Like Father, Like Daughter
Up until the age of thirteen, I had always thought of my dad as a suit wearing, desk job, big city tight ass. Every morning before I would go to school, he would take a shower, put on his dry-cleaned suit, grab his briefcase and drive to the T station. Somewhere along the way he would exchange his car for a seven dollar parking pass and a Charlie Card, which allowed him to board the red line. Destination? Summer Street Boston, Massachusetts. If I unintentionally messed up his routine, even just a little bit, for example by taking a shower during his scheduled shower time; I would never hear the end of it. He was so predictable it killed me.
To be honest, I always felt like I didn’t know much about him. I didn’t even know what he did for work. The only thing I knew for sure was that he dealt with “big money” cases, and when I asked him how his day went, he would reply the same predictable one word answer every single time: “Hectic.”
It would have been nice if things were different on the weekends, but they weren’t. Although his suit switched to jeans and a New England Patriots sweatshirt, his work ethic stayed the same. In fact, I am pretty sure he enjoyed watching me and my brother Dave engage in what we considered hard labor. Also known as “weekly chores.”
“But I was going to go to the movies with Cait,” I said throwing my head back in frustration.
He was reading the newspaper, but pulled the Boston Globe down just enough so I could see his eyes. I look a lot like him. We have the same eye color, and same curly hair. While his was balding, I had enough to spare for the both of us. Some days I couldn’t even get a comb through it. I hated the curly hair he gave me.
“She has movies passes,” I said, hoping this would change his mind.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said while he put the newspaper on the footstool next to the backdoor, “I told you last weekend that you were cleaning the attic and your brother is mowing the lawn. Case closed.”
I despised when he used his work language on me. I wasn’t one of his cases at work. I was his daughter. Regardless, there was nothing more I could argue at this point. Case closed.
I made my way into the kitchen and caught a glimpse of my brother Dave mowing the lawn without a shirt. I rolled my eyes. At fifteen years old, he thought he was just about the coolest thing to ever happen to the town of Braintree. With his freshman year of high school coming to an end, making the JV football team was the most important thing on his mind. He never missed an opportunity to show off his muscles. I know this is true because I caught him looking at his biceps in the mirror more times than I would like to admit to.
His blonde hair and blue eyes made him a target for the hungry teenybopper girls that lived in our neighborhood. I was always confused when my friends wanted to hangout at my house, since there was never anything to do there. I was quickly able to figure out why my house was the hotspot when all my girlfriends drooled over Dave when he came within eyesight.
I headed up the stairs to my bedroom, skipping the third step because it always creaked. We had a cape house, so there were only two bedrooms and one bathroom on the second floor. When we moved in in 1993, my parents had an “attic” added into my room. All it really consisted of was a small extra room that housed all our junk. The door to the attic was behind my bed and it was a nuisance to move it every time we needed to get to the attic. But when I was three years old I was positive there were ghosts living in there, so I wanted a safe and secure way that ensured they would never get out. Before moving my bed I grabbed my Converses and wondered if my dad ever done anything fun in his life other than work? I walked around the corner of my room and noticed my dad had already brought the vacuum cleaner up from the hall closet. How thoughtful.
Spring-cleaning is the worst. It was just starting to get warm outside, and all the New England snow had finally melted. But instead of soaking up the sun that that I had been deprived of for the past 4 months, I was signed up for attic de-cluttering. Oh yes, this meant I could finally wear my shorts, but it would be inside a stuffy dark attic that is most likely infested with spiders and those terrifying looking house centipedes that I’ve seen run by me a few times. Why would any creature ever need that many legs anyways?
I made my way through the boxes marked “Samantha’s Baby Things,” an old tricycle that belong to my brother, and a life size plastic Santa. I found a clearing next to a group of plastic garbage bags that must have housed old clothes because it was a soft, comfy and made a perfect seat. As I sat down a cloud of dust formed around me and I coughed. This is not how I wanted to spend my Saturday.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a beaten up cardboard box. I didn’t have my glasses on, but when I squinted to see the label, I saw the letters A-M-E-S on it. That store went out of business more than a decade ago. I used to go there with my mom when my brother was in school. What was this box doing hidden in the corner of the attic? And more importantly, why have I never seen it before?
My house is so small and boring that it is easy to notice if one thing is out of place. Like when this one time, me and Dave found the hiding place for all our Christmas presents. It was a real good hiding spot too- practically a miracle that we found it. The bulkhead that lead to our basement had a lock and key, so unless two snoopy and mischievous Riley kids were deliberately looking, we would have never been able to find it. And I swear, we only shook a few boxes wrapped in candy cane pattern paper to see if we could figure out what was inside. But that didn’t stop our parents from figuring out that we had been inside the bulkhead. Mom claimed the key wasn’t in the exact spot she left it in but Dave swore he put it back, and even faced it in the right direction too.
I was slammed back into reality when I heard my dad’s voice from below the attic stairs.
“I don’t hear any vacuuming!”
I turned on the vacuum and let it run to make it seem like I was cleaning, but in reality I had my eyes set on what was inside the box.
“Hey!” Dave shouted over the humming of the vacuum. He weaved his head around the single light bulb that hung from the middle of the ceiling. “I finished mowing the lawn, so mom is making me help you!”
I was thankful to my mom for making him help. The attic wasn’t too big, but that didn’t stop it from being stuffed full with junk. Ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag, as my mother would say. At a whopping five feet tall, my mom is the smartest person I know. She put herself through college on her own, and always seems to know the right solution for everything. She is a spitfire too. My dad has at least one hundred pounds on her but she can still make him do what she wants, even if it is to make my brother help me clean the attic.
I motioned to Dave to follow me to the box, stepping over the Electrolux along the way. The strangest thing about this box was that it was taped shut. What the heck could possibly be so important and in my parents possessions that they feel the need to not only tape it shut, but to hide it away in the corner of the attic?
“Where did that come from?” he asked curiously.
I turned to him and replied, “I have no idea.”
Attics are a place of fantastic clutter. It can house everything imaginable such as holiday decorations, presents you don’t want anyone to find, old baby toys, old clothes, suitcases, old family antiques, and basically anything you wouldn’t use 365 days out of the year. An attic is kind of like an out of sight, out of mind type of place. Anything you have accumulated throughout your life you can stick in there and forget about it. You would only need to face it when you go to look at those things in the attic again. An attic is full of secrets.
I began carefully peeling back the tape that sealed the box shut all the while the vacuum hummed in the background.
“You’re so slow… Give it to me!” Dave snapped, pulling the box towards him.
My palms were sweaty. There is a certain kind of thrill that comes with doing something you know you aren’t suppose to be doing.
“It’s just a box of old pictures,” Dave said. I could sense the disappointment in his voice.
The thrill was gone. He grabbed a handful of pictures, stood up, and started looking through them, walking slowly around the attic as he did this. I picked up a stack too and started flipping through them. He was right. This mystery box was nothing more than a plethora of blurry, old, and somewhat yellow dated pictures. What a letdown.
I picked up another stack and started flipping. This time I examined them a bit more closely. One picture said January1969 flip February 1977 flip July 1968. I stopped on one that said October 12th 1972. There were three people in the picture, all ridiculously dressed in button down flannel shirts, and bell-bottom jeans. The young men in the pictures were obviously friends. I could tell because they had their arms wrapped around each other, and were smiling a genuine smile; the kind you have after laughing so hard that your stomach hurts and you can’t breathe. The young man in the middle immediately stood out to me. He was wearing glasses, the John Lennon kind, with the circular lenses. I only know this because he is my dad’s idol. But behind those glasses was a set of familiar eyes.
I felt like I had seen this man before. His hair was a mess of brown curls that almost resembled an afro. He had so much hair that is looked as if it connected right into his Fu Manchu. God the styles in the 70’s were awful.
“Sam…I think…that…this might be dad.” David said, slowly turning towards me with another picture in his hand. He held the picture out to me and I snatched it anxiously, wanting to see what my dad looked like in his younger years. I was convinced that he came out of the womb in a suit and tie.
I was stunned when I saw a young man, in a flannel button down, with bell bottom jeans, converses, John Lennon glasses, fuzzy brown curls, Fu Manchu and familiar eyes was my father. This was dad. This is what my dad looked like a few years older than my brother was. This was the same man that made me clean the attic. This was dad. This was dad? This was dad.
My brother and I looked at each other and then at the box. I wanted to rummage some more. Apparently my brother had the same idea because he grabbed another stack of photos before I could even get my hand in the box. At the bottom of the box there were three small rectangular pieces of paper held together by a paper clip. I picked them up gently because they were so worn they seemed as if they would fall apart just with the touch of my fingers. They were tickets.
“Woodstock Music and Art Fair” I read out loud, “Sunday August 17, 1969.”
My brother stopped what he was doing and asked, “Wait, did you say Woodstock?”
“Yeah, why?” I said.
“Oh my God,” Dave said, “Dad went to Woodstock?”
“Well I don’t know if he went, but he has a ticket,” I held the tickets out to him. “Three actually. One for Friday, one for Saturday and one for Sunday.”
I handed the tickets to my brother. If dad was born in 1951, that would make him around 18 when he went to this concert.
“That’s kinda stupid of dad to drive back and forth to this concert for three days.”
“You’re the one that’s stupid. This was Woodstock” he said holding the tickets in his hands, “Do you know what that means?”
“What?” I said.
“Dad was a hippie,” Dave said.
Dad was a hippie? Hippies are what you dress up as for your fourth grade Halloween dance and walk around giving everyone the peace sign. Dad couldn’t have been a hippie. He isn’t cool enough.
“Everyone that went slept in tents for three days, danced around naked, bathed in rivers and weird stuff like that,” Dave said, “I heard about it, but never knew dad actually went.”
It took a moment for what my brother had said to soak in. I was somewhat impressed, but at the same time still didn’t fully believe it. Up until then it seemed as if my dad was one-dimensional, but now I was supposed to believe he was a hippie? I dove back into the box and grabbed another handful of pictures. This time I found another one of the same man I call dad surrounded by a bunch of green plants, smoking a cigarette.
“Dad never said he smoked cigarettes,” I said holding up the picture.
“That’s not a cigarette, that’s a joint,” my brother said while squinting to get a better view of the photograph.
My jaw dropped. “As in marijuana? Dad smoked marijuana?”
“Looks more like he’s growing it. Dave said as he flipped through another stack of pictures, “There’s tons of pictures of him surrounded by marijuana plants.”
He was right. There were at least a dozen photos of my dad, the office workaholic, growing marijuana in what looked to be like just regular flowerpots. I couldn’t believe it.
“Look at this one,” Dave said handing me one of the pictures from his stack.
I examined it closely not wanting to miss one detail. On July 3rd 1970 my dad and a shirtless friend were sunbathing in their garden of marijuana. The two were sprawled out on striped lawn chairs soaking up the summer sun. My dad’s John Lennon glasses were replaced with aviator sunglasses that sat comfortably on his curly head. My dad was a badass.
This box was full to the brim with years of a hidden life I never knew existed. I felt somewhat guilty for all the times I made fun of my dad for being so boring. I had no idea he used up every ounce of fun he had in his body back in the 70’s.
“Look at this one,” Dave said as he handed me another photo. “Dad must have worked at a radio station.”
November 16th 1973. Dad was holding a vinyl record in one hand and used his other to hold up a pair of big brown headphones wrapped around his afro. He was looking down at the equipment, but grinning from ear to ear. I had never seen him come home from work smiling that that before. This job at the radio station must have really made him happy. Dad was always so practical. The dad I know would never let me or my brother work at a radio station. Or at least I don’t think he would. Regardless, he worked at one, and he seemed happy.
“Any more pictures?” I asked as I threw November 16th 1972 back into the pile. I looked at my alarm clock and couldn’t believe the time. We had been looking at the pictures for hours.
“Nah,” Dave said, while placing the pictures back into the box it, “that’s about it.”
We closed the box and put the tape we had ripped off back around the edges to keep the flaps from opening up. The tape wasn’t as sticky as it was when it first held the box together, but it was good enough. My brother and I looked at each other as we pushed the box back into the corner. For some reason, dad wanted this cooler and more interesting alternative lifestyle hidden away in the attic. The rest of the evening was spent cleaning, but no matter how hard we both tried, we couldn’t stop thinking about the pictures.
I couldn’t help but think what my grandparents must have thought of their rebellious hippie son! I bet that Fu Manchu drove his mother crazy, and oh gosh- the drugs!
I wonder if his dad ever made him clean out their attic? I thought to myself as I dropped the last box on the shelf.
“Wow… We we’re done,” I said.
The once dirty and dusty attic, which was also full of secrets, was now clean and all set for another year. That is, until I was forced to clean it again.
I closed the attic door and headed towards the hall. My brother and I didn’t say a word when we parted. He went to his bedroom and I headed downstairs. This was kind of like the time we found our Christmas presents. We had found something we weren’t supposed to, only this time we weren’t purposely looking. An unspoken bond was created between the two of us that day stating we didn’t snoop around dad’s old box in the attic. It was signed and sealed the second we closed that attic door.
From the kitchen I noticed my dad’s feet up on the stool in the living room.
“Did you finish cleaning?” he asked without looking away from his newspaper.
“Yeah.” I said
“Good,” he said.
I began to walk away, but stopped and poked my head around the corner, “Hey dad…have you ever heard of Woodstock?”
