I used to hear some folks in our city say that nobody was perfect but I bet those folks had never met my dad for he was the best and most perfect person in the whole wide world.
When I was nine and Jimmy Fitz, the class bully, pulled on my hair, my dad showed up to school to have a talk with the teacher and also had a talk with Jimmy’s dad after school. Though Jimmy’s dad tried to act all tough and stuff, my dad got right up in his face and showed him how much bigger and tougher he was and warned him to never mess with his little girl.
I was so proud of my dad that day.
On the night of my tenth birthday, I woke up to the sound of thumping on my window. It was dark and stormy outside, and all this frightened me so much that I started to scream. Dad came to my room and hugged me, singing a song to calm me down. When I was done crying, he asked me what the matter was. I told him that I was scared of the monsters that had come to take me away. Dad patted my head and faced the rest of my room.
“Now listen here, you monsters,” he warned. “Beth needs her sleep so stop bothering her or you shall have to answer to me.”
He kissed my forehead and tucked me in. After he left, I stayed up a little longer to see if the monsters would come but the thumping at my window was gone. The monsters were scared of my dad.
When I was eleven, I fell sick, really sick. My chest and throat ached and I was coughing up a storm each night. Mom would not come near me, saying I would make her sick so dad took care of me. He was the one who fed me some soup every time my throat hurt, and always changed my sheets whenever I soiled them. Each night, when I lay in bed burning with a fever, dad sat beside me holding my hand and telling me stories.
I was not getting better and when mom started hollering about contamination and infection, dad took me to the doctor. The doctor listened to my chest, took my temperature and prodded me all over.
“Sir,” the doctor said, speaking to my dad, “I’m going to write her some antibiotics but I would like you to get her out of the city for a while. This air isn’t good for her.”
I looked outside the window and saw the gloomy grey sky with fog covering the east side. I started to cry, knowing that I was causing trouble for dad because he had work here in the city. Dad held me and told me he would do anything to help me get better because I was his little girl.
When we got home, dad told mom the news and mom became furious.
“No,” she yelled. “Why should we leave?”
Dad tried to explain what the doctor had said but mom was having none of it.
“The doctor’s wrong,” she argued. “There’s nothing in the air bothering us. Otherwise, the rest of the folks here would be sick too. Beth is just weak but feed her some more soup and she’ll get better. She did get the medicine, right?”
Mom went real quiet. I knew, and she knew too, that dad only used that nickname of hers when he was really mad about something and from the looks of it, he was furious. His face was all red and his fists were clenched.
“We’re leaving the city,” he said, “but it will only be for a couple of weeks till Beth here gets better.”
Dad’s word was final and I loved him for standing up for me. I could tell that mom was not too pleased about this, though she nodded her head in agreement. I did not understand mom’s problem. She had no family here in the city and didn’t work. All she did was go to teas and dinners and parties with her friends, spending the rest of her time at the mall using up dad’s hard-earned money. One day, dad gave her money to buy some groceries but mom instead went out and bought a fur coat. It was the ugliest thing I had ever seen but she loved it a lot and didn’t care when dad got mad at her for what she had done.
Mom didn’t know how to cook. She once burned the beans so bad that dad had to throw out the cooking pan because of how charred it was. She also didn’t like doing the cleaning, so dad hired a nice old lady to come in every day to help with the cooking and cleaning when he was not around.
Even though mom grumbled, dad kept his word and went looking for a house outside the city. It took him a few days to find the right one and when he did, he came back home with the news of his success.
“Beth,” he said to me, “I found us the perfect cabin in a place with good air. You’re going to get better real quick.”
He was happy and I was happy that my dad was happy.
On the day of our move, mom was all grouchy and sulking in the front seat of the car. She refused to talk to us and pretended to sleep. Dad tried to keep me company by telling me stories as he drove but because I was too weak and still sick, I could not listen much and fell asleep.
I woke up some time later to find dad carrying me out of the car. We were standing out in the front yard of a beautiful stone cabin. It had some nice-looking woods out in the back and I could see a small creek close to them. There was loads of green grass all around and I could not help but think of the pathetic brown square patch we had back in the city.
“It’s beautiful, dad,” I whispered.
