My Cardboard Box

The Ghost of Pennsylvania Coal Country

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The old man had died three weeks ago.

This past Labor Day weekend, his children cleaned out his house. Not all of it and not all the children. Just the two rooms he’d spent his last months in, and the family room. The Eldest Sibling is moving back to be with Mom, having short-sold his house. The old man’s sickroom will be the sibling’s bedroom; the den, an office to help manage his company’s trans-ocean empire. There’ll be newish living room – sorry, parlor – furniture. Yes, parlor. The ghost of Pennsylvania coal-country still wanders here in the house, slowly fading, sometimes confused, sometimes sharply flaring up. Just like the siblings’ mother.

It was a choice between watching with their mother as the siblings and kids sort through old boxes and tote bins, or staying busy by helping the eldest paint and set up furniture. Stay busy, so you don’t have to think.

We painted ‘Sienna Sand’ on the bedroom walls. after having washed them and sanding the old paint-drips off. There were lots of drips. The old man had been an inpatient painter. He’d been impatient about everything.

The den went a bit easier, though with more drama. Who wants the books? Who wanted the computer? C’mon it’ll go in the trash otherwise. The tiny desk and the now-empty bookshelf went out, replaced after three hours by a screw-it-together Swedish ultramodern monstrosity.

Then it was over. Dinner. Last minute sorting through of stuff. A bit of television. Then the piece de resistance.

The old man had sported a tattoo from his Navy days. A pretty geisha, five inches tall, on his left bicep. He kept it hidden under his shirts. It was like his twenty-year Navy career: something he carried around for the rest of his life, and once in a while you got a glimpse of it, but it was obvious he sort of disliked it the longer he lived with it.

The Youngest Sibling had managed to take a picture of it with his smartphone. Judging by the photo, it was either near or at the end of the old man’s days. The Youngest Sibling had taken the photo to a tattoo artist friend. Now on his left bicep was a copy of the old man’s geisha, though a bit prettier and a bit more delicately inked. This was met with a mix of amazement and not a little consternation. For all of their outspoken coal mine union-born liberalism, it’s a pretty staid family.

“I guess we all have to remember him in our own way,” someone said. There was a muted, half-hearted agreement and then the evening broke up as the siblings went to their respective homes.

As we drove home, I thought. The few things the old man and I had had in common were the Navy, model trains (his dad had them) and golf. Lots of golf. Me sort-of playing, and him fuming that we and every other golfer on the damned course weren’t moving fast enough. I’m still not sure what he enjoyed more – the game or his yelling at me throughout the game. I got better, much better. He yelled less at me and more at the others. Then it became too late to enjoy the change.

Sometime in November or December, I’ll take my clubs back to Hell With Saguaros and play the three courses we used to frequent. I guess we do have to remember him in our own way


Written by PappyBro

September 8, 2011 at 19:17

Posted in Musings

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