Tuesday, April 05, 2005


As I was growing up, my dad worked at a factory as a data analyst. In fact, just about everybody in town worked there in one capacity or another. At that time, they would shut the plant down for two weeks every July and virtually no one had to work. This time was commonly referred to about town as "Cat vacation".

Our family always went to visit my dad's parents and sister during that time. We would all pile into whatever car we owned at the time -- in good years it was a station wagon, or eventually, a minivan, but for awhile it was three kids in the back seat of a Buick Skylark with no air conditioning -- and we would drive. We would drive, and drive and drive. We stopped occasionally at rest areas, where my mom would feed us peanut butter crackers for lunch, and my dad would entice us to run around until we were exhasted. Then they'd load us back into the car and we would drive some more.

It takes about eighteen hours to drive from my childhood home to Richmond, Virginia, where my grandparents lived, and we did just that every year of my childhood that I remember. In my memory, those summer trips were epic. Many of our family adventures stem from that trip -- the time dad forgot to lock the cartop carrier and our stuff ended up strewn all over the interstate, the year my brother was sick the whole trip, the time our hotel reservation got lost and it took forever to find a place with a vacancy, the year we took a five foot stuffed rabbit along for the drive.

But eventually, we'd come to my dad's parents' house, and then things became different. My dad's folks were Southerners through and through. Papa was a preacher, tall enough to touch the sky, and always bigger than life. Mimi was above all things a lady. She took us to museums, tried to teach us a little poise and the nicer points of etiquette. Things at their house were quiet, genteel.

I remember sitting on Papa's lap in his wing-back chair in the library. I was old enough to be too big for most laps, but he was a big man and I was his first grandchild and always a little girl in his eyes. He'd pat his knee, enticing me to join him. I remember the smell of him combined with the scent of the leather of the books. I would lay my head on his shoulder quietly and he would watch the news.

As we sat together, I would try to synchronize my breathing with his, inhaling as he inhaled, exhaling as he exhaled. I imagined that if I got it just right, our breaths would remain in time while I was away. For all of August, September, and October, our breathing would be in synch. In November, December and January, we would be thousands of miles apart, but breathing in concert. February, March and April would find us still breathing alike. We would continue this way through May and June, right up until the time I saw him again in July.

I don't remember ever telling him my plan. I think it was a way for me to try and connect as a small one to a man I never really felt like I understood. At some point, I realized the failings of it all on my own and stopped.

But still, sometimes late at night, I try to match my breathing to Pukka's, inhaling and exhaling at the same pace he does. Even now, I still believe in some way it will bring us closer together, connect us.