along with assorted pencils, pens, business cards, and postage stamps rounded out the stash.
In the middle drawer were loads of paper clips, stationary, rubber bands, push pins, order books, and carbon paper. Different things than at home, but in a way, even more mysterious. In another drawer a can of black shoe polish together with a well used buffer and cotton rags permeated the wood with a pleasant oily scent. A big heavy looking adding machine was at the corner of one of the other desks. Ash trays all over the office--large glass ones on every desk and gray standing ash trays next to every guest chair.
As a young observer I enjoyed the noisy hubbub of the office; phones ringing, people hurrying around, customers looking for salesmen, salesmen looking for customers, secretaries looking for files, and always somebody looking for coffee. There were lots of jokes being told, wise cracks, and breezy repartee-- much more, it seems, then I hear in offices today. This was my dad's place, and by bringing me down there he was allowing me to glimpse a piece of his life away from our house. He was showing me that I was a part of his world not only at home but also at work or wherever he was. I was proud to be there and I hoped to make him proud of me.
In the top drawer of my dresser in the bedroom I have a watch, a large cameo ring, a cigarette case in a cotton pouch, a cigarette lighter and cuff links which belonged to my father. I also have some birthday cards and letters he wrote me, but I keep those somewhere else since they don't make dresser drawers as big as they used to.
And, yes, much to my wife's chagrin, I do have an ugly ceramic kangaroo valet sitting on top of my dresser…right next to the photograph of Dad.
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© 2008, Greg Crosby