Daughter’s Favorite Day
“Tell me a story, Daddy,” said the little girl. She had said it many times before and would say it many times again.
“Well, peanut,” began her father, but was interrupted by a raspberry being blown at him.
“Daddy,” the girl giggled, “don’t call me that. I’m not a peanut.”
“Yes, Princess.” He scooped his princess up in his arms and carried her into the market. He knew exactly what she would say next.
“Tell me a story about my Mommy.”
They entered the storefront plaza and began to eye the season’s prizes. He had long abhorred shopping, but this annual visit to do that few-times-a year chore was much more than just shopping. It was precious time he was able to spend with his daughter, just the two of them.
“Uhh,” he feigned annoyance, “what am I gonna do with you?”
“Ok. Ok. What kind of story do you want to hear? You know most of our stories already.”
It was during these outings over the first tender years of his daughter’s life that they had truly become closer. She had grown to rely on the stories as a way to get to know her parents in a way that she could not see otherwise. He admired this remarkable insight in such a young mind and often marveled at how much she really retained.
“Mmm… I don’t know. When did you know that you liked Mommy?”
He knew that in his repertoire of events there were certain stories that must wait until his little princess was older, and that there were some that most young girls of her age would not truly grasp. He set her down and ran his fingers over her thick blonde tendrils. Grabbing her hand, he began at the very beginning.
* * *
Every year in his small town there was a Seasonal Festival, an occasion to mark the festivities that many different cultures celebrated. It was intended to gather all of those mindsets without prejudice, in an atmosphere of joy and camaraderie. He had never attended. But one year, in spite of himself, he allowed himself to be dragged along by his friends. He fully anticipated an evening full of sheer boredom and entertainment aimed at generations of townspeople far removed from himself.
The town square was cordoned off and shops and vendors, restaurateurs and merchants all plied their trades to the throngs. He was pleasantly surprised to find a wide variety of people, all ages and demographics enjoying themselves equally. After a while, when he started to loosen up and looked away from the ground, his young male eye began to gaze the crowd. He was not searching for anything in particular, just succumbing to the innate drive inherent in all males.
He noticed many pretty heads walking around, hair of different colors, styles and sizes. None peaked his interest more than another until, from across the square, he briefly saw a flash of brilliant blonde curls disappear into a local pub. He kept a sheepish eye on the alehouse door for what seemed like hours, ignoring everything around him, until he could stand it no longer.
He picked his way through the crowd until he found himself standing just outside the same entry that he had been surveying from afar, unsure of what to do next. The pub was packed. Loud music and frivolity filled the air. He waited as nonchalantly as possible by the front door, trying again to glimpse the blonde who had so briefly captivated him. He imagined that she was in there in the middle of the crowd, the center of attention, adored by all and humoring none. He dreamt of crystal blue eyes sparkling with the adoration of dozens of men just like him, all wanting to claim those eyes as their very own. His imagination had all but convinced him to leave when he spotted the blonde curls. She sat at a small table with another girl of her own age, her back to the door. They sat huddled close in conversation, two pints of dark brown liquid unbothered between them.
He stood frozen deciding what to do. Could he face the piercing blue eyes and dazzling smile he knew resided under the playful springs of hair, or would he recoil in fear in her radiant presence? He unwillingly inched closer to her table, as if drawn by her. He briefly considered the lunacy of his behavior and how utterly foolish he would look when he stood openmouthed before the Venus and she laughed him away, into shame and humiliation. His trepidation finally cleared his mind and he turned to formulate a plan, to withdraw and form a strategy to attack this vixen. But a sudden surge of thirsty patrons unceremoniously shoved him face first onto her table, spilling the ale and shattering one of the pints onto the floor below.
His eyes burned behind his tightly closed lids. It was not the presence of liquid in them, for he had shut his eyes upon first sensing the nosedive. It was not glass or any other foreign substance. It was the indignity of being forced into a meeting with this dream girl and having a face full of ale to show for it.
He felt a soft napkin dry his face and for a moment didn’t realize his hand did not hold it. His macho sensibility at once straightened him up and swept the liquid from his face. He had a precious instant in which to decide what next to do. Does he fight the rowdy crowd for shaming him so? Does he accept the help of the beautiful blonde girl with the enchanting blue eyes? Or does he run screaming from the place to the nearest seaport and watch terra firma sail away forever?
He opened his eyes and looked at her. Where his imagination had placed crystal-blue orbs that glittered like the sun on glass, God had chosen to place dark brown eyes. Where he had envisioned a sharp, Roman nose, God had decided on a short, pug variety. Pouty lips were instead replaced by thin ones. But one thing that he and God had agreed on: she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him and he would spend the rest of his life convincing her of that.
He realized instantly that although her eyes were not what he had expected, or even hoped for, they were far more. He had spent the evening dreaming about beautiful blues and when he was finally aligned with them, their opaqueness captivated him. They didn’t sparkle or shine, but there was something in them, something…mischievous, he thought…a little ‘I know something you don’t’ that terrified and excited him. He would spend all of that night (and many more) gazing into their dense lure. Before he knew it, he had seen through them and into her. Before the night was over, they both knew. It was fate. It was magic.
