My Father’s Hands
My fingers brushed the rough, charcoal stone. My fingers traced the words that my eyes could not bear to read. I knew the words by heart. It seemed that they had burned into my soul. “Charles Alexander Perebon,” my fingers traced for the hundredth time. “Beloved father, husband, and friend, born March 3, 1948, died November 12, 2005.” The inscription said, “Here lies one whose name was writ in the hearts of those who loved him most.”
My watery eyes opened slightly and I rubbed them, hoping that this scene before me was not real. I stood dressed in a dark suit staring at my father’s grave in a cemetery. Feeling a soft hand on my shoulder, I turned to see my mother. She looked at me, and then at the grave. Her large, blue eyes rested on my hand, still on the tomb. “You have his hands, you know,” she whispered softly. “My eyes, but his hands,” she said. I had always thought my hands were my own.
The bright green grass still had morning dew on it. “I can’t leave,” I said. “If only we would have had one more day together—maybe I could have– ” but my voice faltered. My mom just placed her arm around my shoulder. Tears streamed from both of our eyes, and we were silent. I looked at my own hand, wondering if it really were my father’s hand.
A memory suddenly entered my mind. My father’s warm voice rang out in the bright sunlight of his workshop. “Charlie, can you pass me the sand paper?” My father was finishing a door for the Stevensons, who lived in San Marcos. Their new home would be finished soon, and everyone knew my father was the best carpenter in the whole area. His craftsmanship was personal. Before making a door, he talked with the customer and sketched the design until the customer said it was perfect. I helped him every summer, but I especially remembered one particular summer.
“Charlie, will you bring me the sand paper?”
“Sure, Dad,” I said. When I returned with the paper, we both began sanding the wood smooth.
“You liked the art class you took this last year in school, didn’t you?” he said
“Dad, I loved it.”
“Do you miss getting a new assignment each week?”
I tried to appear tough, but I said, “I sure do, Dad.”
“Then, would you like to start making sketches of the doors for the customers? You can start with Peter Jenkins. He’ll be here around one thirty.”
“Really?” I exclaimed.
“Of course,” he said, smiling. My dad must have known that I loved drawing more than anything else.
I watched him work every summer for years. He always started with a simple piece of wood. Then, he would sand it, carve unique designs into it, and varnish or paint it. Sometimes, he even cut a piece of wood out and added glass to the door. He would always say, “The door is what a guest sees first, before anything else. The door is the smile of a house.”
His hands were rough from handling the wood and strong like the wood. When he handed me the reply from my dream art college, my hands weakly shook as I opened it. “I made it in!” I yelled. “I knew you did!” my father said proudly. “Marianne, Charlie got in!” he said. I heard my mom’s light footsteps as she flew into the room and said “Charlie! This is incredible.” I moved to Chicago. The busy crowded, gray streets were nothing like the green fields of the Texas hill country, my old home. I grew accustomed to the city though, and I obtained an advertising position right after I graduated from the art college.
The cold office with my sketch board and pens became my home. I loved my work and I worked all the time. I worked sixty hours a week. I usually came home for Christmas to see my family, and sometimes I even came for thanksgiving. I never visited in the summer though, and I never realized that once a year is not enough to see my family, until now. Now it was too late.
My father had tried to tell me they missed me, but they never asked me directly to move back. I never mentioned it either. My head was constantly filled with new slogans, bright colors, and imaginative ideas. This morning, November 12, I had been sketching a design for Fanny’s Flowers. Flower advertisements were usually all the same; they usually were romantic advertisements. This design needed something different. Cut flowers do not last forever. I began to sketch flowers in pots. I sketched two small pots with bright pink flowers in them. Then, I began to draw a wide, simple door in the middle of the pots. I realized I had drawn the entrance to my old home. I knew I had seen the same drawing somewhere, but I could not remember where.
It was November; almost time for Christmas. Eleven months ago, I had seen my father. I knew that there was a chasm between my father and me. The time and miles between us were my fault. I wanted to tell him that I was sorry for thinking that I could live as if he were not alive. I tried to sleep, but felt I should call my father. I longed to hear his voice. I longed to tell him that I’m sorry and that I loved him. I wanted to be near him again like all of those summers.
“No,” I thought. I’ll surprise him by flying home tomorrow. I turned off the light and fell asleep. I remember receiving a phone call from my mother. My father had suddenly had a stroke and was in a coma. I flew back home, but it was not the surprise that I had hoped it would be.
Now I stood by my mother, in a silent cemetery, thinking, “If only.” I wanted to go back to the times when my mother, father, and I would sit on the porch watching the sunset. Usually we said nothing. We just simply sat together. He carved little things with wood, and I sketched with wood pencils. Our hands were similar, but not the same. His hands stopped carving sometimes to brush my mother’s hair from her face and to trace her smile, reflecting his own joy from being around her. I wanted hands like his– hands that could stop doing thing that they loved for a little while, to treasure the people that they loved.
“If only!” I cried. “If only I could have his hands, to show him the picture of our house and our door.” I closed my eyes, and let myself go. I let myself fall weightlessly on the ground in the cemetery. Instead of feeling soft grass, I felt wood. The hard wood awakened me. Where was I? I was on the floor in my apartment. Everything was dark, except my clock. It was three twenty-four A.M. What day was it? I checked my open planner next to my clock. November 12th. I sat on the floor and cried. I couldn’t believe my father had actually—that my father was really— then I stopped. Was it really too late? I had to find out for sure.
I threw some clothes in a bag, grabbed my wallet, and hailed a taxi to the airport. I figured it would take me six hours to get to Boerne, Texas. I would have to fly to Dallas, then to San Antonio, rent a car, and drive to Boerne.
At nine forty-seven A.M., I pulled into the driveway. My old driveway. I walked up the stone walkway that led to our door. The door, which faced the east, seemed to be smiling in the sun. From the glass on the door, I could see a light in the kitchen. I rang the doorbell. I heard the heavy footsteps that I recognized so well. The door creaked open.
“Son!” said my father, as his mouth dropped open.
“What are you doing here? Is everything all right?” my father said. Tears formed in my eyes and I could not stop them from running down my face.
“I was going to call, but…”I could not finish my sentence.He traced the tears that came running down my face.
“I came because– because I— had the worst dream and– Dad, I came to tell you— to tell you that I love you. I miss you. And mom. I think I need to move back to Texas,” I said. “I need to come back home.”
He grabbed my outstretched hand and hugged me. I felt ten years old all over again. I stepped back to look at my porch, my father, my father’s door, and the flowers. It was exactly as I had drawn it. I remembered where I had seen the original drawing. My father had drawn a picture just like it that hung in his workshop. I had not been in the workshop in many years and I had forgotten it existed. When I had once asked my father why he had a picture of our door in his shop, he said that it reminded him that there is a time for going to work, and time for coming home. Today was my time to come home. I thought, “Maybe I have my father’s hands after all.”
© Sagebrush Review I Spring 2006