When I was a child, the school bus would stop at our house in the country before the morning had barely begun to stir. During the cold months, while waiting for the bus to arrive, my breath would exit my mouth like fog. I didn’t want to miss the bus, yet neither did I want to stand outside in the cold for long. Timing was important. If the school bus was scheduled to stop at our house at 7:00, I’d walk to the dirt road at 6:55. And if my father had some free time before the day started, my brothers and sisters and I would sometimes leave for school while he was still asleep.
Rushing to find some lunch money before catching the bus, I would often slip into my parents’ room and grab the pants my father had dropped on the floor beside the bed the previous night. In the darkness, rummaging among spark plugs, nuts and bolts, screws, washers, ball bearing, keys, and receipts, searching blindly for quarters, nickels, and dimes, I would awaken odors clinging to the items he carried in his pocket, and the scent of motor oil and soil would come to me. I have carried the memory of that scent throughout the years. It sleeps in me, in my head, in my heart, in my vascular system.
One morning, digging for lunch money, I wrapped my hands around something smooth and round in my father’s pocket. Curious, I pulled a Cat’s-eye marble from among the change, probably discovered either in a field, in the parking lot of the Feed & Seed store, in the woods, or at a gas station. After studying the clear marble divided by swirling scarves of multi-colored glass, I put it back among all the other items.
Cleaning the clutter from my purse last week, I thought of my father, of the many treasures he kept in his pockets, of the thrill of the hunt that consumed me when I lifted his pants from the floor and plundered for change. In the bottom of my large purse I found two rocks, a root that resembled a face, a button, a marble, a piece of flint, a pecan, and a piece of wood with an abstract shape to it, things my father would have kept.
A day or so after finding the marble, I asked Daddy if I could hold it. He told me he no longer had the it, that he’d given it to a small boy. He said the boy’s family had nothing at all, that he doubted the child had a toy to call his own.
I can picture my father standing near a tractor, talking to a man, a person going through a hard time. I imagine a barefooted boy standing nearby, the man’s son. In my mind, my father asks the child if he likes marbles. The boy nods, his eyes peering into my father’s face, his hands and face dirty. My father winks, a quick flick of the eyelid, a signal of something to come. He reaches into his pocket, searches among the nails and screws and bolts and loose change, and pulls out the Cat’s-eye marble of brilliant colors. He smiles and gives it to the boy.
Whether or not it happened the way I see it, I don’t know. But I see it. I see it all.
Brenda Sutton Rose
Author of Dogwood Blues, a novel.