Father’s Day can make some of us feel like wayward children.
When it makes its yearly splash, I try not to get too syrupy about the man who raised me and my six siblings.
You may have noticed me, and others like me, courageously making a bee-line past the card section of Top Foods about this time of year, brave troopers that we are, stiff-shouldered, biting the lower lip, retreating from a blitz of Hallmark messages about great dads.
Some of us no longer have a reason to shop for a card or make that dutiful phone call. And so, we take our lumps, quietly.
This trooper hasn’t purchased a Father’s Day card since 1979. So, you’d think, by now, I’d be able to hold it together, especially in the pandemonium of all places, Costco, where I found myself a few years ago on the verge of emotional cataclysm. Costco has no card section, only throngs of noisy shoppers, squealing kids and rattling carts.
Costco is a warehouse of bulk. There’s really nothing sentimental about Costco, unless you’re entranced by amassing a lifetime supply of toilet paper in one shopping trip.
But, there I was, waiting in line with my cart of toilet paper, a two-year supply of Q-tips and an industrial sized box of Tide, when the man behind me started whistling Twisted Nerve from “Kill Bill. ” His whistle floated through the air like a silk ribbon and then tightened around my neck in a sentimental choke hold, turning my lacrimal glands into geysers and had me searching my pockets for a tissue.
Sobbing in the middle of Costco was not acceptable, even the day before Father’s Day.
While other shoppers might have thought I was simply having an allergic reaction to the plant section nearby, I knew what was happening. I was having an emotional power surge that had been dammed up in the ventricles of my heart for some 30 years. That weird human physiology that pushes emotions to the surface is a warning to those around us that the dam is about to blow.
When that happens, poor saps like me can turn from confident, upright citizens into blubbering, saccharine heaps whenever we’re reminded of our fathers. Our bullet-proof demeanors know they are about to meet the enemy: Tears.
Expecting an elderly gentleman at the helm of such a whistle, I turned to find, instead, a young man with a toddler propped high on his shoulders.
Small, pink hands pressed across the young man’s forehead and into his eyes like putty. A bare, pudgy leg hung over each shoulder, and drool dripped from a small chin above. But, the young father didn’t seem to notice. The little hands, pudgy legs and drool seemed as much a part of him as his whistle.
The whistle I’d heard as a child, usually came from under a sink with tools spread about, or beneath the hood of an old Oldsmobile, or drifting upstairs on the sweet, starchy aroma of a father’s Sunday morning pancakes.
I wanted to tell the whistler behind me how splendid his whistling was, that it lent harmony to the big-box bedlam around us. But, it seemed no less rude to interrupt his tune in the chaos of Costco than it would have been to interrupt Pavarotti’s “Rodolfo” at the Met, or to upstage it with any amount of blubbering.
Instead, I choked down lump after throaty lump, bit a quivering lip, and nodded in appreciation, then silently grieved for my father and his dying art.
Whistling may have its own festivals and a yearly “International Whistler’s Convention.” It even boasts an award-winning 2005 documentary. “Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling,” which follows three contestants to the convention with all the hoopla that followed Boston’s Bergeron, Marchand and Thomas in the Bruins recent victory over the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup.
Still, as dedicated as the few, still-whistling maestros might be in today’s world of iTunes and infinite playlists, the ears can become numb to the unadorned art of whistling.
Noises from construction sites are no longer softened by the whistling of laboring souls, but amplified by boomboxes, loud ringtones and incessant beeping of machinery backing up.
Have we become too cool to whistle? Or, has our easy access to music taken away our inner-virtuosos?
Whistling around the house and on the streets of town was once as natural as exhaling. We whistled to pass time, to soothe nerves, to give a steadiness to our work.
Today, the streets are as empty of whistling as our neighborhoods are loud with leaf-blowers.
Unloading the trunk, trying to whistle and blubber at the same time, I knew my “whistling man” encounter had nearly done this soldier in. My husband came out, took one look at the red eyes and somehow knew what to do. He hoisted the box of Tide and whistled Harbor Lights on our way into the house.