* * *
Years passed, as they tend to do. But without fail, the father always took the daughter to the market for the annual blitz of shoppers looking for just the right anything for their loved ones. There was a rush around them, but Daddy and Daughter were in a time to themselves.
“Hey dad,” began the not so little girl, “I have an idea.”
“What’s that, peanut?”
“Dad, don’t call me peanut.” She said this so low and looked around so furtively for eavesdroppers that her father was instantly reminded of the perils of her delicate age. Image was everything to the girls. Little did his daughter or her social circles know that in no time at all they would cease to see boys as just the rowdy ruffians who take up space on their playground.
“Ok, princess, what’s your idea?”
She looked cross at him for a split second but did not rebuke him for a moniker almost as bad to a pre-adolescent as “peanut.”
“Tell me a story.”
“What kind of story?”
“Tell me a story about my mom.”
“Uh, what am I gonna do with you?”
She smiled up at him and took his hand. They walked past storefronts looking at jewelry, clothes and assorted accessories. They looked for just the right thing for her, and would stay all afternoon and night and be back the next day and the next day and the next day until it was found.
“Ok, ok. What kind of story do you want to hear?”
She didn’t respond immediately, and she was no longer looking at him. She seemed hesitant to say her next line. Her hand squirmed slightly in his.
“Umm, what was it like…I mean, if you like that kind of stuff…I don’t know if you…you know…”
He watched with suppressed amusement as his daughter wanted to ask about the first kiss. He would absolutely not let her off the hook. She would have to say the word. But for right now, he was enjoying her discomfort immensely.
“…the first time you, you know…”
It occurred to him with extremely disconcerting alacrity that she may not just be talking about a kiss. She was a gentle soul and easily embarrassed, but she was really struggling. This realization was followed quickly by the more startling one that the day of reckoning for the boys on that playground was approaching faster than he had realized.
“Uh…what was your first kiss like?”
She with a red face and he with a white one, they sat on a bench so that both could collect their breath. He began.
* * *
They became inseparable after their first meeting. Day and night, they could be found strolling hand in hand along country paths or right down Main Street. They were both old-fashioned and terrified of each other, so their relationship was slow-going at first. For weeks they would part company at the end of her drive, with just a peck on the cheek or the hand, sometimes both. Both knew the day would come when they would actually kiss, and both secretly wished it already had, but would never admit that to anyone else. Theirs was a relationship of propriety. They would follow the rules and respect each other.
One afternoon, they had a picnic in the park, underneath a mighty tree. The weather was cool, but one could sense that warmer days were soon to arrive. They had finished off their fare and were lounging lazily on a blanket when she rolled over and unceremoniously kissed him right square on the lips.
“There, the first one is done. Now we don’t have to worry about it.”
Bemused, she got up and began to put away the foodstuffs. She had to work around him, though, because he was so dumbfounded that he just lay there and stared at her. She wrinkled her pug nose at him and stuck out her tongue. After she was done, she lay down beside him and put her head on his chest. This was also a first for them.
They talked for several minutes about local people that they knew. She brought up their first encounter and reminded him of his embarrassment. She chose this moment to tilt her head up at him, smiling. Their eyes smiled at each other as their hands closed tightly around each others fingers. Eyes still open, eyes still smiling, their lips touched for the second time.
He would remember that kiss for years to come as the last first kiss he would ever need. It was soft, yet powerful. She was gentle, loving and passionate. Their eyes remained open for sometime as their mouths got use to the shape of the other’s. After a few seconds of staring into each other, they both let go and closed their eyes at the same time. The episode lased only a short time, but both would keep that memory until their last breath.
* * *
Time moved on. Father and daughter had kept their ritual of the annual shopping trip and both considered it their favorite day of the year. The gift buying was only part of it. The time spent together and the stories he told her were much more the reason that they loved it.
She was now a grown woman, soon to leave the home and find her own way through life. She was every bit as beautiful as her mother, a deep point of pride for him. She had her mother’s curly blonde hair and deep brown eyes. She had inherited her father’s nose, however, and he took a small amount of silent pride in that. But she was so strikingly similar to the love of his life.
This year began like all the rest. They went to market and she asked him to tell her a story.
“Uh, what am I going to do with you?”
She smiled at him.
“Ok, ok. What kind of story do you want to hear?”
“I want to hear about my mother.”
“Funny, I thought you might say that. Peanut, you know them all. I don’t know one that you haven’t already heard.”
“I know of one.” She looked him dead in the eye, challenging him to pretend she knew this one.
He bit his lip. He began to cry, but told her the story through his tears.
* * *
She was on the way. The doctor hovered over the very pregnant mother-to-be and frowned. It had not been a good pregnancy, for mother or child. The father-to-be stood worriedly at his love’s feet, praying, praying, praying.
