Attic Salt for June 17, 2012

The secrets of a father’s treasures

BY ED CULLEN

The email from the publisher of “Top Drawer Dads” offered a copy of the book for review.

The book was slow coming, but its title stirred memories of the top drawer of my father’s dresser and the top of the dresser, his closet and the drawer of a low table where he kept cuff links, tie tacks, shoe horns, socks, discarded ties and notebooks he’d filled with the writing of an elegant hand using a fountain pen.

This tall, handsome, prematurely gray man who smoked Picayune cigarettes that stunk and wore cologne that must have had a name but whose name for me was Dad came and went like an ocean liner forbidden to stay in home port for very long at a time.

Poking through a drawer the other morning, I found one of my father’s cuff links. Holding the cuff link in the palm of my hand, I smelled my father’s cologne, felt his big hand on the top of my head, heard the front door open, close and his car start.

Some of my dad’s things are in drawers where I keep my own prized stuff. I’d be surprised if my children hadn’t memorized the contents of the drawers before they were 10.

If my father’s ghost appeared at the foot of my bed tonight to ask, “Where is my Elgin wristwatch, the fountain pen that no longer takes up ink and the lucky horseshoe cuff links?” I’d tell him. Then, I’d ask, “Do you still stay in that hotel in Biloxi?”

I knew real men wore long black silk or rayon hose because my dad did. They gripped his calves and didn’t let go.

“They’re long,” my father said, as I watched him dress for work, “so when I cross my legs, and my trouser cuffs ride up, my legs don’t show.”

Before my father was a ghost, he had the whitest legs.

We’d say socks, long socks, today, but my dad called them hose or men’s hosiery because that’s what they were called at the department store where he sold articles of fine clothing for men.

There were cotter pins in the few drawers, maybe three drawers, that held my father’s things. I knew the propeller on my father’s outboard motor was held in place by a cotter pin.

I have a photographic memory of the contents of my father’s most secret places. I know what each thing did. I’d seen everything in action. It’s funny now to think my father thought wooden drawers that slid were vaults.

Maybe, he had another place for truly private things, but I never knew it or found it.

There was a money clip with money clipped, a lot of money, it seemed, to a boy who counted his loot in coins. What trust. There could have been $50 in that money clip. There were no credit cards. My parents wrote checks from a book the size of a map case. Another funny thing. I didn’t know the drawers where my mother kept her things nearly as well as my father’s.

For one thing, when you opened one of my mother’s drawers you released an explosion of small apparel that must have been kept under great pressure.

Try as you might, you could not get all the small things back in the right drawer. You might redistribute the extra pieces of flimsywear to other drawers, but you knew you hadn’t got it right.

If you picked up a knife from your father’s drawer, you could put it back anywhere in the drawer.

He knew things slid around when he opened and closed a drawer.

The book, “Top Drawer Dads: Celebrating Fathers as They Shape Our Lives,” finally got here.

Published by WestBow Press, I recommend the book to you unopened.

If, unread, the book inspired an essay, what must it hold for people who read it?