Six months later “There were at least eight big tobacco warehouses...Farmers...were killing time waiting for their tobacco to be sold. I remember distinctly coming downtown on Halloween, which at that time was something that the big crowds would celebrate, and we kids would come down with a big handful of soap and write it all over the windows of the stores and we thought that was one of the greatest things that could be done...”
It had to be done, not soaping the windows, but finding the words to tell about it. They weren’t my words. In fact, I didn’t know they’d been spoken. Finding them was purely serendipitous.
And it had to do with a clogged drain in the basement, a basement crowded with an old work bench, a converted bookshelf with legs so uneven that it had to lean against the bathroom wall, and a sturdy but makeshift platform for making stained glass.
On the other side of the very narrow aisle, barely wider than shoulder’s width, sat a tall and unused filing cabinet, mostly empty and rusted at the bottom. Next to the work bench, another gray metal three drawer cabinet, unopened for years, held documents that included tax records and my sister’s high school composition books. Along with glass jars containing random nails and screws and shelves loaded with old paint and older leftover parts from once past and future projects, dust had started to collect. Tied to the end of the dried out string that served as a pull chain for the overhead fluorescent was a four inch long metal piece that had once belonged to a water sprinkler.
Or so it seemed. All of that is gone now. In its place is an open space I don’t recall seeing before. Of course, many of the tools, still useful, were wiped off and saved. Boxes of them await a new owner, maybe me.
Before I take them, I feel as if I must answer the question, “What will I do with them?” If they will go unused, I’d rather give them away to someone in need.
Other than those boxed up tools, there was little else left to keep or save. Except for one faded, once white plastic, 12” long, 3” wide, and 4” tall cassette tape player, a Realistic Stereo model, catalog 17-752A. I found it behind the last stack of stained glass left unpacked; its power cord and two-pronged plug were in tact. The player would be useful; I had a collection of very old cassettes, books on tape I’d bought from Goodwill.
Days after after setting it on my writing desk in my office, I didn’t touch it. But, in a very strange way, like Aladdin’s lamp, it called to me. What if a cassette was still in it? Curiosity overtook me; I plugged it in.
“There were at least eight...” I clicked off the player. What I’d heard I hadn’t expected to hear. Although I welcomed the sound of his voice, the familiar pattern of his speech, the unique choice of words, the intense presence that graced every syllable, I didn’t know what to do with my find. By pressing a single button, exactly six months after his passing, I could hear my Dad recording an impromptu history of his life in Danville.
That shook me. Now I had a companion, an unsophisticated device that had no savvy
digital features, a container of my Dad’s voice. But I don’t want to let it out of my sight. My Dad’s in there.
How strange. I can hear him any time I want, listen to him when he recorded at that time just before his voice became too gravelly, his thoughts too jumbled.
I’m not sure how to explain my feelings, feelings I’ve wrestled with since being by his side the moment he breathed his last breath. He’d been unconscious for more than 24 hours. What struck me so profoundly was that there was no whispered final thought, no goodbye, no wisdom distilled into a sentence he wanted to leave me, his oldest son. He’d always given me advice, always had a lesson to share, always his clear eyed interpretation of the best course to take.
Even if I didn’t listen. When his last breath came and went, there were no words. My siblings didn’t know I had to fight not to stumble out of his room that night. I’d missed his final message. Certainly, I felt, he had one for me.
How could I explain that sense of added loss to anyone? My Dad had been the most generous man I’d ever known, one of the most caring. Yet he left without a word.
I pressed play on the Realistic, heard scratchy microphone noises. I held my breath.
“I am Albert Koplen...” it began.
Immediately, I stopped it. Was it meant for me to find this? That couldn’t be. I was sure of that. But, suddenly, my Dad was with me, would be there whenever I wanted to feel his energy, his goodness, its timber and timeless clarity.
That’s what I was missing. What I had missed that night, February 22. Now, if only I could retrieve the hugs he left behind...
B. Koplen 8/22/11