Dad lost his job when I was in junior high school, but he didn’t bother to tell my mom and I for two whole weeks. I knew this because of a letter that arrived, addressed to my dad from the trucking company he worked at. My mom placed it on top of his ashtray, which when it wasn’t in use also served as my my dad’s mail holder.
My dad was in the shower, but soon would be down to have a cup of coffee before heading out to run weekend errands. “The Three Stooges” were on, which as I’ve mentioned before is one of the few interests my Dad and I shared during my childhood. For some reason, the letter intrigued me, and as a snoopy pre-teen, I couldn’t resist exploring it. Turns out, I didn’t even need to open it. I held it up to the light and the dark typeset jumped right out at me. The first word that caught my eye was “termination.” There were other less important words, some I could make out, some I couldn’t, and then a date. It was for the Monday of the upcoming week.
I heard Dad coming down the stairs and quickly put the letter back in the ashtray. I turned my eyes to the TV screen, where Moe was hitting Curly upside the head with a fish. I slanted my eyes covertly in my dad’s direction as he opened the envelope. He tore it open by ripping off the side and blowing into the slit. The way he opened letters always annoyed me.
His emerald eyes quickened with a dark fire as he scanned the contents of the letter quickly, but he otherwise didn’t show any emotion. He re-folded the letter, placed it back in the envelope and slipped the envelope into one of his worn, dog-eared library books.
“Nyuk, nyuk nyuk,” Curly was chuckling across the TV screen.
“Oh I remember this one,” Dad said. “It’s a real good one.” Dad had no doubt seen all of the “Three Stooges” episodes, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise fairly dismal childhood marred by the Nazi aerial bombings that drove his family to the bomb shelter on a nightly basis for months.
And then he finished his coffee and went on his way. I thought for sure at the dinner table that night he would come clean with what I had dramatically envisioned as the “Big Confession.”
But dinner went off without any fireworks. Mom made one of our favorites, the chicken-dressing casserole that was strictly a can-box recipe, but we each had second helpings. Dad’s appetite didn’t seem to be impacted by the bad news at all.
And then the weekend was over and a new school week began for me, but for my dad, his work days had been shut down, at least temporarily. I knew and he knew, but my mom didn’t. So she went on faithfully packing his lunches every day, turkey or ham sandwiches with mayo, a banana or orange and a cookie. She kept packing those lunches for two weeks straight and dad kept taking those lunches and going off God-knows-where for the day. I suspect he hung out at the library, as his bar days were well behind him at this point. I suspect he ate those sack lunches in the car, or perhaps on one of the benches under the elm tree outside the library. Alas, I’ll never know for sure.
Finally, he spilled the beans and we began our financial purgatory. The small savings account that was set up as my college fund, started by my long-deceased grandparents, instead went to pay for my braces when our health insurance was cut off.
My dad would drop me off for my bi-weekly orthodontist appointments in the early afternoon. There was a massive Catholic church across the street. After my appointment, with my teeth aching from the tightening of the rubber bands, I would peek inside the car, where sometimes I would find him reading or napping. Usually, I would find him in the cool, quiet confines of the church, poised on the padded kneeler, eyes closed, praying. I would watch him from a distance while standing in the aisle; at that time of day we were often the only two souls in the church. The sun streamed through the stained glass windows, highlighting the dust particles floating unhurriedly through the atmosphere.
I had not been brought up as a Catholic like my dad nor a Southern Baptist like my mom, so the visits to the church didn’t make me feel anything in particular. But it was cool and quiet and comforting, much like the library which my dad and I both enjoyed spending countless hours in.
I carefully took my place in the pew beside my dad and waited as he prayed for a new job.