Dad smiled at me.
“You can do whatever you want here, Beth,” he said. “Just take your time and get better. We are going to be here awhile.”
I heard him talk but I was looking at the grass. I wanted to touch it.
“Let me down, dad,” I pleaded.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I nodded and he put me down. It felt soft and wonderful. I wanted to roll in it and laugh but then I saw mom glaring at me. Dad lifted me up again and carried me into the cabin. The cabin inside was even more beautiful and furnished with stuff that looked old yet somehow fit in. I thought that the things here would not look as nice if we were to take them back to our home in the city.
“There’s running water and electricity,” dad said as he showed me the rooms, “and a good phone line. We have a couple of neighbours further down the lane, and I was told we could do some hunting in the woods.”
During our first days in the cabin, my fever and cough did not bother me much. I could walk around a little better and my appetite seemed to return in bits. We had not come with our cooking and cleaning lady so dad chose to do the cooking. I was glad because there was no way mom’s food would have helped me get better.
Dad was a miracle worker in the kitchen; he could make a fine meal out of anything. On our first night in the cabin, dad found some plants in the garden outside. I thought they were weeds but dad ground them up, fried them with some tinned tomatoes we had and served them up with rice. Sick as I was, I still ate everything on my plate. Even mom appeared to like the food and was more than happy to leave all the cooking to him.
Dad seemed to enjoy the cabin. He had left his suits and other work clothes back in the city and started wearing jeans and plaid shirts. I also found out that the folks at his job were kind and gave him some work to take with him to the cabin after he had explained my condition, so dad could still work from home and have stuff delivered to the city. He sold his small car and bought himself a large beat-up truck. I could swear that the air was doing him loads of good because he was smiling more, despite what mom did.
Mom was a pain. When she wasn’t sulking and asking to go back to the city, she was after me to get better, forcing me to eat when I didn’t want to and trying to make me sleep when I wanted to go outside, then making me go outside when I didn’t want to. She had brought her fur coat and wore it each time she forced me to walk out with her.
I preferred dad’s company. He had started hunting in the woods and proved to be a good hunter. When I was well enough to join him on his hunt, he taught me how to track the animals, set traps and skin what we caught. He also took me fishing and showed me how to make a fishing line and set bait. We had some good times out at the creek though dad would not let me play in the water as much as I would have liked.
Each time dad went hunting, I got excited for I knew he would come back with meat; and when dad cooked the meat, boy did it sure smell and taste good. It was even better than anything else that he cooked. I once asked dad what it was that made his food the best thing I had ever tasted and dad laughed.
“Beth,” he answered with a smile and a wink, “it’s a secret passed down from my mom.”
“But dad,” I pleaded.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older, kid. Now run along and get ready for bed.”
Dad surprised me one day when he went to the city and returned with a dog from one of the pounds. The dog was old and grey and walked with a limp. When I asked dad how old the dog was, he just shrugged and scratched his beard.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The folks at the pound wouldn’t tell me and they were going to put him to sleep so I decided to take him. They said his name was Old Greg.”
Old Greg was a nice addition to our family and a better person for me to talk to when dad was not around. Mom hated Old Greg, of course; she claimed that he had fleas and feared they would get into her fur coat. She used to kick him out of her way and would complain about the food that he was being fed.
“We don’t need him,” she said at supper one night.
Old Greg hid under my chair and growled at mom. I wanted to growl too but had to mind my manners. It was meat that night and I loved it; it was downright delicious. I kept sneaking Old Greg a few scraps. Mom caught me and slapped my hand.
“Don’t go feeding that dog your food,” she snapped and then looked at dad. “Beth’s better already, isn’t she? How long do you reckon till we leave?”
Dad stopped eating and looked at her. “We are not leaving any time soon.”
Mom started yelling and I left the table with Old Greg and went outside to the porch. The air was cold and I had forgotten to bring my sweater with me. I stayed outside until I could no longer hear mom’s voice. Dad found me on the porch and brought me a sweater. He sat down and started rubbing Old Greg’s head.
“You like it here, don’t you Beth?”
I nodded and said, “Mom hates it.”
Dad said nothing and stared up at the sky. He took a sniff of the air then stood up and helped me to my feet.
