I can hardly remember my father being at home during my youth- except for Christmas.
One image remains in my mind: the night one hurricane descended upon our south Texas city of Corpus Christi. Was it Beulah or Cecelia? I can’t remember the name of the hurricane nor which of my five siblings were present that night. I only recall my father sitting around the dining room table with us, after we had stacked cans of tuna in the pantry, lined up plastic gallons of water on the kitchen counters, purchased extra packages of “D” batteries, boxes of white candles, packets of kitchen matches, blocks of ice from the fish house stowed in a rusted ice chest. After Mother had scoured our two porcelain bathtubs to fill with fresh drinking water.
Now our father had to come home. There was nowhere else to go. Only later, my mother shared that during their courtship, she’d never seen a man so afraid of his own father. That Pennsylvania grandfather died before I was born, but when he passed away, she said, my father never shed a tear.
I did not know that as we gathered around the table to play a game of Hearts. I was excited not by the storm, but by my father’s presence. He never played cards. He was a clergyman with important ministries integrating the public schools, counseling bereaved congregants, composing inspirational Sunday sermons.
But this night only a deck of the red cyclist cards fanned out in our hands as we “waited out the storm.”
At some point, a green jug of Carlo Rossi’s burgundy, one from a case given to Dad for communion, was uncorked and set at the table’s center. Someone poured a round of wine in narrow orange juice glasses; the fine crystal only used at holidays. We toasted the storm, laughing, nervous, but most of all deeply pleased because our father, who usually art in heaven, was with us instead.
As we re-shuffled the deck, the roof shuddered. Winds bowed the newly taped sliding glass patio windows. From our transistor radio, a National Weather station broadcasted the shifting latitudes and longitudes of the hurricane’s eye. Wind speeds were clocked at 100 miles per hour, the male voice droned. Then120 mph. 160 mph. For another hour the eye of the storm stalled over the salty waves of the Gulf of Mexico, gaining speed and momentum. Suddenly it spun full throttle for us.
Our lights flickered off. We lit the newly filled lamp. The smudged isinglass of the farm lantern filled the dining room with its smoky kerosene. In the flickering light, even the lime green ferns painted on our dark brown wallpaper seemed to blow.
Then the radio fell silent. We heard a splintering crack. Our live oak in the front yard had snapped at its roots, blocking our front door.
But still, we played Hearts. We drank our communion wine. In the lamp-lit room, our faces glowed like gold. Looking down at his hand, my father smiled.
I remember feeling no fear. Only joy.