Last night at dinner I asked my father to tell me the turtle story again. I had been a little surprised that my sister had never heard the story and wanted to make sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.
“Do you remember the story of the turtle eggs when you were a little boy?” I asked.
“What? Oh… I think my father told me to go check the bag in the pantry and there were turtles in it,” he said. Ah — the detail of the pantry. I had forgotten that.
“But,” I persisted, “didn’t some bigger boys give nuts to you and tell you they were turtle eggs?”
“Maybe,” he said vaguely.
“But when we came down that winding road to the Red Sea, I can still see the man’s face,” he said, as if this was a continuation of the turtle story. “You know that road had so many switchbacks — back and forth,” and he drew a zig-zag in the air to show me, “and when we got there, the man had this big smile on face because he was so happy I had arrived and he could go home.”
This memory crops up quite frequently these days. He remembers vividly the expression on one man’s face at a very specific point in time.
“Where is Mom buried?” he asked, as if something about that memory had reminded him of her. It was the first time he has ever asked me that.
“At the columbarium at the church,” I replied.
Last year for Mother’s Day, I had tried to interest him in bringing flowers to the columbarium. I bought a plant and had Bud drop us off at the cemetery before church so we could pause for a moment with Mom. My father, however, didn’t pause. He just hurried toward the church. I placed the pansies there by myself, feeling a double sadness, and hurried after him.
“I met Elinor when I had that job picking up IV bottles from the nurses’ stations. We got to talking and hit it right off,” he said, continuing last night’s dinner conversation.
I started to ask him to elaborate on it. I wanted to know if he remembered what they talked about (which was hiking).
“But you should have seen that guy’s face,” my father said, changing gears again without notice. “He had the biggest smile because I was there and he could go home.”
I’m never quite sure what I should take from the story.
Is it the switchbacks? My father certainly incorporates switchbacks into many conversation now — not necessarily the story of the switchbacks, but actually switchbacks, where he changes direction so often and so quickly that I can’t always follow.
Or, is it the arrival at a new place and the beginning of a great new adventure?
Or, is it the idea of going home and the great joy that brings?