Samuel Reuben looked like a father, not like someone you would have an Oedipus complex about. He never seemed to have had a full head of hair, but early photographs indicate that for one brief, shining moment, something light brown had once flourished there. To have called him “bald,” however, would have been cruelly inaccurate. That bare, often sunburned space surrounded by fringe was just there.
Old men got bald.
Fussbudgets got bald.
Elmer Fudd got bald.
My father just didn’t have a whole lot of hair.
What there was of it, though, he cared about. A lot. When he went down to the Glencoe Beach, he put a shower cap on his head before he would plunge into the waves. A puffy, bouffant thing, the purpose of which was to keep what remained on his head from being aggravated into further recession by the thermal inadequacies of Lake Michigan, i.e., he thought cold water makes your hair fall out.
Other than this and the additional precautions of massaging his skull with a plastic nubby thing, he did little to refurbish what was left. As children, we never quite took the plight of his hairline seriously. One Chanukah we bought him a huge comb, which he did not find amusing but about which I laughed for days.
My father had hazel eyes, thick, light brown eyelashes that pointed straight down, and a wide, aquiline nose. In profile, he looked exactly like the Indian on the face of a nickel.
And Samuel Reuben was very tall. Of course, the older I grew, the shorter he got, but he never grew less strong. Not even when he was dying and was so frail that a child could have carried him across the room. There is a line of poetry by e.e. cummings which describes a man who “could hold the heart beat of a mountain in his hands.”
That was Samuel Reuben.
Let me tell you about strong. When we were children, I remember him extending his arms and both my older sister and I hanging by our knees upside down, one from each, like a pair of monkey. And when we lived in the house where I was born at 4907 North Bernard Street in Chicago, my father used to carry me up the stairs, singing:
My Bonnie lies over the ocean
My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean
Oh bring back my busted down,
Beat up old Bonnie to me.
As we approached a sharp turn in the stairwell, he would speed up as though we were going to crash into the wall. Then he would pull back at the very last instant, scaring me in that thrilling, terrifying way children love to be scared when they are little, and when they know that they are utterly and completely safe.
That is the most important word to be able to apply to childhood. To be safe and to know that your parents are there for you. “Mom, I’m home,” or “Dad, I’m home,” are probably the three sweetest words that any generation of children ever thoughtlessly shouted aloud.
To be responded to immediately by aforesaid parent calling out, “Don’t slam the screen door.”
To be followed just as rapidly by a slammed screen door.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben.