Air conducting

untitled-mid-80s

It’s a Sunday night in the spring, about 8 p.m. My two younger brothers are off who-knows-where. (This was a rural town in the mid 1980s, back when 12- and 9-year-old boys could wander freely about town on their bikes like real Goonies, and nobody thought twice about it so long as they were home by dark.) Mom is still at church, across the street, talking to the choir members who are still there.

I’ve left the church – I sang in the choir, too, though not as well as the kindly adults assured me I did and certainly not nearly as well as I thought I did, but that’s neither here nor there for this vignette.

I take the covered walkway in four strides, up the five brick steps onto the screen porch, careful not to let the screen door bang behind me, and walk through the open back door into the den.

And there’s my Dad. He’s sitting on the couch against the wall of windows that look out onto the screen porch, so he’s on my immediate right as I cross the threshold.

But he doesn’t notice me, because he’s air conducting Beethoven, and his eyes are closed.

He’s put a Beethoven Sonata CD in the CD player, turned up the speakers almost full volume, and is blissfully counting four-four time with his hands, cuing the strings, the drum, the piano, the woodwinds. He has major conductor face going on – concentrated, scowling, eyebrows raised then furrowed, head nods and expansive arms, shoulders hunched and then squared.

I would just as soon have expected to see him licking the carpet, this was so out of character.

My Dad wore pants and long-sleeves year-round, even when it was 98 degrees outside and he was working in his un-air-conditioned woodshop.

My Dad rarely showed amusement beyond a smile or a chuckle, though he wasn’t at all morose or unpleasant. Just not the guffawing type.

My Dad didn’t hurry. He didn’t yell. He didn’t leave his bedroom without being fully dressed (no lounging around the house in an undershirt). He didn’t get flustered. He was dignified but not stodgy. He wasn’t a snuggler or a hugger or a ruffle-your-head-squeeze-your-cheeks kind of guy.

He wasn’t a playmate to me or my brothers. We may or may not be welcome to tag along with whatever task he was attending at any given moment, but he was not the dad to play cards or board games, ride bikes, jump on the trampoline.

And he certainly was never silly.

This “air conducting” scenario was one of only a half dozen or so silly episodes I recall with 18 years of childhood under Gary Mullinax. (It’s probably why they stand out in such relief in my memory.)

At any rate, I get about 10 seconds of this completely unexpected amusement before I make some kind of noise that interrupts his performance. He catches me watching him in baffled delight, pauses in mid-measure, and grins like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie dish. Holding a baton, no less.

I’m so pleasantly shocked I grin back, shake my head in a careful “tsk-tsk” sort of way, and continue through the den, into the hallway, both of us silently acknowledging this little secret, the sound of his slightly-but-not-really-embarrassed chuckle – and Beethoven – following me.

People tell me I seem comfortable in my own skin.

What they don’t know is this is yet another gift from my father.

Sometimes, however undignified it looks, you just gotta do what strikes your fancy, though you may willingly tow the proper line every other minute of the day. And if you get caught in your harmless silliness? Grin, and keep going.

Be yourself. The cliché rang true in my Dad.

One of these days, if I am fortunate enough to grow up to be like him, it will ring as true in me.

 

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Published in: on October 18, 2016 at 2:33 am  Leave a Comment  

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