My father had deep pockets.
Not that he was a wealthy man. Not even close. With seven children, this would have been a highly unlikely prospect. But as the youngest of the brood, as the baby of the bunch, as the smiling caboose at the end of our happy family train, it just always seemed to me like Daddy’s pockets were always, always full.
The sight of him walking down the street sent us flying off the porch in a mad dash to be the first to greet him. How happy we were to see him walking toward us! To know that his long day at work was done, and that his fine brain had actually ordered his feet to set off on the deliberate, purposeful path that would bring him back to his waiting family, filled my little heart with such a strong sense of relief and belonging I could barely breathe.
To see him sauntering down our long, tree-lined street with such sweet, certain dispatch, brought me every bit as much joy as the moment he walked through our front door — perhaps even more. Why? Because the promise of his presence was just about as comforting as the presence itself.
Even as we ran like the wind toward him — braids flying, barrettes clicking, breathing ragged and a little huffy-puffy — even from afar, I could always see him fishing around in his pockets, searching for something to give us when we reached him; his noisy, clamorous clan who loved him with a force so ferocious and intense it could just about knock him down — and often did!
The sight of him fishing around in his pocket made my heart soar. And since whatever Daddy searched for he almost always found (unless it was his glasses, which were usually sitting right on top of his head), he’d always have it ready and waiting by the time our happy little gaggle smashed into him to cover him in kisses.
It was always a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum.
One piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum! To be divided by seven scrambling, smiling, oh-so-happy kids who never once — not once — questioned how it was all gonna all work out. Who never once asked (of themselves or each other) how in the Sam Hill they were going to divide this precious treat in a way that would satisfy them all. Because it wasn’t the gum that was the treat; it wasn’t the gum that was precious.
What was precious was our papa’s presence. His smooth, slow manner and his crooked smile and the way his wavy black hair glistened in the afternoon sun, which always made him look as handsome as all get-out. Yes sir. All that we needed was all that we had — a daddy whose brain told him precisely where to go when the day was done, a mama with a smile so bright it splashed over all of us like happy sunshine. And each other. We had everything we needed.
My one-seventh of one stick of spearmint gum was just the icing on the cake.
And the sounds. Ah, the sounds! When my father would stand at the screen door, jangling his pocket change and nodding his pleasant hello to the neighbors as they strolled by, I used to think he was sending a secret signal to the ice cream man: Turn your truck toward Woodland Street, and bring your Nutty Buddies with you, man! Put the pedal to the metal, and swing by our block so Baby Girl can come a-runnin’ for her afternoon treat! And hurry up about it, please — ‘cause the day is almost done, and we don’t want you to run out! I’ll pay you when you get here, fella! Can’t you hear the money jingling in my pocket?
And then, that unmistakable, mouth-watering sound; the tinny, torn-up melody coming from the ice cream man’s truck as he slowly rounds the corner and brings us all a perfect slice of heaven, so cold and delicious in my little mouth it could have been sent by the sweet Lord Jesus Himself. Yes, it was those two sounds — the sound of Daddy’s jingling pocket change and the delicious melody of the ice cream man’s truck that would follow soon thereafter — that raised the hair at the nape of my neck and transformed me, quite happily, into something of a pint-sized Pavlov’s, ahem, puppy.
Decades later, sitting in my office in the White House, it was that same jingling-pocket-change sound that made me want to put my head down on my desk and cry hot, happy tears; tears of gratitude that my father was still around to comfort his Baby Girl with something as simple and pure as a sound from his pocket. And tears of longing, too — for those sun-splashed days and moonlit nights when all nine of us would sit on the front porch listening in rapt attention as Mickey Mantle whacked the ball clean out of Tiger Stadium, and every family on every porch (including ours) would erupt into a loud and happy roar.
So on this special day, my parents had come to the White House to meet the vice president of the United States — the man their precious little, Nutty-Buddy-eating Baby Girl happened to work for. And as our slow-moving trio made its way from my office down to his, I heard it again: jingletinklejinglejingle. Staff members glanced up, slightly confused (the clink and clatter of pocket change simply wasn’t a sound one heard very often in the White House, for no other reason than it just wasn’t.)