A Lamp, an Engraving Tool and Fishing

When I was a teenager, Missouri driver license numbers had 16 digits. I still know my number by heart because my Dad had an engraving tool and he etched that number on every single one of my possessions with a personal engraving gadget.

Evidence of that quirky habit surfaced as we spent part of our Memorial Day weekend doing some basement cleaning out and reorganizing. My husband came across this desk lamp, which was a high school graduation present from my next-door neighbors. Notice the driver’s license number, (part of which I’ve concealed with photo editing to protect against identity theft in case this number is still somehow tied to me).

When my husband found the lamp, he texted a picture of it to my kids and I. The following text conversation ensued:

Daughter: “What is that?”

Husband: “It’s the base of a desk lamp that your mother used in college. Your grandfather marked all of her stuff with her name.”       Me: “And my driver’s license number which I can still repeat w/o looking.”

Daughter: “Why your driver’s license number?”

Me: “That was an anti-theft thing. Made it less valuable to steal because a pawn wouldn’t take something marked with a dl number. And for sure, someone was gonna steal my lamp to pawn. And my makeup mirror and cooler tool.

Me: “If you didn’t want it monogrammed with your DL number, you had to hide it from my Dad.”

And that was true. My late father was a police officer and he spent part of his career in the detective bureau working in the fencing unit. At some point, he bought his own engraving tool and spent hours inexpertly engraving our belongings. Friends often asked me about the lengthy number etched – sometimes messily — into the front of my lighted makeup mirror, or on the side of my playmate cooler.

Finding the lamp delivered a pang of guilt – it was Memorial Day weekend and I was unlikely to make it to Jefferson Barracks to visit his grave.

That’s because after the basement cleanup, we had plans to go camping with my brother’s family.

While on that overnight campout, my Dad crept into my thoughts several times. I thought of him as I watched my young nephews erect a tent, was we grilled hamburgers and while the kids chased moths with fishing nets.

I laughed when my sister-in-law attempted to demonstrate that she could, indeed, hit a Wiffle ball and my brother jokingly heckled her with each strike. His friendly harassment juxtaposed with memories of my very athletic uncles getting into brawls over similar games at family barbecues when I was a child. My brother reminded me that while my Dad didn’t have anything near my uncle’s sports prowess, he never failed to get into the game and he often enjoyed a private laugh at my uncles’ expense when they took things too seriously.

In the evening, my husband and brother decided to take the kids fishing off a river boat dock, loading up rods and what was left of the bait after the four-year-old spent the afternoon playing with his “pet worms.” They headed out with a five kids, ages 14, 12, 8, 7 and 4. Sitting my lawn chair, enjoying the company of my sister-in-law and 21-year-old daughter, I was impressed at their bravery.

It conjured a memory of the time my Dad took my siblings and I, plus my best friend, fishing on the Lake of the Ozarks when my brother, the youngest, was 5.

On that day, we motored out into the middle of a cove on a borrowed jon boat in the August heat. Lathered in thick sunscreen and anxious for some lake action, us kids were anything but patient fisherman. And my father was not known for being a patient man.

But I distinctly remember him wanting that trip to be successful. He was excited. He had good intentions, seeking to impart his enjoyment of fishing and the lake upon his young charges, even if he wasn’t armed with the skill set to stay calm and collected on a small boat with young, virgin fisherpersons.

He carefully put worms on the lines of four poles, handing the first pole to my brother and helping him cast the line. Then he proceeded to bait the hooks for my sister, myself and my friend. In short order, a couple of our lines were tangled, the clear filament starting to resemble a spider’s web.

My Dad got us untangled with minimal cussing, and then recast our lines with a little less patience than the first time around. Then my brother reeled his line in again and decided to try casting by himself. And that’s when he hooked something – my father’s cheek.

Patience gone, yelling ensued. A lot of yelling. And the fishing expedition ended promptly with no fish caught.

But he tried. And he was successful in at least two aspects. He taught my brother to be undaunted about heading out to fish with five kids in tow. And he created a lasting memory, engraved with all its imperfections on my heart with just like my driver’s license number on my desk lamp.

We didn’t make it to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend. But I think we honored his memory just the same.


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