You know crepe paper, right? In recent years, it has been replaced with a sort of plastic substitute that is stronger, more colorful, and, importantly, color-fast. It is vastly improved over the crap I used as a kid, but there was something about the way the original felt, a unique roughness.
I smiled as I saw it outside the gym where my 9½-year-old twin boys practiced at basketball in a school built in the 50s, a school exactly like the one I’d gone to 45 years and 15 miles away from this one.
The paper was white and red, framing a holiday-themed bulletin board, pine trees and snowflakes and wishes. It was January, and the display was tired. Situated next to an old porcelain water fountain, one edge had been spattered, and the red paper had bled into the white in Pollack-like patterns. I reached up and pinched it between my fingers and rubbed slightly. My thumb came away pink.
My dad is hunched down, flat-footed, knees fully bent – a “hunker,” he calls it. I am on one knee, incapable of a hunker. A 70s-style bike, banana seat with a sissy bar, long fork in front, you remember, is between us. We are weaving crepe paper around the spokes, decorating the bike for a parade my small Ohio town has each summer, “Community Unity Day.” I am weaving blue, and he is weaving the red in an alternating spiral.
“Dad, why don’t you ride your bike in the parade? Lots of parents do, and the guys in the Grange, and the teachers, and even Father Jim and Reverend Silven.”
My dad thinks about that for a moment. He finishes the wheel with his paper, straightens up, and peers at me above the swoopy, vinyl seat.
His tender eyes say it before he does, “If everyone is in it, who’ll watch the parade?”
His fingers are pink.
It is an important memory to me, and I still believe in the lesson he taught me, as I focus a great deal of time and energy watching the parade of my sons’ youth. But, that is not what I’m getting at. No, it’s the damn crepe paper; every time I feel it, I remember the story of that day, when I was 10, and his fingers were pink, and his soul was sweet.
Two wooden screwdrivers, dented and dinged with red handles, sit in my toolbox. The boys couldn’t be without them for a few months when they were toddlers.
Two teeny baseball gloves sit in the bottom of the baseball duffel. I know I should take them out, but when I find them, touch their smallness, I remember.
Two backpacks wait to be thrown away but never are. Two years of preschool and one of kindergarten were carried in them.
I hide little things like this away frequently. A pair of sweatshirt jumpers—one blue, one red—are in the rag drawer, but I’ll never use them to polish my truck or dust the shelves. A diorama of an owl’s habitat, a crazy computer made of paper, outgrown soccer and baseball socks, two candles they made at school, a notebook of homemade trading cards, six small cups they’ve used for every meal they’ve ever had here at home.
It is not the things I am holding on to. No, it is the memory they will serve me, the stories they will give me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the little toothmarks in the screwdrivers, the scent of those socks and jumpers. I can recall the hours spent making those owls and trading cards, each detail still bright. But the markers fade, the paper crumbles. I’d love to light the candles, but the stubs would seem so sad. And God, those cups. Every meal and spill and tears and laughter filling them. I hope I have them forever.
To tell me their stories.
We are the curators of childhood. Whose, I am not sure, I get mine mixed with theirs sometimes. Most times. We tell the story of their parade.
Bill Peebles is a stay-at-home dad to twin boys and writes the blog I Hope I Win A Toaster. He coaches sometimes, volunteers at the schools, plays guitar, and prepares over 1,000 meals a year for his family. He believes in hope, dreams, and love, but not computers.