She was in great pain, had been for days now. But their daughter was on her way, and then they would be a happy three. All would be well. She looked at him through the hurting and beckoned him with her eyes. He leaned over, kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her lips. He held her hand. He patted her damp hair. Their eyes locked like the first time but would refuse to close.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” he said.
She tried to smile, but he didn’t believe her. He knew that she loved him with all her heart, but the smile was for him, not for her. She was in great pain. The doctor asked that he join him outside.
He nodded as the doctor told him how serious his wife’s condition was. He understood that one or the other or both might not survive the ordeal of childbirth. Graciously, the doctor did not ask him to make a decision.
Shouts of pain from the inside interrupted them and the doctor excused himself, but pleaded with the young father to stay outside the room until it was safe. He understood that, too.
Several minutes later, another female voice joined in the cacophony of the room.
He was presented a short time later with a beautiful, blonde-haired, brown-eyed baby girl. He was a father. But true to his fears, his joy was his alone.
* * *
The very next year, he had a special gift to buy. His baby girl was going off to school and he needed to get her just the right thing. She had her mother’s taste, which he found to be extremely fortunate.
They went to market, as always, and talked for hours about the past twenty years and the future, what it had in store for her, how their relationship would change, etc. They talked little of her mother, even though these excursions were how she got to know her. They talked and walked all day, as happy as any family could be. They selected a crystal vase for her mother, which the young girl greatly admired. For her, her father picked out a photo album. He promised that they would spend the rest of her short time at home carefully selecting pictures of mom, dad and child to fill it with memories. She could not wait.
* * *
The day before she was to leave, bags were packed, tickets were secured, boxes were stuffed, he came into her room and asked that they go for a walk. She knew that they would go to visit her grave, as they had done every year to present her with the gift they had just bought her. He would always hold her hand and they would stare in silent reverence at the marker. He would break away and approach the stone, kneel down and whisper something to his love. She never did know what he said to the tombstone, but she imagined it to be the sweetest words one could ever hear. She had written those lines in her head for years, but secretly knew she could never do them justice. He had a way with words, and he loved her mother very, very much.
Then she would have her say. She could never think of words, but instead just said a quick prayer, thanking God that she had at least one parent, and that she would come to know her mother through him. They would rejoin at the foot of her grave and extract her gift. He would hand it to her and she would place it under the headstone. A few more minutes of silence, and they would leave.
This time when they walked down the hill to the cemetery, she spotted something near her mother’s grave. It was a table, and upon the table sat twenty gifts. She rushed up to it and recognized the brooch they had bought for her when she was fifteen, the year her father told her about the date at the county fair, when she got sick behind the bushes near the carousel. Next to it was a pair of gloves from her twelfth year, when she had heard about their first kiss. There were dresses she vaguely remembered from her youth, a diamond necklace from two years ago when her father had told her of her mother fighting with a cousin over a book, and a single unopened box in the corner of the table.
“Dad, what …”
“What do you think happened to all those gifts, princess? I saved them. For you. I know you are not her, but you remind me so much of her. You like the same things. I want you to have her gifts. She gave me one right before she died and the least I could do is try to pay her back by giving her to you. Each of these gifts has a story behind them. Every time you look at them, you will remember that story and you will remember her. You may not have ever seen her smile, or smelled her perfume, or seen the way she brushes her teeth, or watched her cook breakfast, or had her take you to school, but you know her. I know you do. I don’t need to tell you any stories anymore, peanut. You know her. You have her right here in your hands.”
He reached for the box in the corner and gave it to her.
“Open it. You were too young to remember this, but I’m not going to tell you this story. I’m going to let her do it.”
Inside was a picture, with a letter attached to it. She recognized the picture as of her mother, very pregnant, but smiling from her bed. Her curls wound around her face very much like her daughter’s were doing at that very moment. Her brown eyes were dry, very much unlike her daughter’s at that very moment. She tore off the letter and read:
To my beautiful baby girl,
I’m afraid that we may never get a chance to meet so I am writing this letter to you, in hopes that you may have some token of me. I am very sick, but the last nine months I have spent with you have been the greatest of my life. I have been blessed to be your mother if only for a short time. If I never get to hold you, please believe that I love you now and will love you for the rest of your life and then some. You come from two people who love each other and you, please never forget that.
I hope that you have my hair and my eyes, because I am proud of those. Plus your father’s hair is too thin. He does have a cute nose, though. Listen to him. He is a smart man and he loves you an awful lot. I have no doubt that he will be a good father, so be a good daughter and love him the way that we love you.
I do not ever want you to think that this is your fault. Everything happens for a reason. I fully believe that. I never told your father this, and unless he has read this letter, which I told him not to, then I doubt he will ever know this. I instructed my doctor that if I was in serious danger and your life would be threatened by saving mine, not to do that. I love you too much to not let you have your chance out there. My life has been blessed. I fell in love with a perfect man and if my life culminates with bringing you here, then I shall die a happy woman.
I love you with all my heart and all my soul and I shall see you one day!