Perhaps it was his voice
Or the way that he looked at you when he smiled that told you he knew you were fibbing. He had a thick-bellied thunder of a laugh that jellied to his cheeks, leaving his eyes awash with happy tears. Maybe it was the melancholy silent solace of his rocker as he puffed deeply at his pipe, rocking to and fro, backwards and forward, staring at the photographs. His exhale through his beard, sent smoke creatures into the lazy Sunday air.
It was Sundays that we loved the most
On Sunday Father would say Youll see Papa tonight as we walked dual file, wearing our best smiles into Church at the thought.
For an hour we would not talk (except in prayer) nor look sideways or behind. We sat, knelt and genuflected with clockwork precision to the order of service. Father looked proudly as we led the hymnal, nodding in recognition to the Priest when complemented on his two little angels.
How slowly those hours passed, each moment we sat and held tightly to our anticipation of papas.
At 6 oclock wed climb into the wagon. Father would smile, reach into his bag then wink to me as he pulled two striped candies from his leather satchel saying Look at what Baby Jesus brings to good children.
I always felt a bit guilty taking that candy, knowing that it was anticipation of Papas that brought out the best in our actions.
That is until I protested in scripture class that "baby Jesus lives in my fathers pocket and brings us candy". Oh I got a caning for that, which I remember as vividly as the taste of the peppermints. Ive never felt a bit of guilt for enjoying the candy since even though I lost my taste for the sweets after that.
All along the mile of cobblestone streets, which stretched into eternity, the wagon wheels would click and clack against the stones. Father sitting out front with a whip made of leather would snap it and the sound of clapping thunder filled our ears as it flicked on the horses hides. They would whinny then break into a trot, as we lay half-asleep within the cart lulled by its steady rhythm, listening to it creak like an arthritic joint.
Wed hear the village sounds of pianos playing, babies crying and the drunken curse of Tom Bandy the village drunk who cursed his wife with a yell and himself with a whisper as we passed out of the town. The air was thick with smells rich gravy and pork roasting over Sunday fires
farmyard odors and the sounds of livestock preparing for sleep.
Wed enter the forest, light would grow dim as its canopy enclosed us, wed hear its sunset chorus in our dreams until wakened by the barking of Papas dogs.
Tommy and Bill were first to greet us they barked and squealed then ran around in circles before the gate. Waking us at Papas. They would jump on one another, biting playfully until Papa called them to heel.
Papa, he walked with a limp and leaned on a stick with the head of a dog as a handle. Hed greet Father with a kiss on the cheek, then ask of Mothers health
Shes a strong woman Papa would say as he wiped a tear from Fathers eye
I remember being lifted from the cart
My pelvis and shoulders would crunch with the curling of my back as I was taken into Papas arms. The sweet tobacco scent of his breath on my cheek
Sleep now my little prince hed whisper
Id feel the cold moisture of Tommys nose as he tickled my feet with his kisses, silent laughter and joy bubbling inside of me, in Papas arms.
Thered be a pot boiling over a fire beyond Papas door. An old oak table set with chipped plates and tattered red and green serviettes in the center of the room. Papas bed lay in the corner; beside an old mattress that was made up for us. Papas rocker sat before the fireplace where a tin can steamed with apple-spice tea. We drank it from old tin cups that hung from hooks on the wall. The mantle above the flames was filled with old photographs of loved ones that seemed to move in its flickering light.
Wed sleep until supper, snuggled safe and warm together under a patch work quilt, next to Papas bed. Then sit to the table with Father and Papa who ate in silence. Wed titter amongst ourselves until wed eaten our fill, kiss Father goodbye then pretend to sleep until we heard the sound of Fathers departure when our eyes would open and wed whisper in solicitous urging A story Papa?
Sweet Jesus! hed say and his shaggy head would freeze then round toward us with a wildly bearded grin.
And what story would you like
Papa had a way of talking when we were alone. His face would light up when he told us happy stories and darken like the sky before a storm through bad tiding. He would become a one-man pantomime - contorting his face, distorting his voice to that of each character.
Hed walk about the room, sometimes with a limp, sometimes bent double like a hunchback - shifting from place to place, character to character as he told the tale. At times he was unrecognizable as Papa, having become the hero or villain. For an instant wed be so terrified that wed bury our heads beneath the sheets, gasping for breath, but wed beg him to continue
Yes, Papa, my little ones, was a man
who could tell a tale and take you along for the journey.