The end of that gravel road always seemed to smell like lilac. The lilac grew up against the doorframe and hung over my head. There was a dogwood in the yard too. My dad showed me the petals, told me how to recognize a dogwood. They’re still my very favorite tree.
We moved into that house when I was four, coming from South Carolina. My dad had gotten a job with International Paper, in Vaughn, outside of Eugene. It was a company house, halfway up a hill, the fifth of five houses, at the end of that gravel road. The roof leaked. We kept a pan underneath the drip. Across the road, there were blackberry bushes. We’d sit at the front window and watch the deer eat the blackberries.
In case you missed it, my dad is a white, working-class, Libertarian, military family, Jim Crow era, South Carolina boy. He collects guns. He goes to church. He taught me how to fold a flag and how to tie a tie. He taught me to identify trees, and to tie knots, and how to survive in the mountains.
My dad doesn’t like to be touched. He didn’t hug us or touch us much at all. We knew better than to touch him. In my family, masculinity and impenetrability are entwined. Personal space is inviolate.
When I was five, my dad taught me how to shoot. Behind that company house, in the woods, nobody cared what we did. He placed a row of soda cans on a couple of logs, and wrapped his arms around me. I’ve never felt as safe as I felt, learning how to shoot a soda can in my dad’s arms. He helped me slide the bolt, aim the rifle, slowly pull the trigger. I learned to shoot straight, and hit where I aim.
When I was eight, we moved to Seattle. My dad had a shitty job, working for an inventory service. We rented a house in a neighborhood, where we couldn’t play with guns. My dad got a bow, and some arrows, and piled up some hay bales in the back yard. It smelled like hay and evergreen. We practiced and practiced, pinning targets onto the hay, and developing enormous bruises on our bow arms. We showed them off and compared them with great delight.
He found a gun range, and when he wasn’t working on Saturday afternoons, we started going to the range. He liked the .357. I liked the 9mm. Always the blued guns, because they don’t reflect the light.
Afterwards, at home, he’d lay newspaper out on the table and we’d clean his guns. As a kid, I always felt like it was a tedious chore, the annoying cleanup after the party. My dad likes order. He cleans his guns slowly, methodically. It makes him happy, and he tells stories while he cleans them. I always liked the stories.
We don’t go to the range together very often anymore, and I don’t know what happened to the bow and arrows. My dad still goes, on his own. He believes that part of the responsibility of having a carry permit is maintaining his skills. Sometimes, if I’m in town for Father’s Day, we go together. I can still shoot straight, and hit where I aim.
Now, my parents live in a neighborhood where there are no dogwoods, and no lilacs. They don’t have enough of a yard for bow practice, even if they still have that bow, somewhere. They used to have an opossum that came around. My mother fed it in the backyard, until the next door neighbor shot it.
I’m not there this year, for Father’s Day. Today, in my neighborhood, it smells like grilling meat, and wisteria, and dust. But wherever I am, to me, Father’s Day always smells like lilac and gun oil.
Church should be over by now. I’m going to call my dad.