The Light Touch / This giant was anything but mediocre
Published 6:51 am, Monday, September 19, 2011
My father was a prince among men, but to me he was a friendly giant who ruled my world with a mighty hand. Back then, giants figured prominently in our lives. Fairy tales portrayed them as ominous figures furtively on the prowl for young children, who they captured and took away to dark, hiding places never to be seen again.
My dad was a kind and funny giant, at ease with the world -- a protective presence standing high above me as I moved through my childhood en route to life's mysteries beyond my reach. If not for dad, I might have swerved off the winding path of adolescence, but as CEO in charge of my life, we both had a job. Mine was to get into heaps of trouble. His was to try and keep me on the straight and narrow while my mother looked on, awed by this man, who managed to keep our family in working order.
I coined the name "giant" early on when dad and I created our own version of hide and seek. Next to my house was a vacant lot where tall grass grew and weeds sprung up as high as small trees. Wildflowers punctuated this spot, and bees took up residence inside sunflowers that stood tall in the afternoon sun. Bramble bushes with sharp thorns made navigating through this "forest" a challenging feat, and we, who dared to play among this enchanted jungle returned to the outside world slightly scathed from the experience.
It was here that my friends and I often ventured: a place where fantasies took hold, and we could be whatever we wanted as we played out our varying roles of princesses being caught by dangerous men. Or, we were innocent victims being tortured by villains who showed no mercy. And then there was dad, who became the giant to us all, counting to 10 while we ran for cover wherever a secret hiding place presented itself.
"Fee Fie, Foe, Fum," he called out in his large voice, "I smell the blood of an Englishman." My friends and I scurried for shelter among those damp, green summer days, giggling uncontrollably as the giant crept along in his big shoes, the earth turning under his soles, fearing, if caught, we would reach our demise in unimaginable ways.
Yet, we always outsmarted the giant. The closer he came, the faster we moved, crawling on our hands and knees on the earth's floor until, fed up and tired, he abandoned his post and returned to his cave: my house.
It was here that my friends and I sat hidden away from the oppressive heat of early June, eating peanut butter sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper inside cloth kerchiefs. We bemoaned our fate, feeling that life was unfair because in only a few weeks we would be forced to go away to our respective overnight camps,and be separated for two months.
At summer's end, I arrived home. Things had changed. A family had purchased the lot next door and was due to start construction in October. No more games. No more intrigue. And then, there was the "giant" who was forced to resign from his role as the scariest man alive. Between the times I had reached adolescence and was moving toward adulthood, life became more complicated. Boys of varying shapes and sizes entered the scene, and the giant surveyed them all and liked few. "Now, there's a kid who won't amount to a hill of beans," he told me when I asked his opinion of my latest acne-faced amour.
I always felt like a daughter-in-training, stumbling over myself at every turn while the giant stood watch. The more I strived for independence, the more chances I took. The more I tried and failed, I felt I was disappointing my toughest critic, and role model, whom I desperately wanted to please.
"Don't settle for mediocrity," he implored, and those words still buzz in my head. To a child struggling with her identity, it was a tall order. "Mediocrity" seemed the easy way out -- the less tiring approach to life. But he expected me to rise to each occasion, and although I didn't know it then, he accepted me more than I ever accepted myself.
The many moments of our years together are a blur, but one memory resonates still -- a mental image frozen in time: it is a summer afternoon long before the big house next door was built. The lot stands abandoned and untamed. I am 10 years old, and my knees are skinned from hours of crawling away from the giant. My pals and I hold our hands over our mouths so as not to laugh and reveal our secret refuge. I am crouched in the underbrush when I hear it: "Fee, Fei, Foe, Fum." I have been discovered. The giant and I lock eyes. He pauses, and then turns away, trudging on, pretending not to see me. And I, young and innocent, savored the momentary power, as it was the only time in my young life -- hidden there in my earthy, make-believe world -- that I would ever again be able to put one over on my dad, the giant who ruled my kingdom in the most significant and wondrous ways.