Fairly sure I haven’t made this confession here before, but I used to suck my curled left forefinger long after it was appropriate for any child to do so. And, unlike that patron saint of thumbsuckers—Linus—I didn’t carry around a blanket.
I never went anywhere without my pillow.
Casts a vivid picture, no? Little boy sucking his finger, a pillow clutched to his face, the moist comfort of flesh, the musty-sweet smell of the pillow—heaven. Yeah, well, it cost me a world of shame at the time, as well as dental malocclusion worries from the Family Project. And while it might be argued that my “nasty habit” was somehow related to Mom’s breastfeeding—particularly its abrupt cessation—research seems to indicate otherwise.
I’m reminded of this now because of one artifact from the early Family Project days—Hector.
Hector is a ceramic sculpture Dad bought when he and Mom were married. It followed us to every house we ever owned, was placed on end tables, bedroom dressers and, pictured at left, atop a bookshelf in Maryland. Why he was named Hector, I’ll never know. Never thought to ask Dad. Hector eventually came to rest in the very den where, on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008, Dad died of a fatal heart attack.
Now Hector lives in my home office, looking the worse for wear.
You see, about a year or two ago Hector slipped from the metal pole adhering him to his wooden block base and tumbled onto my dining room floor. My shock was extreme—it was as if I’d tossed a human body off a cliff. Fortunately he only sustained minor damage to his base, missing a couple pieces I was unable to find. A little Super Glue and he was back in shape, with a couple scars.
I’m determined to keep him, no matter what.
Which is somewhat ironic, because there was a time when I wanted to have nothing to do with Hector. As a finger-sucking, nightmare-prone little boy, I often grabbed my best pillow friend and crawled into bed with Mom and Dad. Of course they grunted and groaned, but made way for me smack-dab between them.
They had jobs to get to in the morning, but I was wide awake, sucking my finger and staring straight into Hector’s forbidding face. Still burning in my memory was some terrifying nightmare—and me, sandwiched between the Family Project and a dead-eyed, real-life monster. Was Hector staring at me? What was he thinking? Did he mean any harm?
Now Hector is my one solid connection back to Dad. For me Hector symbolizes Dad’s leaving his own family, returning from active service in Korea something of “a man of the world,” absorbed by art and culture and Scandinavian furniture—postwar baubles dangled in front of a growing middle class that was eager to impress their friends and neighbors.
As a kid, I absorbed these mid-1960s artifacts as if by osmosis: the lighted tailfin of a Chevy Bel Air, a ceramic George Washington mug, Dad’s stuffed and mounted largemouth bass, my manual typewriter. Having Hector around these days is a comforting reminder that the past is somehow still relevant, that these things—actual, breakable things—contributed to making me the person I’ve become and continue to become.
Like the Family Project’s cherry wood dining room table, they are as close as I come to the living, breathing people that I once loved and whose absence I grieve every day.
One day Hector will be lost forever, too. But for now he lives right here with me.
And I like that a lot.