Originally written in August 2015.
"Hurry up, Dad!" I called into the restaurant bathroom. "We are late!"
"Just a second!" he yelled back. "I think I've almost got it!"
I knew he shouldn't have gotten something that falls apart so easily. The pulled-pork sandwich had plopped a huge chunk of saucy meat on his shirt, right above the left breast pocket. It hadn't helped that his hands had been shaking quicker than a hummingbird's wings.
The door opened and Dad stepped out. "How is it?"
Honestly, it was difficult to tell. There wasn't any obvious sign of red BBQ sauce, but that whole upper quarter of his blue shirt was damp, and the spot where the mess had been was dark with water. I wouldn't be able to tell for sure until it dried.
"Good enough," I said, already heading to the door. "Now let's get going." I heard him take a deep breath and fall into step behind me. He quickly overtook me and held the restaurant door open for me and an elderly couple that barely acknowledged him.
"We had better run, right?" he suggested as we started down the street. The gymnasium wasn't too far away, but he should have been there two minutes ago.
I quickened my step to a brisk jog, right alongside him. I knew he could go faster, but was holding himself back for my sake. He was just an awesome father like that. I also knew he wanted to go faster. No matter how nervous this event made him, he wanted to get it over with. But more than that, he wanted it to end in his favor and take that jerk down a peg.
It had started almost the moment we got to town, visiting grandma and grandpa for a summer vacation. I don't know if this guy had a history with Dad or what. Neither had ever said. But he had come to almost all the local events that we had for the city's summer festival, and almost every time my dad opened his mouth, this guy had tried to one-up him. My dad said something about his career in the computer technology and this guy had to say he was the mayor or something. My dad said he was proud of my writing and the jerk said his kid won some state championship. Stuff like that.
But the straw that had broken the figurative camel's back, and my dad's nearly limitless patience, was cold hands. It had always been a running joke in the family about how cold my dad's hands were. Uncomfortably so. He was a little embarrassed about it and tried to not expose them to other people's skin too often.
"That's nothing," the jerk had blurted when he overheard the conversation. "They call me 'The Freezer' because my hands are so cold. I hold people's sodas in the middle of the summer to keep them cool." He was currently holding a beer that didn't look cold at all. And from the way he staggered, it wasn't for someone else.
"He ain't kiddin,'" said the plastered wife that looked like the clown-demon from Spawn. Though I couldn't decide which form she most resembled. "I swear I got frost bite on my boobs one night the first year we were married."
People had laughed at that, but I could see my dad fuming.
"Prove it," Dad had stated quietly.
The jerk paused and frowned. "What?"
"Let's see whose hands are colder."
"Fine," the idiot had muttered, sticking out his hand to my dad.
"Not like that," my dad protested. "With thermometers and a large audience to see you fail."
Their immediate surrounding had fallen silent as they stared at each other with loathing that nobody else understood.
"I'll get it set up for the gymnasium tomorrow evening. 7 o'clock."
"See you there," Dad said as he turned away with tall shoulders and joined my little brother in a carnival game tossing hoops on bottles.
And now we were late, bursting through the double doors of the gym to hear the words, "...graduated with top honors while still managing to start and raise a family." The girl on stage was familiar, since I'd probably seen her face a couple times in the last few days, but I'd never met her. "And with no more delay, here is this city's returning son, and my amazing father, Mr. Douglas Zaugg!"
Relieved applause broke out as people realized that Dad was now headed toward the stage to stand by his rival and the appointed judge.
I sat in the front row just as the announcing girl with long dark hair and eyes a color I couldn't quite place sat down next to me.
As the judge began to explain the details of how the competition would work, I leaned over to her and whispered, "Thanks for stalling until we could get here."
"No problem," she whispered back, not taking her eyes of the contestants.
After a moment, I leaned over again. "Who are you and why are you pretending to be my dad's daughter?"
She turned her head with an annoyed eyebrow raised. A second of contemplation and she answered, "Don't worry about it."
I let it go for the time being. Focusing on my dad's big moment was probably a better idea than causing some other kind of incident. I turned back to the judge's announcements.
"And the one who can make the thermometer drop the furthest, will take the title of 'The Freezer' until another can best them. Mr. Mayor, would you please step forward?"
The jerk sauntered up with a wave and a smile to the audience, receiving a great deal of applause from the people I was sure he had bribed to be there. However, he didn't have the jovial, care-free attitude he had worn the past few days. It was as if he was taking my dad seriously now, and he wasn't happy about anything that threatened his superiority complex.
Just as he was about to grasp the cartoonishly large red bulb at the end of the thermometer, an unearthly howl arose from outside, rattling the windows of the gymnasium. The first thing I thought of was in the movie when Harry stuck his head out of the Henderson's car to scream like a police siren and get people out of the way, because everyone knows sasquatches are talented at noise mimicry. Then I realized that it was actually a siren and everyone was jumping out of their seats and running.
