My Dad thought for a few moments, and then said that one of his favorite memories of me would have to be the time that we were driving around, exploring the back country of Maine one summer.
I was probably 7 or 8, maybe 10 years old then. We were staying at my Mom’s uncle and aunt’s place – near Waterville, Maine if I remember correctly. Uncle Victor and Aunt Ruth had invited us to stay with them at their retired dairy farm – the former Curtiss Dairy – for a few weeks that summer. My Grandmother was in the hospital and my Mom wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. During those long summer days, my sister and I would explore Uncle Victor’s barnyard, which was still pretty much in the same state as it was years ago the day his dairy ceased operations. Empty pint and quart sized milk bottles sat in the bottling room, and cardboard bottle stoppers imprinted with “Curtiss Dairy” were strewn on a table. Some were still in unopened cardboard tubes. A tractor and a dusty 1950’s era Cadillac were parked inside the center of the old barn.
Aunt Ruth had an adult sized tricycle which had a basket in the back. When she wasn’t pedaling it to the store for groceries she would let us ride it around the dusty area between the house and the barn. Frequently her little gray poodle – I think they named him Andre – would ride in the basket. The poodle lived in there on the farm in constant deference to Butterball, a huge yellow tomcat who was 11 years old and almost twice the size of the poodle. Butterball lived off the mice around the farm and we saw him with a fresh catch nearly every day. Several times he caught a mouse in the middle of the night. Whenever this happened we all knew it because – for some reason – he insisted on dropping the mouse in the moonlit grass directly under Uncle Victor and Aunt Ruth’s bedroom window up on the 2nd floor. Standing over the mouse, Butterball would commence meowing and making a ruckus until Uncle Victor would open his bedroom window and call down in a sleepy gruff voice his approval to Butterball: “Yes, that’s a good mouse, Butterball!” Then and only then, the big cat would stop all the noise and get down to the business of eating his late night dinner. The next morning we’d find a piece of tail or some indescribable rodent part in the grass. I have never seen behavior like this in cats before or since.
It was a wonderful summer experience for us kids. We chased pigeons out of the lofts, peeked into the silo, and rode the neighbor’s ponies that grazed in the pastures. In the surrounding fields, tall brown grass almost as tall as I was waved in the breeze. Out in those fields one late afternoon, I saw a lark for the first and so far the only time in my life.
One day Dad loaded us kids into the family station wagon – a 1968 Plymouth Suburban – and we drove around exploring some of the back roads of the surrounding Maine countryside. He found an old quarry and drove down the gravel road into the depths of the quarry. All around us, tall piles of sand and gravel loomed in the bright summer sun.
I had sort of forgotten about this day, until Dina asked my Dad about his favorite memory and he retold the tale. In his words:
“We were driving around in the quarry, and I stopped the car in front of a huge mountain of sand and gravel. And before I could even put the car in park, Ralph opened his door and jumped out. He was off like a shot, and ran all the way up to the top of the tallest pile. He didn’t stop til he got to the top. And I just had this moment, seeing Ralph up there, where I thought, ‘That’s my son!’”
The way he told this, and the way he laughed when he told it was very meaningful for me. It was one of the first times in my life – and I was in my thirties by that time – when it really started to dawn on me how much I really meant to my Dad.
It shouldn’t have taken me so long to get it. My Dad and Mom both tried to tell me many many times over the years, how much I meant to them. But maybe its a message that is hard for a kid or even a young person to comprehend – at least until some right moment comes along. I think I started to understand when I had my own kids. They are my wishes that came true and I tell them so. I can only hope that they have some sense of how much they mean to me.
So as Father’s Day comes around, and I think about my dear Dad looking down on us from some better brighter place, I am happy that now I can say “Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I finally get it!”
About the Image: The Quarry, by Ralph Perrine c 2004. A glass sun catcher bearing the image of my recollections of that day in the quarry.