The silo was filled, the combine greased and stored for another year, and frost covered the fields around our farmhouse when my Dad left for deer hunting. He would be gone a week, and he assured us he would return “before we knew it.” And he was right, of course, as soon our unshaven father was back, unloading his suitcase and telling us stories about the northern Michigan woods he walked, the animals he saw, and the people he met.
Listening and laughing, we excitedly watched Dad unpack, my youngest brother clinging to Dad’s legs.
“Oh kids, I brought you something,” Dad announced.
This, in itself, was amazing. Our mother was the gift arranger —with Dad’s support—so we had never received something that our father alone had selected. And we just didn’t receive presents unless it was our birthday or Christmas. Surprises, no matter how small, were a big, big deal.
He handed each of my little brothers a container of Silly Putty– perfect. We all loved Silly Putty, loved pressing the snappy clay on the Sunday comics, loved stretching the pictures—we even loved the plastic smell. My brothers smiled, enthusiastically working to open the red plastic eggs.
I waited quietly. Maybe Dad had forgotten to buy enough so that I could have one, too? I tried to be brave, to not show my disappointment.
“Kathleen, this is for you.”
He handed me a box. Beneath the tissue paper lay porcelain, horse-head bookends. I was stunned. I was speechless. I longed for a horse, reading every book in our tiny elementary library, researching—in my third grade way—what brushes I would need or how to cinch a saddle. I had listened to my dad’s stories of adventures on our farm with our Uncle John and their boyhood pony. I had quietly dreamed of horses. I cradled those beautiful bookends and blushed, smiling at my dad.
Fifty years later, the bookends hold a place of honor in our guest bedroom. I won’t say that their position in our home was always secure: in one of my de-cluttering moods, I logically contemplated giving them to my nieces who had horses. And during an E-Bay phase, I considered listing them since they weren’t something I used.
But still they remain, reminding me of one of my most precious, perfect gifts—my father’s love.
(My dad died in August, and even though he no longer walks this earth, I feel his kindness and gentle presence with me every day. He was–and is–one of the great loves of my life. )