“You telling lies again, Jarvis?” my father said.
I hadn’t noticed him approaching, a bundle of dirty clothes under one arm.
“Hey, Mistah Spotless, how you doin’ today?”
“Never better, Jarvis. Never better.”
My father went to the back of the truck. Jarvis started telling me a story about going into the hospital for kidney stones, all the nurses wanting to marry him. My dad reappeared with a rug over his shoulder and went back to the apartment building. Jarvis took the T-shirt from his pocket and wiped his face. Then he did a little hop and snapped his fingers, as if he’d remembered an important appointment, and walked off, muttering to himself.
A few more people came by and said hello. Bored, I reached through the window of the truck and opened the glove compartment, hoping to find a paperback novel. My father liked mysteries, Rex Stout and Ellery Queen. There was nothing in the glove compartment except a roll of duct tape and a few grimy road maps. I got in the truck and checked under the driver’s seat, felt the whiskey bottle inside the laundry bag.
* * *
It was hard to know when my father was drunk. He didn’t stagger or slur his words, never got loud or mean. The only way I could tell was by watching my mother, her eyes clouded with disappointment, her mouth a tight thin line. Once my sisters and I picked up on her signs, we worked him over like a band of street urchins, preying on his sweetness and generosity.
I don’t know what sort of problems my father’s drinking caused between him and my mother. I’m sure there must have been quarrels, embarrassments, money troubles, but whatever strife there was, they always managed to hide it from us kids. Sometimes, it seemed, the only thing keeping us from being the perfect family – everyone happy and my father back living at home – was my mother’s willfulness. When she made him move out of the house, she told him he could come back on one condition: he had to stop drinking for a year and a day. My father used to announce his progress at the supper table – ten days, three and half weeks, two months next Friday – then one Wednesday he wouldn’t show up. Six o’clock sharp my mother served our meal as if it were any other evening of the week, my sisters and I picking at our food, watching the door. No crying or we had to leave the table. It took me a long time to forgive her for not letting him come back. Years later, whenever I asked her about his drinking, all she would say is that she didn’t want to sit around and watch him throw his life away. Sometimes I think she had a hard time forgiving herself.
* * *
My father made two more trips into the apartment complex, then we went for lunch. We got in the truck and drove a few blocks to the Daisy’s Bar-BQ next door to a storefront church called the Holy Tabernacle of Divine Revelation. The only thing they served at Daisy’s, my father told me, was shredded beef and pulled pork sandwiches. The savory smell of cooked meat and barbeque sauce wafted out onto the sidewalk. Inside there was a line of customers, no place for anyone to sit. A short, barrel-chested man with iron-gray hair worked alone behind the counter, chatting with his customers.
We waited our turn and when we came to the front of the line, the man said to my father, “Hey, Al, how you holding up in this heat?”
“Oh, fine, Daisy, just fine.” My father took a paper napkin from the counter and ran it over his bald head. “Got my son Charlie here to help me out.”
The man called Daisy bowed slightly and said, “Sir Charles.” Then he laughed and wiped his hand on his apron and reached across the counter to shake.
My father and I both ordered pulled pork.
As he was making the sandwiches, Daisy looked up and said, “You teaching him the business, Al?”
“Nah, he wants to go to college. Gonna be a lawyer someday.”
“Law-yer!” Daisy let out a high-pitched Oo-whee. Then he chuckled and said, “Man, that’s like a license to print money.”
He placed the sandwiches, open-faced, on a double sheet of butcher’s paper and pushed them toward us. There was a plastic squeeze bottle of barbeque sauce on the counter. My father doused his pork and handed the bottle to me.
“Liquid gold,” he said.
Daisy grinned his appreciation. “You fellas want something to drink with that?”
We asked for Cokes. Daisy got two bottles from the cooler; he snapped the caps off and placed them on the counter dripping wet. My father paid and we took our food out to the truck.
As I took the first bite of my sandwich, my father grinned and said, “That got some flavor, huh?” He loved watching his children eat.
I nodded enthusiastically. The sauce was so spicy it made my eyes water. He unwrapped his own sandwich and took a bite, barbeque sauce rolling down his chin.
“Oh, Jesus, I forgot the napkins,” he said. “Would you run in and get some, son?”
I opened the door of the truck and put my sandwich on my seat. I took my time, knowing he wanted to get me out of the way for a minute so he could spike his Coke with whiskey. I got the napkins then paused to read the quotation from the Bible that was taped to the window of the Tabernacle of Divine Revelation. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. * * *
“Like that sandwich,” my father said.
“Yeah, it’s really good.”
“Daisy’s place is famous. People come from all over for his barbeque. You notice the pictures on the wall?”
“The baseball players?”
My dad nodded. “Daisy was a third baseman for a couple of years with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the old Negro League. Walter ‘Daisy’ Griffin. He was teammates with some of the best. Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell.”
“Really?” I’d heard the names of those great Negro ball players before, but I had no idea they had all played in Pittsburgh. “How come they call him Daisy?”
“Oh, that’s an old baseball term you don’t hear anymore. Daisy hit. Line drive over the shortstop’s head. That was his specialty.”
“You ever see him play?”
“Just once. The man had a cannon for an arm. Busted his kneecap and had to quit while he was still in his prime.”
We finished eating and I ran back into Daisy’s to collect the deposit on our Coke bottles. On the way out I glanced at the photographs on the wall. In one, I recognized Daisy, young and slender in his baggy uniform, Crawfords across his chest.