Staring out of the windshield over the expansive hood felt like looking across a snow-covered field. The wheel was tight, forcing both hands and muscle power to turn it. Pumping the breaks was an instruction and not just a clichéd term. On one occasion while driving to my summer job, I pumped the breaks continuously but the Lemans didn’t stop at the overpass. Slowly, the beast heaved itself across the road while I held my breath. I reversed out of the bushes with an equal mix of shame and anger. Mad at Dad for not having a better job to afford a nicer, safer car. He worked in a factory, though I told everyone he worked in logistics. Not entirely untrue, but I knew what I was doing when I said it.
I parked the Lemans at the far end of the parking lot of my retail job and prayed nobody saw me get out of it. One day my boss had the idea that the store would be busier if people saw cars in the parking lot. He asked me if I could park my car in front of the store to drum up business. Not wanting to own up to the white clunker out there, I told him my Mom had dropped me off. There was no way the Lemans would lure any potential customers, that much I knew.
One Sunday afternoon our phone rang. I could hear Mom saying politely that we didn’t need a new vacuum and in truth had very little carpeting. But the voice on the other end of the phone was persistent. He was young and said it was his first job, he needed the practice and didn’t even care if we didn’t buy it in the end. He just needed to tell his boss he’d actually visited a house and gave his spiel. Reluctantly, Mom agreed and within an hour he arrived.
Mom, Dad and I watched this small four-door grey sedan pull into the driveway. Out came a tall, baby-faced salesman. Mom greeted him at the door repeating that we didn’t need the vacuum but we would listen anyhow. He lumbered the vacuum and briefcase into the living room where Dad got up and shook his hand. I nodded in his direction, already embarrassed about the whole experience. He was nervous, his voice was shaky, and I watched his hands tremble as he fiddled with the briefcase for his notes.
Dad said, “your car is rolling away.”
The salesman laughed. “Good one, you’re just trying to get rid of me.”
“No,” I pointed, “your car. It’s rolling down the driveway.”
He sprang up and we all went to the window to watch as it slowly rolled past the Lemans and into the street before he could grab the door handle and hop into it to pull the e-brake. Inside we all laughed as he correctly parked it and re-entered to a much more relaxed scene.
“Well, now that that’s out of the way!” He said cheerfully, then proceeded to dump a pail of dirt onto our area rug in hopes of showing us how well the suction would clean it all up.
At the end of his presentation, Dad asked the young man if he wanted to stay for dinner. Mom shot Dad a wide-eyed look.
“Sure!” said the vacuum salesman.
My jaw dropped.
As Mom frantically searched the kitchen for a meal to prepare for our new guest, Dad began showing him a few books he’d recently read and asked him what he was reading at the moment. Books were always Dad’s go-to; a language he was well versed in. It hid the embarrassment of not being able to afford a new vacuum, or the Lemans in the driveway. Or even the fact that all Mom could muster up for a Sunday dinner with a guest was tomato soup from a can and grilled cheese. I spent the entire evening in a state of shock. This young man was only a few years older than me, a stranger in our home, and yet he felt so comfortable. His shoulders had relaxed. He scanned Dad’s bookshelves and pointed to a few he’d read or at the very least heard of. Maybe he was just trying to impress Dad. But it was in that moment that I understood the language of books. Suddenly the other embarrassing aspects of our life had melted away. Dad’s eyes lit up as he talked about his favourite authors, history books and novels about far off places. The evening ended with Mom hugging the salesman and we all chuckled that now he was like family.
“See you next Sunday!” Dad joked and we all waved as he lugged his equipment back to his sedan in the dark.
Years have passed since that evening but for me it was a turning point in how I saw Dad. He had a different currency in which he lived his life, and it proved to put others at ease. You could almost pinpoint the moment the pretentiousness fell away in a conversation.
Dad passed away at the age of 70, and at his funeral I spoke to an overflowing crowd of people. The room had that familiar feeling of that evening with the vacuum salesman. Each speech mentioned Dad’s love of books. It was incredible to look around a standing-room-only auditorium of people who all felt they had a special and unique bond with him, and they did. I half expected the vacuum salesman to be there too. I’m sure he’s out there somewhere telling the story of the family who took him in for dinner at the beginning of his career.
The biggest lesson I've learned from observing Dad’s life is that the majority of people think their life is summed up by a Lemans you park at the edge of the parking lot. But Dad was curious enough to look deeper, and in doing so, showed the way for us all. The secret lies in the logistics.
About the Creator
Author, Mother, Wife. Recipient of the Paul Harris Fellowship award and 2017 nominee for the Women of Distinction award through the YWCA. Climate Reality Leader, Zero-Waste promoter, beekeeper and lover of all things natural.
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