Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Red Right Hand

From Left: Ken, Dad, Kyle, Kirt, Keith

I look down at my right hand, palm facing up. It's covered, uneven and blotchy, and dripping. Drop by slow-motion drop, on my pants, my shoes, the floor. Its red and its everywhere. My fingers are so coated that my index and middle fingers stick together easily. I test the tackiness by moving the two fingers out and in, out and in, like I'm cutting thin air with my crimson soaked fingers. I can feel it drying on my skin, making it tight. I'm entranced by the glossy sheen. 

I've mentioned that dad and I had an arrangement. The sort of thing that just kind of happens. No one set out to make a pact. Naturally, I guess, is how I always thought of it. Although, I knew him, I know me. I know that he yearned for moments to teach, to impart his vast knowledge, experience and passion. To watch over someone as they pushed through a problem under their own power, it brought him the kind of joy that turns the monotony of day-to-day living into something cool. 

He never had to wait long with me. Just around the next corner was another stupid mistake, and a wonderful opportunity for him to teach me something. He was not the sort of man that stood on a soap box with a bull horn to declare his mastery of a thing. Quiet, reserved and patient, to a fault perhaps. Frustrated and perplexed, I would stare at him, my brows pinned together like two rams with their horns locked. Every one of my questions to him was answered with a question. 

Argh! Just tell me the answer! 

He would have none of that. Mostly because I was bad at asking the right question. One of his greatest skills, I think, was his uncanny ability to ask the right question at the right time. I'm too impatient for that nonsense. No matter. Not to him. To him the lesson isn't really the one I think it should be. The problem, the one in hand, is rarely the real problem. Not the one that needs fixing, a remedy, or a sternly taught instruction to prevent it from happening again. 

No. Not this problem: red hand, red pants, red shirt, red shoes, and red floor. The resolution to this sticky situation will not prevent its reoccurrence. He quietly looks at me, waiting. I must mentally back track. Balancing along the train rail, following the hard line in my brain that leads me back to where the train left the station, the moment I made the wrong choice. AH HA! I got it!

He sees it in my face and the confidence streams through my 7 year old body. I smile up at him. He smiles back at me and asks, "What is your question?"

I hold out for his inspection, my red right hand and ask him the right question, "How do I hold the can of spray paint so it paints my bike and NOT my hand?" "Ah" he says patiently "excellent question, let me show you how to do that AFTER I show you how to get that paint off your hands".

And so It went. Year after year, I learned how to ask the right question. Sometimes I even got it right on the first try. 

The picture above includes a bike that was obviously painted by one of the boys (most likely Ken) under dad's watchful eye. 


  1. Funny you should post the photo of that bike, I am sure mom still has it somewhere in the basements! I remember that bike, did you know that dad would repaint it every year and give it to a different brother. Different seat, or different handlebars, always the same bike... If you dig through all the photos of us on that bike, must have been 20 different colors. Interesting that we never caught on to his paint and give to different brother scheme.. I think I will call mom in the morning and have her send it out, wonder what color it is?

  2. Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing.


  3. I blamed the paint job on Ken because he has a knack for that sort of thing and figured he started young.