Memory Eight: Palm Springs – Dad Arrives

The morning of my Dad’s arrival, I could tell mom felt concerned about what might come of his visit, because she sat quietly looking at the floor in deep thought. Throughout our childhood we were told several stories, as to why she could never let us see him, one of which was, “He told me, he would take you away to Greece and I’d never see you again.

The real truth I believe, was that if we bonded with him, she risked us wanting to be with our Dad instead of living with her which was an unpredictable life of transience, poverty and insanity. If we had another parent in our life Mom wouldn’t be able to do whatever she wanted and at the very least she’d be required to feed us and get us to school.

I wasn’t use to seeing mom pensively sitting in one spot for this long and what I liked about it most was that it gave me a chance to actually see a side of her that was otherwise hidden.

Mom’s emotional fragility was tangible on the backdrop of change that wasn’t initiated by her. She was calmer and more considerate for the time being, which allowed me to see the difference between her and the behaviors than ran her. Mom’s childhood wounds in their natural state felt cleaner and a lot less scary.

Dad knocked and Anna jumped up from her seat announcing, “He’s here!!”

Mom slowly brought herself back to present time, smoothed out her clothes and cautiously followed behind Anna, who opened the door practically removing it from it’s hinges saying “HI, DAD!!” and giving him a wholehearted hug.

Mom was next. They just looked at each other for a moment, and then mom said “Oh my goodness, Tony. Wow, I haven’t seen you in so long!” Every word was delivered on a nervous laugh and trepidation.

Then my turn came. Feeling overwhelmed, I stood looking at my Dad, afraid to hug him; everything felt too real or not real enough and I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. I was afraid to wrap my arms around him for fear that it was just a dream, and that upon waking I’d be left empty handed and empty hearted.

I stood looking at my dad’s face, which was very tan from working outside, his eyes were big and brown like mine, but permanently bloodshot reflecting fatigue from years of hard work. However, his ear to ear smile was from being reunited with Anna and me. He looked exactly like the pictures that I stared at from mom’s picture box over the years. Just older and more weathered.

He reached out to touch my cheek with his overworked calloused hand and said in a low heartfelt voice, “Hello, Elena.” Looking down, unable to handle his open heart and the reality of him actually standing in front of me, I quietly answered, “Hi, Dad.” And gave a hug.

Then, came Mom, “Gee, Tony, I bet you didn’t realize how grown up and beautiful the girls are….” She kept talking to my Dad, but her words fell silent to me.

I had conflicting thoughts that stemmed from years of false information coupled with dreams and hopes I had invested in the photos; all of it was real to me after so many years. Not necessarily the truth, but real nonetheless and now I was going to have to figure it out for myself.

Dad stepped into his parenting role pretty quickly. We were only 15 minutes into our reunion when he interrupted Mom’s conversation to ask Anna and I, if we were hungry. Of course we were and nodded, yes. He turned to mom and said, “The girls are hungry we should take them now and feed them.” Anna and I looked at each other in disbelief. Mom paused and seemed a bit caught off guard, but then recovered and said, “Oh, yes, yes of course, I’ll get my purse.”

We all went to an early lunch and then for a walk on Palm Canyon Drive. We passed a couple of clothing stores and Dad offered to buy us clothes. Anna leaped with joy and said, “Really??” I was happy to see Anna so excited, but felt uncomfortable letting him buy anything for me, because we were just getting to know each other and it was the same as having a perfect stranger buy me something even though he was my dad.

We went into a store and dad wouldn’t take no for an answer, so Anna and I shopped while he and my mom talked. I heard my dad say to mom that he wanted to start spending time with us now. Mom’s just listened…

What I knew about my dad was that he was raised on the Greek island of Syros, during World War II. He had a very difficult upbringing because of the war, and only went as far as the 5th grade.

