Daddy drove a Studebaker. It was a Studebaker Lark. It was painted Green. Not Green Bay Packer green, it was more algae green. Painting cars this color green could very well be why Studebaker went out of business. Well….I did hear they are still making cars in Canada. Maybe they get so much snow up there they can tolerate “Studebaker Lark green”. All I know is it was the yuckiest shade of green I’ve ever seen.
But it wasn’t the color of the Studebaker that made it special anyway. It was the sound. It had a distinctive sound. Maybe it was that the muffler had a hole in it. I don’t know. What I do know, is that I could hear it coming from a half mile away. And when I heard that sound, I knew Daddy was coming home.
He worked at ACIPCO. American Cast Iron Pipe Company. It was dirty, hot, sweaty, dangerous and exhausting. You could see the fatigue on his face as he stepped from behind the wheel of his old green Studebaker. He’d have black soot on his face and hands from the grime of the foundry. The black stubble of his beard matched the color of the lunch box he carried cradled under his arm. You know, I never saw him carry it by its handle. It was always tucked under his forearm like it was a football.
As he walked up the driveway I’d run to him and he’d take time to throw a football or pitch me a few soft lobs so I could hit a baseball. The fatigue would drive him indoors pretty quick so I learned to make the most of those few moments with Daddy. And even as he walked away, I could still smell the lingering smell of cinders. He didn’t do a lot of hugging but we would wrestle for a while and afterwards I would, for a short time, smell like him.
I now realize how special the time is between a boy and his dad. Even now at fifty-five, I have moments when I can still smell the cinders and feel the stubble of his beard. And yes, I can still hear the sound of the obnoxiously green Studebaker Lark.
I thank God for the five senses that so recorded these memories that I have them even now. But Daddy, you see, lives without memories now. Alzheimer’s took most of this away from him. He used to talk about ACIPCO when he first moved to the nursing home, but even that has left him now. When I visit him he doesn’t know who I am, but I know who he is, and that’s enough.
I believe in heaven and because of that, I know this is all temporary. I look forward to a day when Daddy and all the rest of us will be liberated from the frailty of our human inadequacies. I look forward to that and it gives me hope. But I also look back and this too, gives me joy.
So when my memory serves me well, I remember an Ed Cleveland who carried himself with strength and stamina. Lunch box locked between bicep and forearm. Khakis, starched and ironed crisp as he began a new work day. Hands made hard by furnace heat. But a heart made soft by a faith in God.
As a boy I learned to identify the sound of the green Studebaker Lark with the realization that Daddy was coming home. The anticipation of Daddy’s coming Home was never as comforting to me then as it is now.
Postscript: Dad passed from this life only a few days after I wrote this blog. He now knows who he is once again. Better yet, he knows God in a whole new way. Alzheimers can no longer confuse him or distort things. He now sees things more clearly than those of us left here. I know he would tell us if he could, “coming home never felt so good.”