HER DADDY'S EYES
About the Book
"I like your pajamas," her mom said, pointing to Allie's frayed nightwear.
"You should. You gave them to me."
"Christmas --- when you were thirteen."
Allie smiled as she remembered the Christmas tradition; her mom gave her new pajamas on Christmas Eve every year. Still did. 'I always liked mermaids," she said.
Gladys plopped down beside her. 'They're a bit snug in the backside now, I expect," she teased.
"And a little short in the legs but not too bad."
"You got most of your height that year," Gladys said. 'Five ten by thirteen."
"I'm wearing them for old times' sake."
"I'm surprised you found them."
"They were stuck in the back of a dresser drawer. You know me. I never throw anything away."
"You're the queen of the pack rats."
Allie surveyed the clutter around her. 'Until now," she said.
"You're finally cleaning things out?" Gladys's voice registered surprise.
Allie picked up a pair of high heels that had once been favorites but that she hadn't worn in years. 'About time, don't you think?"
Her mom chuckled. 'I guess a wedding in three weeks causes a girl to do all kinds of strange things." Gladys opened a box. A bunch of pictures lay inside. Allie flipped quickly through the photos, most of them showing her in various states of shooting a basketball.
"I was a skinny thing," she said as she finished examining the box and shoved it to the side.
"Like a young filly," Gladys said. 'Still are, though you're not such a young filly anymore."
"Hey, I'm just thirty-three!"
"Close to over-the-hill; in my day if a woman didn't marry by the time she turned thirty, she officially entered the ranks of the old maids."
"Heaven forbid that should happen." Allie lifted another box and found more pictures in it, black and white ones this time. Her brow furrowed as she fingered the top photo --- a picture of her grandmom and granddad standing in front of the house where she now sat.
"What are these?" she asked, handing the first picture to Gladys and reaching for the second.
Gladys's eyes widened as she examined the image. 'I thought I'd lost these," she said.
Allie lifted out several more. They showed her in scenes she couldn't remember, younger than she recollected. 'Have I ever seen these?" she asked, feeding them to Gladys.
Gladys took the pictures one by one. 'I don't know," she said.
Allie thumbed through more pictures. Then her fingers froze as she stared at one in the middle of the stack. Two young couples, the men in military uniforms, the women in calf-length white dresses and gloves, laughed out at her from the print. A black Cadillac served as a prop for the happy couples. The women sat demurely on the hood, their legs hanging over the front. The men stood on either side of the women, their feet propped rakishly on the silver bumper of the Cadillac.
Allie immediately recognized her mom as one of the women and knew, without recognizing him, the identity of the man directly to her mom's left. Jack Wilson, long as a fence rail and equally thin, a dimple in his chin, black hair falling onto his forehead.
"It's Dad," she said softly.
Gladys leaned over, saw the picture, and grabbed for it and the box at the same time, but Allie held them away from her.
"Let me have those!" Gladys said.
Allie shook her head.
"They're just old pictures," her mom said, still reaching for the box. 'No reason to drag them out now."
Allie pulled all the pictures from the box, dropped it to the floor, and stood. Her mom stood with her.
"Give me the pictures," Gladys insisted, her teeth clenched. 'They're mine!"
"Why don't you want me to see them?" Allie asked, holding the pictures over her head like a grown-up holding something from a child.
Gladys shrugged. 'It's just . . . there's no reason to drag out old memories, that's all."
Allie lowered the pictures and handed them to her mom. 'I'd like to see them," she said, 'but I'll do what you want."
Gladys held the photos for several seconds, then sighed and handed them back to Allie, who took the one of her dad and inspected it more closely.
"It's Jack just before he left for Vietnam," Gladys said.
"I've never seen this picture."
"You weren't born yet. I didn't even know I was pregnant at the time."
"You're pregnant in this?"
"Just barely. I was nineteen years old, your dad too."
Allie studied the image a few more seconds, then flipped to the next one. 'So he's the same age as you."
"Hard to believe."
"You've never seen any of those," her mom said, nodding toward the rest of the prints in Allie's hands.
Allie thumbed through six more images, all of her mom and dad in various places and poses. In the third one, a little girl stood between her mom and dad, a little girl in a light-colored dress, a pair of black shoes with a buckle on them, and a bonnet on her head. Her eyes --- bigger than seemed right for her small frame --- bugged out, brightly shining toward the person taking the picture.
"It's me," Allie said.
Gladys stepped to her side and studied the picture. 'Yes," she finally said.
"How old was I?"
"The year before dad left us?"
"Do you have other pictures of me with dad?"
"Not many, perhaps a few."
"Can I see them?"
"Of course you can."
"Why haven't you shown them to me?"
Her mom shrugged. 'Didn't want you to remember bad things, to conjure up the fact that Jack left us. You want to see them now?"
Allie thought a moment, then shook her head. 'Another time maybe."
"Whenever you want."
Allie nodded, not doubting that her mom had done what she thought best for her. Although Gladys hadn't shut out all talk about her dad, she never brought it up either. In Allie's younger years, her mom had answered all the questions Allie had asked as best she could.
"Why did Dad leave us?" she'd asked often during the first couple of years after he left.
"He had some troubles," her mom always explained. 'Brought them back from the war."
"What kind of troubles?"
"He never really told me."
"Where did he go when he left us?"
"I don't know. He writes every now and again. Would you like me to read the letters to you?"
Allie always said yes, and her mom hauled out all the letters and they sat down, usually with hot chocolate in the winter and sweet iced tea in the summer, and Gladys read the letters to her over and over until they were both exhausted.
After a few years, the letters stopped coming and her dad disappeared for good, and Allie stopped asking about him. The young are curious but not overly persistent, she realized now. They adjust to life as it is and feel that the reality of the moment is normal. That's what she'd done.
Allie focused again on the face of her father in the picture. His eyes stared at her as if looking past the years, through them, penetrating the time and space that separated father from child. A sharp sense of nostalgia rolled over her, not for what had been --- for she'd never known her dad --- but for what might have been, what she might have experienced.
"I wish he could be here for my wedding," Allie said softly.
Gladys eased closer and put a hand on her back, both of them intent on the image of Jack Wilson. 'I wish he could have been here for a lot of things for you," Gladys said.
Excerpted from HER DADDY'S EYES © Copyright 2017 by Gary Parker. Reprinted with permission by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
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