I believe it must have been around 5th grade when my dad returned for a short spell. I wasn’t doing too well in school and I was fairly certain that my teacher, Mrs. Nichols, didn’t care none too much for the likes of me. I don’t remember too much about her save for one incident when she decided to run out into the parking lot and yell at my mother when she was picking me up from school. I didn’t care for that too much, so I guess you could say the feeling was mutual.
My father had, up to this point, been absent in a very conspicuous fashion except for one visit when I was in second grade. My great-aunt Evelyn brought him by with his then girlfriend. It was, as you can imagine, a bit of an awkward visit. Now, here we were three years later with his return and promises of a house to replace the trailer that we lived in and all intentions to straighten up and fly right. Despite this, Mom didn’t want people getting the wrong idea, so he spent the nights across the street at our neighbors.
Dad was what you might refer to as a “good ol boy” from Chatham County, North Carolina. He may or may not have participated in the distribution of untaxed liquor in central NC, but his recreational activities are known to have included shooting guns, racing cars, and country music. It is in this last of his past-times that our story begins.
One of the things I remember about him most from this time was a red bandanna that he wore constantly. It was given to him by the great Willie Nelson after a show sometime in the 70’s and it was his most cherished possession. Of course, my mother hated it and made it her personal mission to tell him this multiple times, every day. She was a tenacious woman who followed him here from Okinawa. She stayed in this country after he had abandoned her and her eleven month old child even though she spoke very little English and knew few people in this strange, new land. She possessed the iron will of a thousand samurai warriors and she would not bend until the bandanna was gone or he was crazy; either would work just fine.
One morning, I saw him without the bandanna on. It was not on his head. It was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t find it anywhere. Naturally, he accused Mom of swiping it as he slept and disposing of it in the dark of night. He couldn’t just run out and get another to replace it; Willie had himself placed it in his hands. It was rare. It was irreplaceable. It was sacred.
It was gone.
Several days passed and it did not show up. The accusations and denials continued.
“I know you must have taken it”
“I did not.”
Still, the red bandanna with Willie Nelson’s name on it did not return.
About a week later, we were having dinner at our neighbors house. For me, they had been surrogate family over the years. We went with them to the beach and their son was the older brother I never had. The food was fairly typical Southern cooking filled with cholesterol, gluten and all sort of other things that they say will kill you now, but really hit the spot back then. Dishes were done, leftovers put away and then we retired to the living room to talk and watch tv.
Dad always had large dogs when I saw him over the years. The first I remembered was a German Shepherd named Rebel and he claimed to have had dogs that were half wolf in the past, but I never met them. When he passed away he had a large coon hound that was as gentle as he could be, even tho dad swore up and down he was fierce and should be left alone. It wasn’t that he hated small dogs, but his preferences did not swing in the small, yippy dog direction. Our neighbors had a small black Pekingese named Muffin. Muffin was a sweet dog and a beloved member of the family, but could be categorized as small and somewhat barky. Our neighbor always claimed that she was going to have Muffin stuffed and put on the tv when she died, but that never really came to pass as far as I knew. Muffin lived a good long life after that filled with family and puppies and trips all across the state. However, that evening her life was almost cut short.
While we were sitting there talking, Muffin emerged from the bedroom with something red in her mouth. It was made out of cotton and appeared to have Willie Nelson’s name on it. We all froze with our mouths dropped open in horror as the small black dog paraded into the living room and stopped in front of dad as if to say, “Whacha gonna do?” Dad was stunned and in disbelief of what was before his eyes. To his credit, he bent over, gently took the bandanna from Muffin and held it in his hand as he glared at Mom who immediately began a string of denials worthy of a congressional hearing. Our neighbor was mortified and could not figure out for the life of her how the bandanna came to be there at that moment. The rest of us, well, we just kind of laughed because we all knew shenanigans were up somewhere.
Dad did not stray long that year. I can’t remember exactly when he left or why. To blame it on a dog and a bandanna would be silly, but maybe it represented the larger problem that my parents were not the same people they were when they met and Still, it was nice to have him around for a while. I will always remember how good it felt to hang out with him at McDonalds after he picked me up from school and I will never forget the look on his face when that dog came into the living room with a bandanna hanging from her mouth.