When I was a little girl, my parents didn’t have an abundance of money. I was very fortunate: I had a warm home, plenty of clothes on my back, and I never went hungry (unless I refused to eat that which was put before me—and not often even then). However, we lived on a budget administered by Mom. Mom was a tough CFO. Once a week my dad would bring home his paycheck. Mom would take it too the bank, deposit it and keep out just enough cash for that week’s expenses. She would buy groceries and give Dad his “running money” for the week. Mom bought groceries once a week. Period. If we ran out of something before the end of the week, we ran out of something. There were no second, third, fourth trips to the grocery store.
My Dad was a pressman at the Atlanta Newspapers. He worked the graveyard shift for more than 30 years. We would eat dinner and around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., Dad would head off to work. He would come home at 3:00 a.m. or so the next morning. He slept during the day, and when he was up before dinner, he could usually be found in his machine shop, working to add to the family coffers. He basically had two jobs.
When I was really little, I remember the big comfortable chair in which he most often sat—the “Gorilla chair”. Usually I tried to be in the Gorilla chair when I knew Daddy would be coming in to sit down and watch TV, and we would have a tickle fight in which the Gorilla would attempt to get the squatter out of his chair. Or if he was already in the chair and I ran and jumped into his lap, I always checked his shirt pocket. Usually I could find a stick of Juicy Fruit or Beech Nut chewing gum to “steal” from the gorilla.
No matter what, there was always a smile and a hug waiting for me in the Gorilla chair. I could run and jump on that chair with the confidence that I would not be brushed away. I never heard, “I’m busy now” from my dad. I never got brushed away for a TV show. If he was watching The Three Stooges, a Bela Lugosi movie or a football game, I was invited to watch with him. If he was reading a book, he put it down—or if appropriate, he read parts to me (I remember him reading me Treasure Island and some bits and pieces of the works of James Harriot).
As I grew older, there was less of the gorilla chair—although I still searched Dad’s shirt pocket every time I greeted him with a hug and a kiss. And, I read for myself mostly.
Things like band concerts, honors programs, etc. were attended by Mom. Dad was invariably working. But he was always there, and looking back on it I know that Dad—even when he was working on those loud, dirty, ink-covered presses—was thinking about me.
Sometimes on Fridays, when the cupboard was getting bare and the contents of my lunch were getting trying, I would open my lunch bag at school to find that Dad had brought home a Kit Kat candy bar for Mom to put into my lunch.
I can see my dad as he left his shift reaching into his pocket, finding an extra quarter, popping it into the vending machine and selecting a Kit Kat. The bar falls, its descent and the clank of the machine echoing in the not-yet-awake halls of the Atlanta Newspapers. He pops the Kit Kat in his shirt pocket and smiles.
It’s always nice to have a gorilla on your side.
© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.