Stories My Dad Told Me

Dad photo

This man in disguise happens to be my father.

When I was a kid, the idea of my dad as a child was almost incomprehensible.  I often wondered if the man I so admired had ever been a youth, or if he had simply skipped ahead to mature adult existence. But ever so often, my dad spills some details regarding his very real experiences growing up in Santa Cruz, California, and the image I carry of him as a youngster gradually becomes clearer.  He rarely gets through one of his stories without chuckling at the memory, so I share a few choice selections here in the hope that they will garner some chuckles from you as well.

(I) Not Your Average Breakfast

It was a sunny Saturday morning, and my dad, his parents, and his siblings were gathered in their kitchen to enjoy a family breakfast.  Everyone was involved in the preparation: pouring orange juice, passing out plates, frying bacon, and checking on the homemade bread baking in the oven.  After all the food had been distributed, the fam took their places and began to dig in.

Dad quickly finished his allotted portion of bread and got up to get another piece from the loaf warming in the oven.  He opened the door and carefully reached in to grab one big slice.  But, as he pulled out his selection, the top of his bare hand made contact with the oven’s heating coil.  INSTA-BURN!

He froze, staring at the small black burn mark.  A slight odor of singed flesh reached his nose, and his stomach began to churn.  “Daaaaaaaaad….I burned my hand….what do I do?”

Grandpa looked up from his plate for a second, advised his son to put the hand under cold running water, and returned to his breakfast.

Dad teetered over to the kitchen sink, feeling queasier by the second.  Clutching the countertop for balance, he managed to turn the sink faucet all the way to cold.  He slowly extended his hand towards the water, but in doing so, he caught sight of his wound again.  It was too much.

Out of the corner of his eye, Grandpa saw Dad disappear behind the countertop as he slipped to the floor in a dead faint.  “Very funny, Dave,” he intoned, figuring it was just the latest practical joke.  He reached for his orange juice.  Then he heard Dad’s head bouncing on the tile floor.

The burn healed in less than a week, but the impressive goose-egg on Dad’s head was visible for quite a while longer.

(II) Boys and Fire

The family’s house in Santa Cruz was high in the mountains above the Pacific Coast, surrounded by a forest of redwood trees.  To Dad and his older brother Tim, the forest served as the perfect backdrop for their adventures.  Every day, the two would invent new games and challenges for each other using the stimulating landscape.  On this particular day, the game was especially exciting – it involved setting fires.

Having snagged a box of matches from the house, the brothers busied themselves with collecting handfuls of dry leaves and twigs, which they assembled into small piles on the forest floor.  They stood in front of the first pile, grinning with glee, and Tim handed Dad the matchbox.  He struck a match and dropped it onto the pile, mesmerized as the dry material ignited.  After waiting two seconds, he quickly stamped out the fire with one foot.  It was so exhilarating!

They began to take turns lighting and stamping out fires.  But this was a game, and games have rules that must be followed.  In this case, there was one rule: on every turn, wait just a little longer to put out the fire.  It was a fierce competition.  Tim would wait 5 seconds before stamping out the flames, then Dad would wait 10 seconds on his turn, then Tim would take it up to 15!  When the waiting game began to get old, the boys started over with larger piles.  Mounds of charred sticks and leaves dotted the forest floor.

The boys wordlessly agreed that this was their best game yet.  Neither considered that they might ultimately create a fire too large to be put out with tennis shoes.  Which is exactly what they did.

The last pile (of course it was the last pile) was the biggest, and they had dared each other to wait just a leeeeeeeetle bit longer to put it out, longer than all previous attempts….  But when the pile continued to blaze after about a minute of frantic stamping and jumping and dirt-throwing, the brothers recognized their grave error.

They ran back to the house to grab an empty gallon jug from the garbage, which they filled up with water from the hose and lugged back to the miniature inferno.  Dad frantically turned the jug upside-down over the fire, and they watched miserably as the water fell onto the flames in small, useless plops.  It was like trying to fly a kite by coughing on it – utterly ineffectual.  And also stupid-looking.

Dad and Tim were at a loss as they gaped at the spreading fire.  They knew they only had one option left, but they were quite reluctant to pursue it…

Inside the house, Grandma heard a knock at the back door.  That’s strange, she thought.  No one ever knocks at the back door.

Her confusion quickly turned into apprehension when she opened the door to see her two sons standing side by side, eyes wide with fear.  “Why did you knock??” she demanded.  Her dismay, upon looking behind the boys to see flames leaping up through the redwoods, is best left to the imagination.

For Dad and Tim, no chastisement was necessary – facing the firefighters who showed up a few minutes later was punishment enough.

Thanks for the stories, Dad 🙂



The Downsides of Having No Sense of Smell

I can’t smell. I take it back – I can only smell three things: rain, coffee, and hand sanitizer. Not gonna lie, this lack of a sense does have its perks. I can’t smell lingering cigarette smoke in a hotel room or rental car. I can’t smell when someone overdoes their application of perfume or cologne. I can’t smell the famous B.O. surrounding the men’s hockey locker room.

However, there are some definite downsides. I can’t smell pine needles, despite the best efforts of nature lovers to help me. I can’t smell when my refrigerated leftovers are no longer fit for consumption, so I have to ask my roommates. And as I found out yesterday, I can’t smell the smoke when I accidentally set something on fire in my apartment.

Here’s the scenario: one of my roommates and I recently learned how to make homemade tortilla chips. You cut up your tortillas, lightly coat the pieces in oil, and broil them a bit on a baking sheet in the oven. So yesterday, after several hours of feverishly studying for finals and watching Arrested Development on Netflix by myself, I realized that I wanted to eat chips and salsa. Being in possession of a large quantity of salsa but no chips, I set out to make homemade chips for the second time. I put my lightly-oiled tortilla pieces in the oven and set it to broil. Then I sat down on the couch to squeeze in a little bit more reading for my final Spanish essay.

I don’t think that much time passed. I mean, it wasn’t like I got lost in this book that I’m only reading for school. After a few paragraphs, I got up to check on my chips. It was then that I noticed the smoke seeping out of the closed oven door, and out of all the stove burners as well. I immediately turned off the oven and tried to open the oven door, but that just made the smoke go from seeping to billowing. I shut the oven door, ran to the window and opened it as wide as it would go, then ran back to the oven, opened it and grabbed my smoking chips as fast as I could, and ran to the window. I held the baking sheet out of the window for a few seconds, polluting the clear Colorado air with tortilla smoke. Then I set the sheet down and began running around the kitchen swatting the air with my towel, trying to coax the clouds of smoke out of the window on the other side of the room.

It was at this point that the fire alarm went off. My ears were pierced with the sounds of the shrieking alarm and a computerized woman’s voice calmly repeating “Fire. Fire.” (This was a sophisticated fire alarm.) Filled with shame, I grabbed my keys and entered the hallway, preparing to take the stairs (not the elevator) down to the front office to confess that I was the arson. As soon as I reached the stairs, the alarm and the computerized woman’s voice mercifully shut off, before anyone had a chance to seriously consider evacuation.

A few hours later, after the smoke had wafted out my window and into the sunset, I twirled and spun around my apartment spraying a body mist into the air to get rid of the smoky scent that I assumed my roommates would be able to smell when they got back. I don’t know what the body mist smells like. Hopefully better than burned tortillas.

(Originally posted 11/12/13)