Anything can happen. We all know this. We can be driving peacefully down a highway and suddenly there’s a skunk in the road.
So when my half-sister called the other evening as I was rolling chicken in breadcrumbs, my first reaction was to guard myself — because this sister rarely calls and then usually about something gone awry. Perhaps my step-mother was ill, but if so, why did my sister sound so cheery?
“Is everything all right?” I asked.
“Oh yes, we’re fine.”
Some people get right to the point, to our great relief. But this sister does not. And so, I put my iPhone on “speaker” and laid it on the counter. I put the breaded chicken into the oven, trimmed brussel sprouts, and sautéed onions and peppers — all while she led me to the family storage pod in Northern California, sorted through furniture, disposed of heirlooms, and carted off memorabilia.
“And guess what? You won’t believe what we found! Boxes of, guess what!?”
“What?” I was, by now, sweeping the floor. Dinner guests would be knocking at our door in ten minutes.
“Dad’s ties! Three boxes of them! Isn’t that wonderful!? Do you want some of them?”
Ah ah! Finally to the point. Dad’s ties. Dad’s ties from, ostensibly, 1938 to 1984, from when he began working until he retired. Forty-two years of ties, worn everyday except Saturday. Boxes of vintage ties: hand printed silk ties from the forties, thin geometrics from the fifties, wide paisleys and plaids from the sixties, disco ties from the seventies, flowers and reps from the eighties.
Suddenly his ties scrolled in my head: one with a tropical scene of flamingoes on azure, one with ducks flying across a rust background, and one with tiny horseshoes aligned diagonally on black. I remembered black ties with tiny red dots and blue ties with thin silver stripes.
Before I was ten, I knew how to tie a Half-Windsor. When dressing for work, Daddy would hang a tie on a door knob. I would tie it; then he would inspect it and slip it around his neck under his crisply starched white collar. If he ever redid the knot, I never knew it.
As far back as I can remember, I gave ties to Dad for Father’s Day until I was a mother. I may have chosen the tropical flamingoes when I was six-years-old. The cowboy motif would have been from the 1950’s when he bought me a sorrel mare to ride. In the 1960’s I would have chosen somber geometrics befitting his respectful status as a businessman and church leader. By the 1970’s my children helped choose ties for the men in our family, but it was a hectic time: gifts were haphazard.
Dad retired, boxed up his ties, and moved from city life to ranch life. After that, he usually wore plaid shirts and denim. For years we sent him plaid shirts until we realized he had more than he could reasonably wear.
And then he died.
Sixteen years younger than I, my half-sister lives another life, 2,270 miles away. We grew up in separate families, cemented by our father’s genes and his dominating presence. He still shows up in the most unexpected ways to command our attention.
“Do you want some of the ties? ” She asked.
I was thinking. What would I do with them?
“You could wear them. I wore one of his ties after he died. It was like having him near.”
“You should have them. You could make a quilt or textile art piece.”
“This is such a great discovery. You know, I don’t even have a sample of his handwriting.”
I thought, I do. He wrote letters to my children. “Yes, send me some ties. I’d like them. I really would. Thank you.”
Blessed Be the Tie that Binds –words by John Fawcett, 1782
Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like that to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.
We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.
From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.