On Love and Pop-Tarts
“Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad! Can I have a pop-tart?” I was bouncing on the balls of my feet, leaning on the kitchen counter as he washed the dishes from dinner. My legs were going a mile a minute while staying rooted in one spot in anticipation. I, of course, hadn’t wanted a single thing that had been laid across my dinner plate but I certainly wanted one of those fat-free, no icing, strawberry pop-tarts my dad kept in the left-hand corner in the pantry. It was somewhere between 1995 and 1998 so fat-free meant it was basically a piece of fruit.
He didn’t look up from the dishes he was washing, but smiled at me all the same. After a pause long enough the Louisiana Purchase could have been drafted, he finally answered. “I reeeeeeeeeeeeckon.” The word was slower than a beige 1974 Buick pulling out of church on Sunday.
I stared at him through squinty eyes as he dried a coffee cup, my seven year old brain trying to decide what to do with “a reckon”. I wanted to tease him but I also wanted a pop-tart.
My dad came into our lives when I was very small and my mom met him at the university library where they both worked. He was as quiet as a church mouse, and his gentlemanly ways and soft knit cardigans blended in nicely among the medical books. His quiet self made a quiet transition into our quiet life. I think our dog, Jessica Muffin, barked a bit much for his tastes but she grew on him. Aside from her aggressive attention to squirrels, she was a very well behaved dog, and despite what her name might imply, she was not a stripper.
I don’t remember the day I met my dad, but the first memory I have of him is a casserole of memories, all of which involve him carrying me on his back around our house like a horse, running wildly, as fast as I would scream for him to go. This stands out because for the rest of our lives we would tease him for being slow. What I now realize as an adult is being deliberate. My tiny little self demanded him to be reckless and my always careful dad, compiled because he loved me so very, very much.
My dad set the coffee cup down and picked up another dirty dish. He cleaned dishes with the intensity of disarming a bomb.
My stomach growled. I decided to accept “the reckon” and eat the pop-tart.
It was dry, and the fat-free additives gave it a chemical aftertaste as I sucked the strawberry filling out of the middle.
I watched as my dad wiped down the counter. First the left, then the right. Never missing the middle part that separated the two wells. He shook the water from his hands over the sink like he was baptizing it with holy water. This was the signal he had finished with the dishes.
He turned and started to walk across the kitchen, pausing for a brief moment to look at me in my Little Mermaid pajamas, curled up under the kitchen lights.
His eye caught the pink crusted plate and he frowned. A cartoon frown that said “I’m not happy but I’m not mad.”
I shrank back in my seat with a giant, strawberry-filling grin reminding him he had given me “a reckon”. He picked up my plate and patted my head. I knew it would take him at least five minutes to scrub all the strawberry jelly off the plate for me, and I just never loved anyone more.