On being disowned

Yesterday my father and step-mother came over to watch Leta for us so that we could go out and take care of some pressing business. When Leta saw my father walking up the steps to the porch, she jumped into my arms and pressed her face firmly into my neck. This is how she expresses her shyness, and when he walked in and tried to get her attention she pulled her head back and tried to block me from looking at him. Because if I couldn’t see him, and she couldn’t see him, MAYBE HE WOULD MAGICALLY DISAPPEAR. And then she wouldn’t have to suffer all the horrible love and adoration that he has been known to inflict on innocent grandchildren.

Fifteen minutes before he arrived Leta was wearing nothing but a diaper. I had put a dress on her earlier in the morning, but within an hour she asked if she could take it off. I didn’t see why not, and after running wildly from room to room with her bare arms above her head she hopped onto the couch right next to me, her cheeks flush from the workout, and said, “This is so great!” You don’t have to tell me that. Why do you think I spent my early twenties dressed exactly the same way?

Knowing that the world’s most conservative and civilized man was about to walk through my door, however, I explained to Leta that we needed to put her dress back on or PaPaw’s brain might hemorrhage all over the driveway. My father’s sense of decorum cannot be overstated. Have I ever told you about that one time I heard my dad pass gas, and just as I was about to laugh a red laser shot out of his eye and seared a 2-inch hole in my skull? I couldn’t remember who I was for weeks.

Once Leta had overcome her shyness we all sat around the dining room table to eat lunch together. My father had brought us sandwiches, and in classic fashion he announced that he had bought the entire lunch with a coupon, one of the many hundreds of coupons that he carries with him wherever he goes JUST IN CASE. That’s pretty cute, isn’t it? I mean, you never know when you’re going to need to save that extra $.25 on a ham and cheese Hot Pocket, right? How stupid you would look paying full price! Because a Hot Pocket would not taste the same if you were out that one quarter.

Leta was sitting directly across from my father, and she was busily eating a bowl of refried beans, the only thing she has eaten for the last two weeks other than a piece of Big Red gum. We were all about halfway through our sandwiches when the conversation reached a natural lull — a pleasant, comfortable silence — and Leta suddenly looked at my father, a man who has never in his life acknowledged that there is such a thing as a bodily function, and yelled, “SHIT!”

No context.

No reason.

A thundering strike of lightning that broke the earth in half.

Cussing? In front of my father? That’s like pooping in front of Jesus. Or worse! PICKING YOUR NOSE IN FRONT OF OPRAH.

The room was completely silent for two seconds, The Longest Two Seconds of My Life, and I watched the muscles in my father’s jaw clinch. He then turned his head to glare at me. I didn’t know what to say, I mean, I was one part mortified to the point of being paralyzed, and one part relieved at her choice of exclamation given the wide variety she had to choose from.