At the gawky age of 11 when I was obsessed with purple and my dog Hildegaard…oh and Daddy, the substitute one, I learned what gratitude felt like. That first real feeling of having, and then NOT having was it -I figured. In the turn of a day things could change and that was enough. The realization was as big as that first dip in the lake in summer, I felt that childish renewal; the feeling of what really matters.
The line was small at the food bank. It was “small” given that it should have been much bigger given it was day one of the first round of big Boeing layoffs. By small I mean, it was 15 or so deep; fifteen or so meaning- fifteen people waiting to fill an empty paper bag with groceries so they could eat that week. There were days I had driven by the one In Pioneer Square and seen that line winding around the block; so today I didn’t mind the wait, because it somehow felt different than that line, more right than wrong.
Pink was never my favorite color- that was purple. But this pink slip of paper in my Daddy’s hand made him joke a little less and seemed to take the bounce out of his step. The bounce was usually there, up until my brother left one day when I was 18 and he never came home. Usually Daddy beamed at me I flashed my Snoopy smile back. When we did errands and he bought me waffle Stompers at Sears and Potato cakes at Arby’s, It made me feel more special than one of those pink loving girls at her first ballet recital. Pink slips don’t break us were his unspoken words. It seemed this pink ticket made time stop, so we could all observe reality together. Only it seemed to imbue the challenge of trying not to come apart too. I wondered why they hadn’t given out blue slips instead.
Still the paper in one hand and mine in the other didn’t take away from the love. I secretly liked that Daddy’s hands were calloused and rough with the edges of his trim nails stained black. He was manly and chaffed and Still faintly smelled of the container of hand stuff he got at McClendon’s regularly. It was magic the way it would wipe away the grease, magic stuff in a round shallow container that said “Goo.” Still his rough mechanic hands felt snug and warm against mine and I never wanted to know what my real fathers hands were like, Daddy made sure I’d never care. That day though is fresh still-I can see the sidewalk. I can see us step out of the old noisy VW red van. It was the day I tasted gratitude, it tasted like generic peanut butter with a black and white label and make Skippy forever taste like caviar.
That was the day gratitude would feel like honesty and forever smell like Old Spice. That day made me revel in small joys. I felt the day’s lesson when our new couch was delivered and they took away the old dog hair infested, tweedy, checkered fabric relic. A whole family simply awestruck with gladness- our joyous butts sitting for hours on progress. How could we feel so luxuriously spoiled, and how could this new couch take on opulence and be someone else’s normal? How lovely it is to have reminders that make us acknowledge, in all the day’s imperfections, the night still falls and the stars still shine. My 11 year old soul, dressed in purple, still knows that if I press hard and play honest, I will never have to taste another hunk of crumbly, salty, cheddar cheese we called “government cheese.” And by press hard I mean relive the day I learned gratitude.