Years before, my dad had started a yearly tradition of gathering any unwanted or unused toys around the house, wrapping them and writing age-appropriate labels on them. Then we’d put them in plastic bags and drive them to our local children’s hospital, where we’d drop them off with the receptionist. They’d ask us where the toys were from and we’d say “Santa.” One year I accidentally gave my name and they sent a thank you card to us.
It sounds kind of sweet, a nice gesture. I don’t know if it actually was—the toys may never have made it to any children. Even if they did, the toys might not have been in great condition or particularly fun. But the people behind the desk always seemed happy to see us. This was our third or fourth year doing it.
We’d just finished wrapping and labeling the toys and my father told me to meet him out at the car in the driveway. When I got there and opened the passenger side door, he was sitting in the seat, reclined slightly.
“Take me to the hospital,” he said quietly. “I’m very sick and it’s an emergency, you have to get me to the hospital.”
There was no urgency in his voice, because there was no actual emergency. He was smiling when he said it, eyes barely open. He’d probably had a few glasses of wine at dinner, which had never stopped him from driving before. He was just being cute. He was giving me a gift, which was to watch him break the rules and let me drive.
Very irresponsible, yes, but we’d been practicing idling around the block and pulling into the driveway, driving around the parking lot of the strip mall where I worked.This would be the farthest I’d driven, and the first time on main roads.
It’s not the drive I want to remember, or the act of giving. Just that playfulness. I guess the privilege? The act of being treated like an adult, amid whatever insanity he’d been putting me through that day, week, month, year.
I thought of this the other night when I was trying to focus on nice memories of him. It wasn’t until I started typing it just now that I remembered the “take me to the hospital” part. He said that again on the day he died, just as quiet but with no humor.