From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Dad’s Right Hand

Icannot but remember such things were, that were most precious to me.

William Shakespeare

Many of us who grew up in the ’50s had dads who were more shadow than real. They left every morning to go to work (a vague concept to us) and came home every evening to eat and fall asleep in front of the TV before going to bed. We knew they cared about us, but we didn’t know much about them.

My dad hauled bread for a living. Six days a week, he left the house at 3 A.M. and returned in time to eat supper and go to bed. On Sundays when he stayed home, Dad was usually working on jobs around the house while I was busy playing. Our paths seldom crossed.

So went our shared existence until the summer I was twelve. That was the summer Dad “hired” me to go along on his bread route and be his helper. Fridays and Saturdays were my designated workdays. For the princely sum of three dollars a day, I would climb into his big truck before the sun made an appearance and set out on an adventure with my dad. Off we’d go, traveling to little country stores as well as supermarkets in distant towns.

Dad stopped at most of the stores before dawn and used a flashlight to peer through a window to survey the bakery displays, then decided if they needed anything to start the day. He’d yell to me to get a box ready to pack. I’d quickly assemble a cardboard box that was stored in the corner of the truck and wait for him to tell me what to put into it. Bread and sweet rolls to start the day were bundled and left by the door of the shuttered store. Later in the day, on the return trip, we’d stop once again to replenish the bakery supply, get payment for the goods and continue to retrace our morning run.

Dad never lost his patience if I made a mistake. If he sent me to the truck for a loaf of rye bread and I returned with whole wheat, he’d grin and tell me I got the brown breads mixed up again and to go back and get a loaf in the orange wrapper. If I brought in Danish rolls instead of Bismarcks, he’d say we needed the ones with the jelly inside. Eventually, I got better at knowing the stock and made fewer mistakes. I could even suggest what was needed. I’d beam with pride when Dad told his customers that I made a pretty good bread man or that I was his right-hand man. (This was years before any of us would have thought it more appropriate to say “bread person.”)

Halfway through the day, we stopped at Gracie’s store in a little country village called Shennington. That little store was always a welcome sight because it meant lunch. After we finished the business end of the visit, Dad would point me toward the meat counter along the old side wall and tell me to pick out the lunch meat I wanted. I’d usually choose the ham or big bologna, and then watch in anticipation as the loaf was placed into the machine that cut it into slices. I’d wait while our banquet main course was wrapped in white paper, then I’d grab a bag of chips and a soda for each of us. By the time I got to the lone checkout counter, Dad would be chatting with Gracie and digging out his wallet. Soon, we’d be on the road again, Dad driving while I slapped meat between slices of bread to make sandwiches for both of us. Seldom have I had any sandwich that tasted as good as those unadorned meals.

Since Dad’s route was mostly rural, there was a good deal of drive time between stops. The truck was noisy, so conversation was minimal, but we did manage to make short comments to each other. Our conversations consisted mostly of gestures and facial expressions. He’d point out a deer along the road and smile as I gazed with big eyes. He’d laugh when I bobbed my head in time to the rhythm of the windshield wipers. We’d share a look of disgust when some careless driver almost cut him off while passing on a narrow, two-lane road.

My workday ended when Dad pulled his truck into our driveway to drop me off, usually around two o’clock. His workday wasn’t quite finished, however. He still had to return the truck to the outlet garage, clean it out and make it ready for the next day, and do his daily paperwork. I didn’t see him again until supper, after which he crawled into his old rocking chair to watch a little TV before heading for bed. Though he was the same as always, I saw him differently then—he was no longer a shadow, but real.

The years have flown, and I learned more about this mystery man as I got older. After I had children of my own, I understood the long hours he worked to support his family and the sacrifices he made. We shared many lovely times together, but nothing has ever recaptured those special days when the world consisted of Dad and me rattling around in an old boxy truck.

Lana Brookman

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