It has been six months since Lloyd Minister passed away. The last three weeks have been a trial for his son Eugene. All of Lloyd’s possessions had been stored when Eugene had to remove them from his father’s room at the senior’s home. He only lived there one night. Most items, mainly furnishings, have been sold, except the antique pieces Eugene and his wife kept. Clothing, bedding and other things nobody wanted have been given away. The Salvation Army van picked them up last week. Eugene himself had carried out the last box packed with his father’s folded suits, to place it in the van. With head hanging and deep reluctance he had set the carton softly in the vehicle but couldn’t let it go, couldn’t take his hands away from the last remnants of the man’s physical presence. The driver had to coax him, lead him gently aside.
Only four more cartons needed attention, the same that Eugene had been putting off. Lloyd always referred to them as his “four boxes of memories”; it wasn’t going to be easy. Banker’s boxes with a giant 1, 2, 3 and 4 on their lids rested at Eugene’s feet in the corner of his den. Early morning sunshine streams in through two large windows on the opposite wall to yellow the room with positive vibes. It seems to suggest to Eugene that this is okay, a good time to discover his father’s cherished possessions. He has cleared his cluttered desk earlier this morning so he would have adequate space to dig through the containers.
Number 1 had already been arranged, detailed and categorized. Deeds for two houses, Lloyds and his parent’s homestead in Kent County, a deed for a forty acre parcel of land along the Richibucto River, last will and testament freshly returned from the lawyer’s office, several bank books offering a rich and tidy sum of $36,341.89, bank statements for the last five years and other papers only left to be filed, except the $25,000.00 insurance policy yet to be honoured. Useless receipts and documents have been discarded, the box only half full now. Eugene pushes it aside with his foot.
Lifting box #2 he places it on his desk. Removing the flat top, he sets it against the nicked leg of the desk. He remains standing so he can see what it contains. On the top are seven clear folders, 8 x 11, with a plastic button on the flap that lines up with another button on the envelope that is joined by a figure eight of white thin string. Each hold a large colored ribbon attached to a circular disc of similar material, silky and cheap. Four discs proclaim first place, blue ribbons; three bedecked in red stated next best, 2nd. Eugene leafs through them stopping at the middle one, a winner. There is a six by four black and white photo in the bottom corner. Lloyd and Eugene are standing in front of a 762 lb pumpkin. Eugene has pants that are an inch too short and suspenders over a white shirt, he is only five. Lloyd wears a plaid shirt and coveralls, a dark fedora low over his brow, a dead cigar in his mouth, he is sixty and the same ribbon is pinned to his chest.
Eugene fondly remembers the tenderness and attention his father gave to his pumpkin patch, even after long days of fishing in the Atlantic, he tended his orange beauties. Unwinding the flimsy strings, he saves the photos, the plastic and the ribbons are slowly lowered into the garbage bin at his side. Feelings of betrayal unnerve him making him want to dig them back out but they’re meaningless to Eugene so he forces his mind away.
A bundle of old photos with curled edges from the red elastic that holds them sits askew upon a folded newspaper. Removing the rubber band he leafs through the pictures. He’s seen them before, mostly people he doesn’t know and deceased relatives. There are not many, maybe twenty or so, all black and whites. Deciding he’ll ask Margaret, his father’s cousin about them, he replaces the elastic holding them to set the packet on the front right corner of his desk, the spot he designated for things he didn’t know what to do with and couldn’t be thrown out.
Digging through the remaining items, many of them end up in the “round file” except the folded newspaper. It’s dated July 16, 1969. The front page, top of the fold is a photo of the Saturn V rocket lifting off from Merritt Island, Florida with the Apollo 11 crew of Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin. Eugene reflects for a moment, smiling as he remembers Lloyd’s fascination with the moon, how it told him when to plant his pumpkins, how it controlled the tides, riding the sky as it waned and waxed, but mostly to imagine that men walked upon its surface. A tiny tap on the door interrupt’s his thoughts. Setting the newspaper in the “what to do “corner, he says,
Its 8:30 on a Saturday morning and Eugene’s wife, Taffy (short for Taffeta, a name she hates), is an artist and a certified machinist. She sculpts, shapes, bends, twists and polishes all shapes and sizes of metal into expressive works of art. She’s wearing scuffed steel-toed shoes that look clunky on her small feet, her favourite Levi’s that are faded baby blue and a red long sleeved t-shirt with an image of “Minnie Mouse” on the front. Her blondish hair is pinned to the back of her head, a few wisps loose and waving. Her green eyes sparkle at him as she offer’s him a steaming mug of coffee.
“How’s it going?”
Eugene smiles at his wife, loving her support. She held him many nights after his father died.
“I’m glad I’m doing this, these things meant a lot to Dad. I’m almost done the second one.”
They chat for five minutes, mostly about the giant pumpkins. Taffy is finishing her latest project, a sculpture for the foyer on the new engineering faculty building at the University, the deadline is next week so she is anxious to head to her studio in the garage. She departs with a quick kiss and a pat on his butt. With a feeling of slight euphoria, Eugene returns to the box.
The last item is a bunch of loose letters on another sheet of newspaper, not the whole issue, just one page. Eugene thinks it odd that the letters are helter-skelter, not bundled in Lloyd’s usual neat manner, almost as if they were just thrown in. The top two are stamped RTS and remain unopened. Recognizing his father’s slanted script, Eugene lifts the top one out to study it. It is addressed to Denise Livingston in London, Ontario. The post mark is dated 1972, the year before he was born. Setting it down, he pulls out the rest, there are seven more. They are slit open across the top fold. The handwriting on the front is loopy and large, very concise. They are addressed to Lloyd.