“We’ll be getting snow soon,” he said. “This is surely going to be a bad winter.”
Now I knew dad was always right and so I wasn’t surprised when we got heavy snow two days later. It got so cold that Old Greg would curl up in my bed with me to share some warmth. Dad had been wise enough to stock up on food, wood and fuel so when the power went out on the third day of the snowstorm, I wasn’t worried.
Mom freaked out when the phone lines would not work and the water in the pipes froze so we could only melt the snow in order to get some water.
“This wouldn’t have happened in the city,” she cried.
“Barbara, stop complaining and help me carry more snow inside,” dad said.
“What?” Mom shook her head. “I am not going out there to get my coat wet and stained. Let Beth help you.”
Dad looked at her but mom wouldn’t budge. I tried to help dad but he ordered me to sit by the fireplace while he got a fire running and piled more wood close to it. After making certain that Old Greg and I were warm, dad went to the kitchen to make dinner.
We all froze when we heard dad yell; even Old Greg could tell that dad was pretty mad about something for Old Greg’s fur stood as dad returned to the living room.
“Where’s the meat?” dad asked as he stared at mom.
“I threw it out,” mom answered. “It was making the cabin stink and bringing in flies.”
“Barbs,” dad said, “I prepared that meat well enough to last us through this winter.”
“Well, can’t you go out and get some more?” mom asked. “Better to have it fresh than that smoked, dried up mess I threw out.”
I thought mom was stupid for doing such a thing for I had seen how much meat dad had stored up. I knew that with the snow this heavy, hunting would not be easy nor would dad be able to drive to the nearest store. We would have to feed on some beans and vegetables until the storm passed.
I was not happy with this.
“But I wanted meat,” I said and glared at mom.
“Beth,” dad said to me, “take Old Greg and go to your room.”
I did as he asked and went to my room. For a long while, it was just Old Greg and I, sitting in the cold and dark, trying to listen to what was going on. I heard mom yell once then nothing more. After a while, I dozed off and woke up some moments later to find dad in my room with a couple of plain sandwiches and hot cocoa. He looked worn out and didn’t speak as I ate. He left the room afterwards and I fell asleep.
I woke up in the morning to find the snow still falling heavily. I could smell something good in the air and knew that dad was making breakfast. I ran out of my room to find Old Greg seated close to the kitchen, his tongue hanging out as he drooled. He had eaten only a little of the sandwiches that dad made last night.
“Good morning, Beth,” dad called out. “Now be a good girl and go and set the table.”
Feeling myself drool even worse than Old Greg, I did as I was told and set the table then sat down. Dad came in a little while later and served breakfast. I could not believe my eyes when I saw a plate full of meat.
“Where did you get it? I asked.
“The meat fairy heard that we had ran out and decided to help us,” dad said. “Now dig in, kid.”
I didn’t need any more pushing and started to eat. Dad had certainly outdone himself today. At my first bite, I could feel all the wonderful juices just blend together in my mouth, making me smile like a fool.
“You like it?” dad asked.
I nodded because my mouth was full. Old Greg had his own bowl full of meat and he was making happy sounds as he crunched on a bone. Dad looked at him then started to eat. The cabin was soon filled with the sound of us munching and crunching on our meal. I looked over and noticed mom’s empty seat.
“Dad,” I asked, “where’s mom?”
“Barbs decided she didn’t want to live out here with us,” dad said with a sad look in his eye. “She left, so it’s just you and me.”
Old Greg barked.
“And Old Greg,” dad added with a laugh.
I saw mom’s ugly fur coat hanging on a nail by the door with her boots beneath. I then glanced out the window and watched the falling snow with dad’s truck still packed outside. I thought of mom and shook my head.
“Well,” I said with a shrug, “too bad she’s out there in the cold and not here enjoying your cooking.”
Daddy stopped eating and looked at me. I smiled at him.
“You’re the best, dad,” I said, “and I love you.”
“I love you too, kid,” dad smiled back, “want some more meat?”
Of course I did; it was the best meal I had ever had. With his special recipe, you could eat anything.
And I mean ANYTHING.
“Yes, please,” I said and handed him my plate.
I never ever saw mom again.