Someday, I’m going to be able to write about my dad. I know the world is not sitting around waiting for this Great Work, but since it’s something I’ve long felt compelled to do, an internal deadline is looming. I’ve made a few attempts to write about that very complicated dude over the years, but inevitably, something more enjoyable—like getting a root canal—pulls me away from the keyboard and I don’t go back. I have folders and files labeled Bob.1, Bob.2… Bob.36… I’m like a mouse, nibbling at the edges of a cracker that’s fallen to the floor. I take little bites then run back to my hiding place; not yet ready to haul the whole thing off to share with my mouse friends.
I was the youngest of Robert and Etta Hawthorne’s four children. To me, she was always Mom and he was always Bob. The story goes that when I started to talk, I imitated Mom yelling at him. It got a laugh, so calling him Bob stuck forever.
I feel like I’m getting closer to writing The Story, though. For one thing, I almost never think about Bob anymore. He’s been dead for more than 30 years (49 for Mom), which means many of the things that reminded me of him on a daily basis have been erased by the passage of time: phone booths, Ford Econoline vans, 1960’s era motorcycles. So when I got a huge dose of Bob the other night, I was surprised to find I actually enjoyed it.
My friend Rhonda’s birthday is three days after mine, so we had a belated birthday dinner at my house. Let me tell you, if you don’t have the kind of friend who loves to cook so much that she’ll make dinner at her place then bring the whole thing to your place in ice chests and serving dishes, you need to find one.
We’d been talking for a while about doing a puzzle together—a Capricorn thing, maybe—but decided it was too late to start one that night. Not sure why, but I suggested checkers, a game I hadn’t played since the Carter administration.
At first, neither of us could remember how to play. By game two, we were both ruthless 10-year-old competitors. I don’t know when I’ve laughed as hard in recent years.
This checkerboard set has survived many relocations and many “stuff” purges. But, as with most objects in The Museum of Bonnie, it’s been hidden away for a long time.
As I waited for Rhonda to make a move, I thought about when Bob made this set. It was a particularly broke Christmas, 1969. I remember being banned from the back room—Bob’s sometimes workshop—for weeks. I got yelled at one night when I opened the door to ask him something. Like really yelled at. The kind of yelled at that sometimes preceded getting smacked. It was confusing when I discovered later that he’d been secretly working on something for me.
A lot of Christmases with Bob had a confusing vibe. One year, I really wanted a bicycle. Not just any bicycle, I wanted the purple Schwinn Sting-Ray with the white banana seat and handlebar streamers in the window of Bitler Brothers in downtown Newport, Oregon. I walked past it every morning on my way to school and every afternoon on my way home. I begged Bob for it. I’d never wanted anything so badly. Finally, one dark winter afternoon, as he and I were about to walk into the brightly lit store, I once again made a plea for the bike. He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. “You are not getting that bicycle. We can’t afford it. Now drop it.” The next day, the bike was gone from the window. I was heartbroken.
When it showed up next to our Christmas tree, I was stunned—and not in a good way. “We’re going to starve this winter because of me,” I thought, guiltily. Bob laughed at my shocked face. He told me he’d put it on lay-away weeks earlier. He’d made the final payment the day before it disappeared from the window. He was very pleased with himself for pulling off such a successful surprise.
Bob’s favorite power tool was his beloved wood router. It had a very distinctive sound as it carved through wood, like a race car rounding a bend. The lights in the house dimmed with every groove he cut. (That house had terrible wiring. It eventually burned to the ground.)
On Christmas morning 1969, he handed me a small box on top of a bigger box. I opened the small one as everyone in the family watched. “Oh!” I said with forced cheer. “A box of hugs and kisses from my daddy!”
“No iddy-nut,” he said, “Open the rest of it.” The bigger package was the checkerboard. Being the checkers fanatic that I was, this was actually a great gift.
It’s weird now to see this man’s handiwork, so long after his time on this earth. What impresses me most is that the checkers are delightfully sloppy. I’ve always assumed I’d inherited my perfectionistic tendencies from Bob. Maybe he only valued perfection in certain things, like tuning a motorcycle engine. Other things he was able to say were “good enough.” Especially if there was a kid banging on the door wanting dinner, maybe.