Pausing to stare at the patch of sun that is crossing the floor, he remembers his father talking about a woman named Denise and how his face lit up when he did. It wasn’t often but when someone commented on him being a bachelor, he always spoke of “the one that got away” and her name was Denise. Eugene returns his gaze to the box; he gathers the letters uncovering the newspaper page. It’s a page from The London Free Press, from 1973. A page of classifieds and the section that is circled with a pencil is noted Announcements. Under the black banner that precedes the title, is the notice of the wedding of Denise Livingston and ...
Feeling low for how his father must’ve felt he sits down for a moment, the clipping in his lap. Closing his eyes, he can still remember the time when he was six, after the first day at school and he asked Lloyd why he had no mother. That was the first time he heard about Denise. After that every woman he met he would ask if she was Denise and his father would laugh. This was one of his fondest memories, thinking of his father laughing, big hearty chuckles. Grinning he stands again confronting an empty box. Setting it on the floor behind him, he replaces the letters and clipping, thinking to decide on them later, maybe read them, he’d ask Taffy.
He bends to lift the third box, surprised again how heavy it is. Removing the cover, he finds some issues of Field and Stream. A bouquet of old ink stirs as he lifts the top issue from the box. A sensation like a sad warmness flows through him as he rubs his hand over the cover. He has a momentary vision of Lloyd on his rocker, the squeaky wooden one in the kitchen, a cigar in his mouth, cheap glasses half way down his nose as he reads his monthly fishing magazine. Always after supper the day he received it. And the trips he planned to take. Eugene could imagine his husky voice,
“We will fish for sport instead of for our bread. We’ll chase the stubborn salmon, catch him and let him go.”
But they never went. Life had been too busy with the harvest of the sea, housekeeping, school, sports, chores and plain getting by. Thinking of the many things Lloyd gave up for him, the letters on the cover get a little blurry; Eugene tries to blink away the tears and only the tiniest one falls to the glossy page. He takes a deep breath, clearing his mind. Remembering that his father often told him taking a trip was just a wish and wasn’t as important as spending time at home with his son, he smiles as he lifts the dozen that are in the top half of the box to put them to the left of his desk on the floor. That pile will go to a charity.
In the bottom of the box are scribblers. Multicolored testaments to Eugene’s schooling. The top one is from Grade 1, with crude stick people drawn in pencil on the bottom corners. Eugene’s name is neatly printed in large childish letters over the subject line which is blank. Shuffling the collection he notices how the printing of his name changes over the years from rough letters to a tiny cursive script, the same as he uses today. Doodling is evident on all of them. From grade three to grade seven the caricatures are more menacing as they often carry guns or drive heavily armed tanks. The school subjects are mostly math and science, the two classes he loved most in school, the ones he usually had the highest marks in. He’s glad Lloyd didn’t keep the ones for history classes, he liked neither the course nor the teacher, old Mr. Beechum who never ever smiled or said anything nice, no matter what you did it was never good enough.
He stops as he reaches the orange colored leaflet from Grade 10. The simple sketches have become mostly hearts with arrows piercing the dormant organs. Quite a few of them have the letters EM L LW. LW are the initials of his first girlfriend. He pauses for a moment to remember Linda, wondering where she is now, she had taken off after graduation with only her back pack bragging that she was going to work her way around the world. Her parents moved to Alberta. One of his friends told him several years ago that she married an African and they were operating an orphanage in Mali but he’s never heard from her. Eugene forgets the rest of the scribblers, removing them from the box to place them in the garbage receptacle, deciding they’re of no value any longer. Placing the empty container on the floor, he stretches to relieve his sore back. Gazing at the last box, he decides to take a break before tackling it.
His office is across the hall from the bathroom and he stops to relieve himself. His three children are at Taffy’s parents for the weekend, he can hear his wife hammering on something in the garage so he doesn’t bother shutting the door. He grins thinking how he never wanted to shut the door when he was small, the bathroom was claustrophobic. Lloyd would growl at him,
“Shut the darn door, nobody wants to hear you tinkling, you do that in private.”
Eugene chuckles as he remembers his reply, with the audacity of a five year old, and how Lloyd laughed at him.
“But we’re both men and we both have pee-pees.”
Heading into the kitchen, he follows the aroma of baked blueberry muffins. There is a plate of them Taffy made this morning on the counter by the fridge. They’re still wrapped in their white crinkled papers, the mushroom like tops are moist and dotted with blue temptation. Yanking open the fridge door, he grabs a can of Pepsi from the bottom shelf, picks the two plumpest muffins to head back to the den.
A gulp or two of the frosty cola, he removes the little skirt from one of the desserts. While he munches on it, he turns on his stereo, changing the cd. Clapton out, Nina Simonne in. Turning the volume low, he returns to the fourth box as the sultriest of voices begins to sing about love. The last box is not as heavy as he heaves it onto the desk. Removing the lid, the first thing he sees is a very old picture album surprised by the fact that he’s never seen it before. Lloyd liked taking pictures keeping them in albums in the living room, but not this one. It’s thick containing black heavy pages that are worn on the edges. The front is dark brown faux leather that is creased and split in spots. Balancing it on the top lip of the box, he opens the cover.
Join me next Friday to find out what else is in the box. Eugene and I will be expecting you.
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