by Terry Hargrove
This is a tale of a parent’s love, a lucky cup, a new pick-up truck, and the first ever Take Your Daughter To Work Day. This year, that day fell on April 21, and it’s no longer just for daughters. I should point out that this year also has 364 Leave Your Child At Home Days, and there are good reasons for that.I first participated in TYDTWD in 1993, the year it began. My daughter Katie was 5 and I was teaching at a middle school in Columbia, Tennessee. We decided it would be a good experience for her to go to work with me. Katie had begun to suffer from an excessive imagination, brought on by too many cartoons, and we thought some time away from Public Television would be good for her. There had been severe storms the night before, but the dawn was bright. We headed off to school in high spirits. I was driving my brand new Toyota pick-up. It was beautiful. Katie, wearing her favorite blue and yellow dress with matching blue and yellow shoes that fit snuggly over blue and yellow socks, cut off the TV and said goodbye to talking trains and laughing animated animals. She was beautiful, too. I filled up my Big Gulp cup with a gallon of Diet Coke, and we were off.
Ah, memories. The Big Gulp cup held 97 ounces of beverage, so I could fill it up on Monday and it was refreshing all week long. It was also a lucky cup. I was holding it the first time I ever bought a winning lottery ticket, $20, and had bought it the day Katie turned 3. We were happy that morning. Katie looked like a flower, and I hoisted the Big Gulp cup over my elbow and drank to our continued joy, as the new truck rumbled silently down the highway. Little did we dream that an awful event would have its genesis just at the top of Hippytown Road.
I careened around a blind curve, my truck neared the summit of Hippytown Hill. As we cleared the crest, there, in the middle of my lane, was a three-foot tall plastic Easter Rabbit. The storms of the night before had blown it out of someone’s yard, and there he stood, with his plastic Easter basket fused to his plastic tummy, grinning at us with a goofy, plastic overbite. There was no time to react, no time to swerve. I hit the Easter bunny. He exploded into a million little plastic pieces. My first concern was for the front of my new truck, but it slowly dawned on me that there were other, more dramatic developments.
“Please,” I whispered, “Please, let Katie be asleep. I hope she didn’t see that.” I ventured a quick glance to the right. Her bottom lip quivered, her eyes were wide in horror.
“Daddy? You hit the Easter Bunny.”
Oh, sure, I know what I should have said, now, but there was no time. I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head.
“Well, honey, he was standing where I wanted to drive.”
“Go back and get him!” she demanded. “Help him.”
“Um, honey? Easter was last week. Now, the Easter Bunny has a whole year to get better, and… Santa! Yes, Santa can help him get better. Stop crying, please. Hey, you’re going to work with daddy today, OK? Won’t this be fun? The Easter Bunny would want you to have a good day today, OK? And let’s not tell anybody about this, OK?”
“But I loved the Easter Bunny,” she said sadly. “And he loved us.”
She didn’t keep quiet. The excessive imagination took hold. She told everybody, and the story mutated as the day dragged on. By lunch, I had stopped the truck, run down the Easter Bunny on foot, and after a deadly struggle, thrown him in front of a train. My fellow teachers thought Katie’s story was cute, so they took a yearbook photo of me, blew it up, and turned it into a Wanted for the Murder of the Easter Bunny poster. Funny. Ha Ha.
When the school day ended, we headed home. I thought Katie might suffer a flashback or some juvenile form of post-traumatic stress, so I took a different route. The hills, the curves, the early introduction of public school food, all worked their dark magic.
“Daddy, I don’t feel so good,” she mumbled. “I’m gonna get sick in my new dress! I don’t wanna throw up on my new, my new, muffflll!”
A quick look and I knew. She was going to blow! In my brand new truck, my daughter was about to hurl. The horror! She had that look, and I had only seconds to act. There wasn’t time to stop. What could I do? I searched desperately for something, anything. I had the Big Gulp cup. I told you it was lucky. I ripped the top off and held it under her chin. Just in time.
We saved the dress. What didn’t go into the cup went into the space between us, and on me. She felt better immediately, then nodded off to sleep for the rest of the way home. Her problems were over. I had a 97-ounce plastic cup of vomit to deal with. At the first red light, I opened the door and placed the cup on the yellow line, then drove away when the light turned green. The cup stayed there for five days.
The yellow and blue dress, the Big Gulp cup, the new truck, and the plastic bunny. Too many elements for fiction, but the lesson was real, and has stayed with me. We don’t realize when we make our vows and promises, that sometimes love is messy. Love isn’t about talking animals and magic unicorns. Sometimes love means doing the most repulsive things. Love means cleaning and helping, wiping and sacrificing things that were never really that important. Love means losing sleep, missing showers, holding buckets, and resting in chairs all night longunder harsh lights, drowsing under the voices of strangers.
I thought about all this years after the death of the Easter Bunny. Yes, I replaced him and set his new incarnation on the side of the road so Katie could see him that weekend. I called it an Easter miracle. On the sixth day, I carried a trash bag with me to retrieve the Big Gulp cup and its disgusting contents. But when I got to the light, it was gone. I don’t consider that a miracle, however. I told you. That cup was always lucky.