June 17th snuck up on me this year, in part because I wasn’t going to write about Dad again just because today is the anniversary of the day he died. I wrote about him last year and the year before, and I wasn’t sure I had more to say.
Ha. I’ll never be finished writing about Dad. He’s been gone eight years, and he’s still here with me, just like he was on the day I was born.
My biography, as told by my parents, begins a few hours before my birth with the gross concoction of castor oil and beer the doctor advised Mom to drink to induce her labour. She hasn’t touched beer since, but it worked. Her contractions came on fast. Dad grabbed the little suitcase that was packed and waiting at the door and drove her the seven blocks to West Coast General Hospital. When they arrived, so the story goes, the nurse yelled, “Hold on just one minute, Mrs. Perpick! You can’t have the baby yet—the doctor’s not here!” Mom yelled back, “I don’t give a damn whether the doctor’s here or not, this baby is coming now!” And out I shot, like a cannonball, according to Dad, only purple and gooey. He didn’t mean to be there, obviously. Fathers weren’t present for the births of their children in the 1950s. As a kid I thought that gave us a special bond, made me his jedina, his one and only. (I have three siblings who would strongly dispute that point.)
I don’t remember any of it. As far as my memories can tell, life began on a Sunday afternoon in the autumn of 1963, when Dad took me with him to the dump.
“Come on, Doll,” he drawled, like he was offering dinner and a show.
He had a powder blue ’56 Pontiac Star Chief he’d converted into a pickup, and the back of it was loaded with bags of garbage and leaves. I hopped up onto the seat and clambered across it so I could sit close—nobody worried about seat belts in those days. Dad and I swung around Southgate onto Helen Street, turned right at the new traffic light, and headed up Johnston Road hill. If you keep on going, Johnston Road becomes the Alberni Highway and stretches out of town. Dad turned instead onto a pot-holed gravel road that led to the biggest mess I had ever seen. Garbage, heaps of it in all directions. Pockets of fire, like a battlefield after a war. Seagulls picking at chicken bones and rotting fruit amid discarded tires and smoldering mattresses. In those days, all the garbage got tossed down a ravine. Junk people thought somebody else might want was piled beside the road, and you could scavenge like crows in the wreckage, hoping for treasures. I found one that day—a two-storey dollhouse with furnished rooms stamped on its metal walls, in nearly perfect condition with only a couple of barely noticeable dents.
On the drive home, Dad let me sit on his lap. He told me to take the wheel while he fished around under his sweater and pulled out his pack of Rothman’s from his breast pocket. As he lit one, his whiskers bristled against my cheek; the smoke from the cigarette made me feel wild and giddy. I squealed when I saw a police car approaching. We’d get a ticket for sure—I didn’t have a driver’s licence! I was petrified, but the policeman didn’t pull us over. He waved as he passed, and Dad saluted with two fingers in reply.
That’s when I knew: Dad played by his own rule book. I wanted to be like him.
And I’m told I am.