Everdeen | When My Father Calls
Then, quick as she came, Everdeen darted toward my father’s hand, stuffed the peanut in her cheek, turned on her haunches, and ran. My father’s face came alive, his cheeks bunching as he smiled, and his shoulders lifting as he spoke: “Isn’t she darling?” The phrase made me think about my mom and how she would have loved to be here, watching us feed a tiny chipmunk outside the house that had been her home before she died at 53. It made my father think of her, too. I know this because his eyes went pink.
When I was 8 or so, my father found a mouse nest in one of the air vents of my mother’s maroon Subaru. The tiny rodents were the size of chess pawns, all bald and pink, with their eyes closed.
“They won’t survive if we move them,” he told me as I peered into the cavity. “They’re too young to disrupt their natural environment at this stage in their development.”
My mother, standing beside me, pierced him with a look as though he’d scarred my innocence. “But we can try,” she said, pulling her blue fleece bathrobe tighter around her waist. “Come on, let’s go get a tissue box and make them a cozy little nest and find a bottle cap to put some water in so they can drink.”
“But they’ll die,” I said, looking at my dad.
“They won’t survive in here, though,” my dad said as he redirected my attention to the mice. “I bet you never thought mice would nest in a car.”
My mother was already inside, rummaging for a suitable home in which to raise the litter into strong mice. She was likely thinking of what to name each of them or boiling oatmeal to hand-feed the tiny creatures. The mice died, of course, but not before my father had gently lifted the nest from the dashboard and into the small Tupperware container my mother had lined with soft dishtowels and strips of Puffs tissues.
For a few years before my mother died, my grandmother lived with us. In the mornings, before filling out my father’s crossword puzzle, my grandmother would stare out the window, watching the squirrels and chipmunks quarrel over the corn my father had thrown for them and listening to the nasal calls of the nuthatches. After a few months of this, she named one of the chipmunks that she saw regularly: “Tippy,” because he had only half a tail. My father joked, only to me, about how there were hundreds of Tippys—a breed, or family, whose tails were cut short. It was when she started calling the chipmunk by different names that we realized that her memory loss was dementia. And then, when my grandmother forgot to take her insulin one too many times, my father promised her that there would be chipmunks at the nursing home.
My dad never took to Tippy because he spent most of his time taking care of my mother after my grandmother had moved out. For the six months that hospice helped us nurse her, my father arranged for a hospital bed to be put in the family room, where my mom could look out the sliding glass door and onto the patio. He staged garden gnomes and ceramic hedgehogs throughout the annual garden because he knew that she loved to imagine they were real. He put out birdfeeders so that she could watch the chickadees, her favorite, and he baited Tippy with ears of dry corn that he hung from a shepherd’s hook. He would sit with my mother in the mornings after he brought her coffee with cream and two Splendas. He would hold her hand while she dozed and think of other ways he could make her happy.
The day I told my father, two years later, that I was going to move in with the man who would become my husband, his eyes welled with tears. “The house will be so different without estrogen,” he said. “Even though you’re going to get married, you’ll still be my little girl, right?”
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