“Girls, come here for a minute.”
In some sort of yearly ritual, I guide my oldest two daughters to my bedroom, where a wooden chest sits. It’s painted in flowers of muted colors and has a brass keyhole on it, making it look like an antique. It isn’t. It’s only 20 years old.
As my girls follow me into my room, I grab the skeleton key off my dresser that unlocks the wooden chest. I turn the key and open the wooden box that holds so many pieces that are supposed to remind me of my dad.
Pictures of him. Things he used to collect when he was younger. The last shirt he ever wore to work. The Christmas present I made for him and wrapped but never got to give him. A school project he helped me with when I was in third grade. Father’s Day gifts I had given him—one being a piggy bank, still full with the coins he dropped inside. A lobster he won at a carnival for me. A poem we read at his funeral.
I pull each piece out, holding them to my chest.
I smoosh the clothes up to my face even though his scent stopped lingering on anything just a few short months after he died. It wasn’t a comfort any of us were ready to lose so quickly. After he passed, we would find things that smelled like him, and we’d bury our faces in them, allowing the scent to travel as far into our memories as we could. If I think really hard, I can still remember what the smell was like. The only way I could describe it was peppery.
I explain each piece in the chest to my girls as they ask why each seemingly obscure object is so special to me. After 21 years, I thought I could get through reading the poem we read at his funeral without crying. Spoiler alert, I couldn’t.
They love playing with the lobster stuffed animal he won for me at a carnival. And, although I’m somewhat worried they could break it somehow, I’m happy they find joy in something that reminds me of him. They’ve affectionately named him “Lobsty.”
I try to share as many memories about my dad as I can with them.
Every year, I tell them how roasting pumpkin seeds makes me think of him because we’d carve the pumpkins and he’d roast the seeds.
Road trips to the south always make me choke back the feeling in my gut that erupts when we pass a Waffle House. Memories from a mediocre restaurant that took place during a road trip to Disney World—scratch that—a road trip to Nashville, thanks to a broken down minivan. Disney didn’t happen, but our favorite trip from our childhood did. Our parents did a good job of turning a frustrating situation into memories we still laugh about to this day.
I share memories of my dad with my girls, not so they feel like they’ve missed out on someone great but because that’s the only way they can possibly know what he was like.
The only thing they have of my dad, aside from his DNA, are the memories I share about him.
My great-grandmother, Toini, immigrated to America from Finland. She used to crochet rugs out of used bread bags. She’d cut them into strips and start working. Her home was covered in these colorful plastic rugs. In the same way I think of her almost every time I throw a bread bag in the trash, I hope my children think of my dad whenever they roast pumpkin seeds, see the stuffed lobster toy, or possibly take a trip to Nashville someday.
I share the memories so they will have opportunities to think of him too. They won’t ever have opportunities to make memories of their own with him, but I’m so very hopeful they’ll think of him at times and understand why he was special to so many.
So, my dear friend and reader of these words, share the memories.
Choke back tears as you tell your children how much he could make you laugh. Grieve her absence as you describe the way she made holidays so special. Smile as you teach them how to make the meal she often prepared for you.
Because maybe they’ll be able to carry those memories with them too.