"Tornado," was screamed from several places among the audience as everyone left to seek shelter.
My dad's rival was already off the stage and dashing for the exit. Dad, however shot frustrated glances between the man and the unused thermometer before he jumped off stage and accounted for everyone in the family. From there, we went to his friends who ran the general store, since they apparently had a storm cellar there and would let us join them.
I looked behind as we ran through the alley to see the unknown girl sticking with us, a mischievous glare in her eyes. With or without the tornado, this family vacation was far from coming to a peaceful conclusion.
The appearance of my dad in my dreams is not uncommon. But this one was themed around him in a way that few are.
This was a relatively recent dream, and it isn't that surprising to me because my dad is currently running for city council in the place he grew up as a kid in Utah. No, he didn't come back for a vacation and find a rival to run against, though we vacationed at grandma and grandpa's place often when I was a kid.
It is a long list of difficult situations that brought my parents to live in the house where my dad was raised. Back in 1999, he worked for a tech company in Utah, when they offered him a position with a branch they were opening in Massachusetts. He eagerly took it and worked there for a few years. After the tech industry scare after 9/11, they shut down the branch, leaving my dad without a job. He tried to stick it out there and find another position, but nobody was biting and after limping along with mostly part-time grunt work, he took the offer from his brother to help him start his own restaurant. My uncle is pretty successful with the franchises he owns. This required the family to move back to his hometown and rent grandpa's old house while they built a new one. When licensing ridiculousness prevented Dad from setting up a franchise place on the already acquired property, my parents decided to do something original and started Zogger's, home of the Knotty Bunz. That business went along for several years, several months of which I worked there until I found a job at the school I was attending. It was lots of hard work and long hours, baking early in the morning till closing after dinner, and my parents weren't making enough to hire someone else to manage the place. Eventually, the strain wasn't worth the little amount they pulled in coupled with the debt they accrued. Many people were disappointed when the restaurant closed and blamed the location, stating it wasn't great for a new and unknown restaurant to start. Losing the business meant also losing the house and going back to grandpa and grandma's place. Not knowing what else to do, he found what work he could, while renewing some of his education in the computer industry. Eventually, this worked out and he got a decent job doing the kind of stuff he likes to do, some of it pretty interesting even though it goes way over my head. Then, in August of last year, my mom had a bicycle accident which led to a major stroke. She is recovering well, trying to regain control of half of her body and learn most of her words all over again, but one of the difficult parts about it, aside from the obvious, is that my dad had just barely got his current job and hadn't yet qualified for their health insurance plan. Luckily, my family has made many friends over the years and they helped out a lot to get us through the toughest parts in whatever way they could. My dad now works through the day and comes home to take care of my mom, relieving the women from our church that come to help her out when she needs.
I don't tell you this story to get pity points or anything, but to paint a picture of the setting of my father's life as it is now, and to illustrate the respect, love, and gratitude I have for him. Through all this time, he has never given up his hope, his faith, or his incredibly happy attitude. Yes, he can express his frustrations sometimes, but it is always in a healthy way that lets us all laugh at the end of it. Like right now, communicating with my mom is like a constant game of charades because she has "yes" and "no" down as good as ever. Every time I hear them talking over the phone, they are both laughing at all the horribly wrong guesses he has at what she is trying to say.
And now, to add to the burdens already on his shoulders, he has seen the way his home town is being run and changed, and he doesn't like it. He always loved his home because of its rural setting, appreciation for the past, and its heritage. Now it is changing rapidly, with shopping centers popping up, farms failing and having to sell to businesses whose only interest in the city is how much money it can make from its citizens, and taking away people's yards to expand roads in order to draw more businesses that will clutter and overtake the small-town atmosphere that many people there have appreciated for generations. He wants to prevent that from happening. My dad isn't against change or modern progress, but he recognizes that it has its place, as does tradition and the ability to live in a family-friendly neighborhood that isn't overrun with the bright business signs and dangerous traffic of a larger city.
Every time I visit, it seems like some field of corn that I used to walk by with my cousins is replaced with some type of construction, or a beautiful old house is torn down for a gas station. I don't like it. Soon there will be no refuge left.
So, I love that my dad is trying to do something about it. He has passed the primary election and is now prepping for the general election in a few months. This process is much more complex than just touching a thermometer, but potentially much more rewarding, and no tornado siren will save the current powers when they see that they might no longer get to keep their self-indulgent ways.
So, wish him luck. Even if he doesn't win, I think my dad deserves at least some recognition for being the incredible father, husband, and human being that he is. If nothing else, I hope he reads this and knows the admiration I have for him, cold hands or no.