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Daddy’s Home

The chilling fog at my back, I pedal through a cherished neighborhood in Carmel Valley. My cheeks are warm from the sun and stretched widely by a gnat-catching grin. Gardens are burgeoning with lilies and roses. Privet and star jasmine spice the air - and my mind with memories of biking (albeit, with playing cards attached by clothes pins to my spokes) in the Central Valley where I grew up.

Happy as a clam, I pass lettuce patches and rows of carrots that roll to the forested hillsides above. A field of yellow mustard crops up and I begin to hear the strains of “Red, red wine . . .”

As I pull into the parking lot at Baja Cantina, a landmark for locals and tourists for decades, I am sure they must be playing a CD for all the Father’s Day revelers lunching and swilling beer on their deck. Bike parked, I peer through the crowd and am astonished. Two guys are actually singing and the lead Caucasian, packing a harmonica and tambourine, has his Haitian accent so down that I swear he’s singing it better than the original artist.

He works the crowd, “Hey, are you at that table newlyweds?”

They are and there are big congrats.

Then he says, “I’m going to sing a little something for those of you who have lost your dads or someone and miss them.”

This lovely young man, wearing a loose leather jacket and tousled golden brown hair, reminds me of several young loves of my youth and I am stabbed with longing for the happy hoopla my family, and my latest boyfriend and I, would create at any number of restaurants.

The song is wistful and as I gaze at the smoky hills beyond the farmlands my eyes start to prick with tears. I’m really missing my dad. He’d have loved being here. A devotee of Bob Dylan (whom he called Die-lan) he’d have “vibed” with the performers whom I learn are just half of The Money Band. He’d have loved the name they chose and their repertoire from Pink Floyd to the Beatles.

When the song ends I walk down a ramp behind the performers, peer through the bushes at their backs, and say, “I miss my dad, thank you.”

They both grab my hand and squeeze it compassionately.

“Hey, we all miss someone,” the tambourine man says. “Thanks for dropping by.”

As I wheel away I begin to thank my dad for what he gave me aside from a lot of grief (it was mutual). He passed along his passion, his rebellion (at his request, we played “The Boxer” at his funeral) and the love of nature.

And as I say these words to the sky, “Thank you Glenn Cantrell,” I envision the words. And that’s when the dam bursts. I honestly have forgotten whether his name is spelled with one or two “n” s.

Normally, in my Mental Pause ® column, I’d make a big joke about this. But there is nothing funny this time. I remember talking recently to a friend who is also 50-something plus and her saying she is truly worried that she can’t remember things – especially because her mother has Alzheimer’s.

I have been having short term memory loss, such as putting out a bottle of pills and not knowing whether I’ve just taken one. But this is long term memory and I have to know how to spell my father’s name. Good God, it’s his day.

It comes to me that I have a CD of Glen Campbell’s in my car – one that he autographed and sent to me after I interviewed him – and I KNOW their names are spelled differently. Glen and I had joked about it.

In angst, I wheel back to my car. By the time I get there, I am 90 percent sure dad’s is spelled with two “n”s. I am greatly relieved when I pull out the CD and see “Glen” Campbell.

Feeling thus satisfied, I continue my bike ride past buckeye trees (dad’s favorites), Doris Day’s compound (mom’s favorite singer and I won’t say where her house/animal retreat is) and past a little lake. Lying on the verdant grass is the duck lady, widely known in the area. Long hair flowing, with her signature, floppy-brimmed hat shading her face, I can see that she had brought her duck to swim with others in the pond. You see, when she’s not on her houseboat harbored in Monterey Bay, she’s biking around town with a carrier strapped to the back and a duck inside.

Oh how dad would have loved this day, its smells and sights. And he’d have made fast friends with the duck lady.

As I sit beneath a tree that droops its green fingers into the pond, I can feel my father hugging me: the youthful and burly father and my face resting on his starched white shirt; the old father reduced to suspenders, grinning, encircling my shoulders and saying, “I’m suh gla-a-ad tuh see yuh” (a consummate grammarian who loved to affect a Southern drawl); the educated father who worked his way through medical school; the farmer who raised the most perfect cymbidium orchids and tastiest cherry tomatoes on God’s green earth.

Funny, it’s been almost 15 years since he left this world, but I feel his presence more keenly today than any other Father’s Day. It’s even more peculiar when I consider that dad hated the event, the presents and the fuss.

He’d rather be down in his arbor, barbecuing steaks and talking to his orchids . . .


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