Whenever I was sick as a child, my dad was the best nurse. He would hold my hair back as I threw up, murmuring reassurances while I cried. I have a very vivid memory of him, cigarette dangling from his lips, as he wiped down the bathroom walls after a particularly virulent stomach bug. Once my nausea settled, he would make me his special “socky eggs.” They were really soft boiled eggs, which I misheard as sock-boiled and then shortened to “socky.” For a long time, I actually thought that he boiled the eggs in socks. Either way, it was yolky and delicious and always made me feel better. Incidentally, it’s also good for a hangover if you can stomach the runny egg.* My mom, no Florence Nightingale but doing her best, would recycle the same get well card every time I got sick. It was a painting of a distinguished looking black cat in bed with an ice pack on his head and a thermometer sticking out of his mouth. In it, she wrote in her sprawling, loopy script, “Hope you feel better real soon! Love, Annie.”
* Harold’s Sick Kid Socky Eggs: Make toast. Butter the toast. Cut toast into small squares. Soft boil 2 eggs (2–3 minutes in boiling water). Scoop out the runny eggs and mix with the toast squares until everything is nice and yolky. Add salt. Eat. Smile.
Strangely, I don’t have very many significant memories of my parents together. We lived together in a little house, 437 Eleventh Street, in Santa Monica until I was six (1983). There was a huge evergreen tree and hydrangeas in the front yard and avocado and lemon trees in the back. A rickety redwood swing set (with exposed nails) was the only real concession to childhood outside of my room. I played in the mud and ate the small, tart strawberries that grew alongside the driveway. Mom converted the garage into an art studio, and I would skip and dance around, often alone, in a fantasy world. There were three other families that made up the bulk of our family social sphere — the Shambergs, the Ruckers, and the Griecos. They all had kids around the same age and we’d get together often for barbecues, Easter egg hunts, and Fourth of July picnics.
My parents and I took vacations together and did day‑to‑day stuff, but I don’t have a picture in my mind of the two of them together when I think “parents.” They separated when I was about eight, so maybe it’s because they tag-team parented me that the three of us weren’t actually together very often — or maybe it’s just that my dad’s light burned so bright, it eclipsed pretty much everything else. Either way, the memory of them together that stands out most in my mind is of a fight.
When I was about five, my parents and I went to someone’s art-themed birthday party, where the parting gifts were crayon-shaped soaps. I had an idea to try to trick someone into attempting to draw using the soaps, but I needed to cover the large “SOAP” on the label. I went into the junk drawer and cut two one-inch pieces of double-stick tape off the roll. I took the crayons to my mom with a glimmer in my eye, asking her, “Will you draw me a picture with these?”
She immediately honed in on the tape and demanded, “Where did you get this?”
“From the tape drawer,” I answered tremulously, taken aback by my mom’s sudden anger.
“Who said you could use this tape?”
She demanded that I give her two dollars to replace the tape, which was about all I had in my piggy bank at the time. Whimpering, I walked into the kitchen to give her the money.
My dad, as usual, was writing at the table, with legal pads everywhere and his customary coffee and full ashtray. “What happened?” he asked.
“I used two pieces of double- stick tape and Mom got mad and said I have to give her two dollars.” At this point, my mom took the money from my hand and walked out of the room. My dad told me not to cry, picked up the tape, and followed my mom into their bedroom, where he unraveled the entire roll in her face. Enraged, she charged back into the kitchen and attempted to sweep all of his papers onto the floor. He grabbed her from behind as she flailed around and I hid behind the wall, partially confused, partially terrified, and partially pleased as pie that my dad had stood up for me. My knight in shining . . . khakis? This kind of physical fight was definitely a one-off for my parents. Sure, they argued from time to time, but mostly they seemed to cut each other a lot of slack. I think this particular fight stands out so vividly for me because it was so uncharacteristically intense and seemed to come out of nowhere.
On a happier note, our semi-nomadic lifestyle brought us to New York often when I was small for a mix of business and pleasure. I remember being so excited and feeling very much like Eloise, superimposing my imaginary world over the city. We always went to Tender Buttons (an amazing store full of nothing but buttons) and “the Dead Zoo” (also known as the American Museum of Natural History). Brian and Ann McConnachie, friends of my parents from the Lampoon days, were a staple of the smart, funny, cool cadre of adults in my world. Brian, years ahead of his time, would greet me with “Hail to thee, computer generation!” and taught me to respond, “Hail to thee, baby boomers!” We spent a lot of time with them and their daughter, Mary, who was a few years younger than me, whenever we were in the city.
During one visit, the Ann(e)s went to see a show and Brian and my dad took Mary and me to a maze at Lincoln Center. I remember the bright primary colors of the plastic tunnels against the endless gray concrete of the plaza. Lost, and unable to find my way out of the twists and turns, I panicked, sat in a corner, and peed in my pants. Someone saw me crying and led me out. I flung myself into my dad’s arms as if I had been on the brink of death. “What’s wrong, baby? What happened? Did someone hurt you?” I shook my head, too embarrassed to say, and pointed to my dripping pants. I could see he was trying not be annoyed as he hugged me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It happens.”
“Did it ever happen to you?” I asked hopefully.
“Oh yeah!” he said. “All the time. In fact, I just bought these pants because I peed in the other ones while I was waiting for you.”
“Oh, Daddy, that’s not true!” I laughed. I begged him not to tell Mary or her parents. He threw my pants in the garbage, belted my little London Fog overcoat into a makeshift dress, and promised not to tell anyone.
Walking down Columbus Avenue later that evening, I was feeling like the happiest, luckiest girl in the world. I looked down and saw a ruby, glittering on the ground. I bent to pick up this precious gem and was shocked when it turned out to be the glowing ember of someone’s discarded cigarette. Brian and Ann laughed at my grandiose imagination, and again, my dad was there to kiss the tears away. They remember this story as an anecdote about a quirky girl, a fish out of water in the big city. I used to joke about it with my dad as an early step in the lowering of my expectations of life. For better or worse, my dad was always my rock and I never grew out of running to him to kiss away my tears, even when the problems got more complicated than peeing in my pants.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock