“I dreamed of Daddy last night,” my sister Regina told me recently.
I had just walked into the small apartment at the assisted-living facility where she and her husband, Tom, moved almost two years ago.
I walked past Tom, who looked fast asleep, and kissed Reg. “Must have been a good dream.”
Her eyes seemed to be in search of a memory. “He walked me to the Davy Crockett grammar school,” she said. “It was Fathers Night, and all the kids were expected to bring their dads to meet their teachers.”
I realized then that she had landed on a time when my father, having found a job, had moved us to El Paso, Texas. Reg was 7 or 8. I was just a baby, but I’ve always felt linked in an extrasensory way to this time and place during the Great Depression.
As my sister launched her narrative, I pictured my father, in his early 30s, walking her to school on this special evening more than 80 years ago in a border town I’ve always felt connected to.
“So Daddy put on his suit, and we headed up Aurora for the school,” she said. “Not the other way down Aurora where it turned into a gully.”
“That damn Aurora Street,” I said, knowing only by legend, this street she walked as a small girl. “So this was when we lived in the rooming house?”
“Room and board, on Rio Grande Street,” she emphasized. “Oh my, that rooming house.”
She moved a straw in her water glass as if stirring up a recollection.
I sat across from her. “Tell me,” I said.
“Here it was the middle of the Depression, and a woman we called Miss Leon, from Paris, France, mind you, prepared our dinners every single evening. Put a cube of butter on top of a beautiful roast beef or a baked casserole while they rested after cooking. Can you imagine that, Larimore?”
I smiled. “Nope.”
“She had a daughter named Regine,” she went on. “Same age as I was. We became best friends.”
“Regine and Regina,” I said. Both picturing a daily panorama of cowboys and Indians outside their doors, I added for myself.
“Well, there we were, about 15 of us, at that dining table,” Regina said. “Daddy sat between an old railroad man, who dressed to the hilt for the occasion, but seemed a bit lost now and then. Daddy would ask him the time and then give him a chance to pull his watch out of his vest, clear his throat, and announce the hour.”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling my own throat tighten up. “I can see Dad doing that.”
“A widow woman sat on his other side. Not a glimmer of her name comes to me, but I can still see that feather boa bunched under her chin and those silver pumps moving her across the hardwood floor.”
My laughter seemed to startle Tom. When she was satisfied that he was again breathing easily, Reg continued. “She had her eyes on Mr. Pete Peters, a successful businessman who was somehow single at the time. Momma got a kick out of it, sitting wherever she could bounce to the kitchen and back, with you in her arms. Lord, everyone wanted to spoil you. Especially one of the maids.”
“Juana,” I said, trying not to sound smug, for I knew this Apache-Mexican woman only from tales passed onto me.
My sister appeared to have found that special evening. “Daddy owned a good suit.” She cocked an imaginary hat above her brow. “A felt fedora for winter, white Panama for summer. And Momma? I can still picture her brown suit with a beaver collar. With that gorgeous red hair, who’d believe nearly everything she owned came from a cousin in the Bay Area and her own prowess as a seamstress?”
Noon was approaching, and I knew our conversation would be broken soon by a staff member delivering lunch. “So tell me more about this Fathers Night at school.”
“Well, my friends Regine, Margaret Stovall, and Susan Cunningham were not as lucky as I,” Regina said with a proud glint in her eye. “Their daddies didn’t escort them to school that evening. ‘Too tired’ was their excuse. Even Mr. Cunningham.”
“The writer, Eugene Cunningham?” I was much too young to remember him, yet he has ridden shotgun to my life through my love of books. “He was a no-show on Fathers Night?”
“Every father was a no-show,” Regina insisted. “Not just in my second-grade class, but in the entire school.”
“Except for Daddy?”
“Except for our daddy.”
We sat for a moment, sister and brother, both of us seeing those years together long ago, measuring them against our current backdrop. I know we both felt the eyes of our mother and father upon us. Our silence was a language that filled the small space.
It was a confirmation of my sister’s dream.
Larry Hill of Fresno is a painter and author of “Saroyan’s Bookie” and “Streak Hitter.”