Another Novel Excerpt
I must have been four or five – still in preschool. At craft time we were gluing small blue tiles on to the bottom of metal ashtrays. The tiles were pretty I remember – different shades of blues and teals. No body at my house smoked. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with an ashtray. Then I remembered that my dad smoked. How exciting! I could give it to my dad in a few months when I saw him.
Months passed and my mom, my sister, and I were standing in a mall half way between Huntington and Michigan City. (Michigan City is where my mother’s parents lived. They had a house right on Lake Michigan and we spent a lot of time during the summers there on the beach.) I stood there next to a bench in front of a potted plant facing an entrance and waiting with cheap little blue tiled ashtray in my hand for my dad to come. I was excited but mostly nervous and scared and already homesick. Even though we went every year, when you’re little you don’t like leaving your mom for three weeks to go live with practical strangers.
There they were, my dad and my grandpa, coming in the door smiling. Both were big men around six feet with big barrel chests and happy wide faces. Both of them had great smiles. I carry some of that smile on my face today. We all exchanged pleasantries. My mom liked to keep these exchanges short. She never got to the point where she was comfortable around her ex-husband after he was an ex. But before we all filed out to the parking lot to move luggage from one car to the other, my mother nudged me and gestured toward my little hand. “Don’t you have something you want to show them?” she reminded me.
Oh, of course. “I made this for you.” I said as I held out the blue-bottomed ashtray to my father. “It’s an ashtray.”
“Oh, I don’t need it. I quit smoking,” he said. He put his hands up in a gesture to show that they were empty and then put them back in his pockets. I was left standing with my arm outstretched offering my present to no one. He didn’t even take it and look at it and then give it back. He just didn’t take it. He seemed very proud that he had stopped smoking as well he should have been. But aren’t you always supposed to take the presents that your children give you even if you have absolutely no use for them, even if they’re ugly and cheap? Aren’t you supposed to take them and praise the workmanship and tell your daughter that the ashtray she made was beautiful?
I feel like I knew that even at five. My mom clearly knew that for she reached out with an incredulous look at my dad and took the little ashtray. “We’ll give it to Grandpa Main,” she offered. “He smokes pipes and he would love to have a new ashtray.” She put the ashtray in her bag and changed the subject quickly and got us all moving toward the parking lot.
I don’t think I was too hurt by it at the time. I certainly didn’t feel how I imagine feeling now if I saw something similar happening to a child. And I don’t want to paint my father in the wrong light. This little discourtesy may have been the only time in my life where my dad hurt my feelings. So in all honesty he was a fine father and a caring parent. It probably was just one of those times when the excitement of an accomplishment and the lack of parental experience come together to break a little girls heart. Luckily I was a tough little girl with a fast healing heart and no insecurities about being loved by my family.