This time, he pulled the Boston Globe just below his eyes and I could see his eyebrow was raised. “Yes why?” he said.
“Just wondering,” I said as I turned my back to him and headed back towards my room, I couldn’t help but smile.
Although Dave and I didn’t come straight out and say we knew about dad’s hidden past that day, things unfolded as time went on. Me and Dave would drop hints about what we found and little comments would be made such as, “You did that when you were young, right dad?” My dad would then look at my mom, she would look at him and he would smile but not answer the indirectly direct question. However, when mom wasn’t there, it was surprisingly easy to get him to open up. In fact, once he started talking, he actually had a lot of amusing stories. For example when he planned on moving to Canada during the Vietnam War. Lucky for him, his number in the draft lottery was far from being picked.
“Would you have really moved to Canada?” I asked.
“Oh yeah! No one wanted to go to war. You think I could handle fighting?” We had to laugh at that because even to this day he faints when he cuts himself and sees blood. Sometimes I even have to drive him to doctor appointments because it is unsafe for him to drive home after he has blood work done.
This same old man told us about concerts that he had been to like Bob Dylan, The Who, The Rolling Stones and countless others. He finally admitted that the reason behind growing marijuana was to pay for gas and concert tickets. He never actually admitted to doing drugs and his response would always be, “I don’t remember,” which looking back now I realize, could be interpreted in several ways.
I even had the pleasure of learning about Woodstock from someone who went.
“What I remember the most is getting home and going straight into the shower,” His eyes lit up as he recollected his youth, “the mud was basically caked onto me, and the water that went down the drain was all brown. It was great.”
I see people wearing Jimi Hendrix t-shirts in public and hear them talking about how he was the greatest guitar player of all time. Of course they only heard of his music from CD’s, but my dad had actually seen him live. At Woodstock! Not many people can say that.
Actually, after dad saw him at Woodstock, Hendrix died later that year. Janis Joplin too. I remember the first time he introduced me to Janis.
“Sit” he said as he bent down to get a better look at his rack of CD’s. I have no idea how he found the one he was looking for so fast, he has hundreds.
He popped open the CD player, placed the disc in and pressed play. A guitar played for a few seconds, and then a woman started to sing, which I would arguably call screaming.
“This is horrible!”
“Hush. This is music,” he said smiling over her shrieks.
Dad told me Janis died on October 4th, and many years later I was born October 4th. I guess Janis and I will always have that in common.
“How come you never told me you did all those cool things?” I asked.
Dad replied as if I should have known the answer, “You never asked.”
I had always thought he was one dimensional, but in the many stories he told me and Dave, we came to understand that because we never knew about this box of pictures, we never knew a good portion about him. He didn’t even like his job. He made references to his co-workers as “the beautiful people” a quote made famous by the Beatles song “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” He often found many of those people in the big city scene as pretentious and ignorant, only thinking of happiness as something you can put a price tag on. Dad was actually pretty cool.
I had completely misunderstood my dad. I thought he was a predictable and boring guy, whose life began with my birth. It sounds selfish, but I never gave any thought to the idea that he had lived a life before me. In his prime, he went against everything society believed was right. Pretty ironic, since he lives a middle class, white-collar life now with a wife, two kids and a German Shepherd.
My dad, who wore a suit every day to work, once wore flannel and bell-bottoms. My dad, who wears wingtips, once wore Converses, like me. My dad, whose hair is balding, once had a full set of brown locks, thicker than mine. My dad, who works for a big company in Boston, used to grow, sell and smoke his own marijuana to pay for gas money to go to concerts. My eyes had been opened. Though being my dad was the most important part of his life, a big part of who he was, was boxed up- hiding in the corner of our attic and I never knew until the day I was forced by him to clean the attic.
I had overlooked my dad and wrote him off as a regular guy, but he was anything from that. He opened my eyes to the music of the 60s and 70s, taught me that parents were once rule breakers too, and the most common boring cliché in the world was true- don’t judge a book by its cover. To this day, whenever I listen to the radio and hear Janice Joplin, The Allman Brothers, The Beatles, Bob Dylan or the other music he played for me, I always have to listen. I am the daughter of a hippie after all, so I turn the music up.
Samantha Ellyn Riley
Samantha Ellyn Riley is a senior English major at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. Originally from Braintree, Massachusetts, she currently resides in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She is the Secretary of her school’s Chi Ro chapter of Sigma Tau Delta and the Features Editor of her school newspaper. Samantha works as a mentor and tutor for the Athletic Department at Coastal Carolina University and will graduate Magna Cum Laude in the spring 2014. Samantha plans on attending graduate school.