I was the second person to hold her. Daddy said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t drop her.”
She looked like a white bullfrog. She smelled like vanilla and grass clippings. I promised I’d take care of her forever.
That was harder than it sounded. This girl grew into a kid overnight, and she did reckless things.
She used to leap off round hay bales, flapping her arms, yelling, “CATCH ME!”
She liked to see how long she could hold her breath underwater. She climbed trees that were too high. She ate too much bacon.
Her first word was, “NO!” Her second word was “NONONO!” She used these words when I tried to force an oyster past her lips. She pitched a fit.
I’d never known anyone who didn’t like oysters. They were the food of our forefathers. Our ancestors consumed oysters when they learned the War Between the States was over. It was celebratory food. The food of holidays. And of summer.
She was four when Daddy died. The morning of his death, I sobbed alone on our back porch. She crawled onto my lap.
“Don’t cry,” she said.
I did anyway.
We took care of each other. I did her laundry and taught her how to fry bacon. And when our dog had puppies, I showed her how to hold them—there’s an art to handling newborn pups.
Once, I rented a library book on French braiding. She let me practice until her hair resembled overcooked spaghetti.
She tried out for the school play. I attended her audition. She was nervous, and the smug drama teacher told her she had no talent.
I’m a quiet man, but I wasn’t that day. I called the teacher a greasy Communist who didn’t love the Lord. I’m sorry about ever saying that now. I don’t know if she really was greasy.
Throughout her high-school years, she worked different jobs. Once, she worked in an ice cream shop. Each day, I’d clock out of my job and visit her.
When the store was slow, she gave me ice cream for free—with Heath Bar crumbles. I gained eight pounds during that time.
I saw her last night. It was a party. People wore nice clothes. She wore a dress straight from a magazine. Not many women compete with her.
She is long, strong, and big-eyed. She inherited my ancestor’s looks; I inherited their affection for oysters.
I watched her. She saw me across the room. We hugged. She gives good hugs. Always has.
She’s a woman. So help me, a woman. She has a husband, two daughters, a good job. I don’t know how she survived our broken childhood without getting hurt. God knows, it wasn’t easy.
I am an unimpressive man. At times, I am an idiot. I haven’t done anything of note in my life. But seeing her in cocktail attire, I was almost feeling like I had.
It was something I don’t often feel. It’s the same feeling I’ll bet Daddy felt when he handed her to me.
Some might call it pride. Maybe that’s what it is. Whatever you call it, it feels so good it throbs in my throat and makes my smile muscles hurt.
You’d be proud of me, Daddy.
I didn’t drop her.