TO POP by Ryan Standley
That whole summer long my big sis Heather and I were both home, and partied quite a bit in Pop's basement bar. With a claw hammer, we tried to pry off the padlocked cabinet of his booze-stash, unsuccessfully, and I knew he was up there, looking down, laughing at us. When I finally opened it (miraculously picked with a paperclip) there was only a half bottle of scotch, which me and Heather both hated, but drank anyway. We invited friends over and played pool and pinball (Pop had bought a full-size Flash Gordon machine) and played cards in his restaurant style booth (complete with Steak and Shake menus). Mom never was a good sleeper but she stayed upstairs in her bedroom and put up with our shenanigans till the wee hours, knowing me and sis were together, ignoring the loud music, clinking of glasses, and our friends' constant laughter.
Heather and I laughed a great deal. Getting drunk together was the only way to forget about Pop for a while, the serious side of him anyways. We'd rant about the good times, the family vacations to everywhere from the Grand Canyon, to New York, Mt. Rushmore, and Disneyland, with annual camping trips to Wisconsin Dells in between. Pop loved to drive and bought us a big brown conversion van that had a wooden table in the backseat so you could play cards, while he drank beer out of a plastic cup and sped along the freeway with his fuzz-buster plugged into the cigarette lighter.
Pop was one of the first to buy a cell phone too, always a techno-buff. The phone rig was as big as a briefcase, with a little cord that extended out for the receiver. I remember calling Grandma and Grandpa on the way down to visit, and I'd say, "Hi, we just passed Bloomington, Bye." I hung up and Pop would smile, "Isn't that something? We're in a car talking on the phone! What do you think?" He figured out email in its infancy to correspond with Heather in Germany. He changed the oil on all the cars, built the back porch, installed the ceiling fan in my room, erected a cement-floored shed in the backyard, and was always fixing junk in the workshop. He could get a clock to tick again and even a busted CD player to spin. He had collections of tools, metal cars that were piggy banks, and brand name watches that he bought with proof of purchases off cereal boxes. He kept a Captain Crunch figurine and an Oscar Meyer Weiner whistle from his youth (that he was convinced were worth thousands of dollars someday). He refurbished and repainted antiques, made wood and newspaper lacquered plaques, and blamed such toxic fumes (along with cigarettes) for the cancer diagnoses. In eighth grade I studied chain reactions in science class, and he was up all night putting together PVC pipe, pulleys, silicone glue, pin balls, and wood scraps to create the most elaborate C- grade I ever received (only cause the teacher knew I didn't make it, but it's surely displayed in his classroom still today.) When I was a boy scout we made it to the regional pine wood derby race in Rockford. During high school football, he was on the sideline with his state-of-the-art video camera and filmed my one and only interception-touchdown. I later recorded that audio onto a tape. I missed his voice and all the pride it held for me. "Get that, Bruce?" The amazed coach asked him. "I sure did. Yup."
I could go on with these stories and I did with Heather at the marble-top bar Pop built. But sometimes I'd have to stop, like I am now. I felt like I was doing all the talking, like I had more memories than she did, and maybe I was worsening her situation. And when she reads this, I hope she feels better and realizes how far she's come, we've both come (I love you). And I'm sure she had more stories then, and was too sad to spill 'em, or maybe she was too busy laughing at my silly ass. That summer we laughed and drank, "To Pop", but didn't laugh as much as we do now, and didn't laugh at all back then without a drink around.