Mom told us that he became a Greek Merchant Marine as a young man because it was the only way off the small island that he was born on.
His first voyage was to the United States, and when the ship came to port in San Francisco he stayed behind after it set sail again. He had friends that hid him in a cabin in the Lake Tahoe area and helped him get to Sacramento where he permanently settled. He married a very nice Greek-American lady and built a successful life.

Then the transient orphan from Memphis, Tennessee with the face and body of a movie star moved into town, and that was it—my mom and dad met and shortly thereafter, came me, a wedding, then Anna.

Watching the two of them together talking, I couldn’t help but wonder how different things could have been had their relationship worked.

The fact of the matter was; there was no way Mom would ever be able to stay in one life, in one house, with one man, in one city, living the same life day in and day out. Sadly, my father had to learn this painful fact from the tail lights of her car in the middle of the night with my sister and I in tow.

It wasn’t that my Mom was a bad person, she just couldn’t attach or bond and that was from growing up in an orphanage home, and losing her parents at a young age. At this point, I could see that it was rather remarkable that she had kept us.

We made our purchases and continued walking, eventually settling at Swanson’s Ice Cream Shop. We all got ice cream cones. Anna and I got the same thing, which was our favorite; chocolate chip ice cream dipped in chocolate that hardens and rolled in nuts.

Spending time with dad, being indulged with gifts and ice cream cones was pure heaven!

As we all enjoyed our treat, Dad said to mom again, that he wanted to spend more time with us. That he had missed out on very precious years. He informed the three of us that he had to drive back to Sacramento the next night, only had one more day left and wasn’t leaving until he had a schedule for the summer.

Anna and I sat back eating our ice cream, not uttering a sound, looking on, waiting for Mom’s response to his question. Mom stiffened a bit, but she tried hard to appear agreeable and relaxed.

She said “You know they’re still in school and they can’t be absent and I need them here to help me around the house.” My dad wasn’t going to accept her response, nor was Anna.

Anna surprisingly blurted out, “I want to go with you Dad!” Mom was stunned! Anna continued saying, “I want to go with you Dad. I don’t need to finish school. I don’t go half the time anyway.”

Mom cut Anna off and said, “Don’t be ridiculous, of course you go to school” My dad turned to me and said “Elena, what about you?”

Here it was at last, I was being thrown a rope that could lift me out of the internal and external pit that I lived in up to this point. The man that I had dreamed of knowing from my favorite childhood photo was here ready to assume his role as my father and all I had to do was accept.

Watching my ice cream cone start to melt and run down my hand, gave me something to think about along with my father’s offer of a stable, predictable life. My reluctance in responding was that I felt responsible for my mom. The boys were gone, and if Anna and I both left, she wouldn’t have anyone. I didn’t want her to be alone like she was when she was as a child.

Anna pulled on my arm and said, “Elena, please come. It’s only for the summer and you’ll love it, and remember the promise we made to each other to always stay together no matter what!” Feeling confused and a little numb, I replied, “I know, I remember.”

Mom sat there looking at me, clearly not expecting this day to come. I said, “ I don’t know that I can come the entire summer, but I will definitely come for part of it.”

Mom somewhat relieved by my answer, obsequiously handed me some napkins. My dad respected the compromise. I didn’t feel the slightest trace of pressure or disappointment from him. In his thick Greek accent, he said, “Elena, my house it’s your house. The door is always open to you, come whenever you want.” I said, “Thank you, Dad. I promise, I will come over the summer.”

Dad dropped us back off at the apartment, staying long enough to discuss details regarding exactly when Anna was coming to stay with him and to work out a weekly phone schedule.

He told us not to call him unless it was an emergency because he didn’t want us to run up mom’s phone bill. But, that if we really missed him or just needed to talk to call his house, let the phone ring once, hang up and that he would call us right back.

He said he would be back the following morning to see us again, before he left to go home. He was staying at a local hotel and gave us the number.

He said something to Anna and I in Greek, gave us each a hug and said, “Good-bye.”