What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?
My favorite bedtime stories were not contained in a book. They rested in the deep resonance of my father’s voice just above my ear as I snuggled in the crook of his arm. I begged for “Joey Stories.” He obliged with tales of Joey smashing the grocer’s pumpkins and confessing to stolen bean seeds. A serial featuring Joey’s cats, Tiger and Tuffy, kept me on the edge of our gold couch for several evenings. An old stagecoach in the woods brought back Wild West heists. The water pump, still used and primed by the unfinished farmhouse, creaked again whenever Joey chipped ice from the handle. I loved the one about Joey standing on a distant hill listening to the yelping of his brothers and the family dog after discovering a skunk in the rabbit trap.
But, the ones I cherish most are the ones about Joey and his father. One day, Joey’s mother asked him to cut the lilac bushes. Joey, who wanted to ride his bike and play with friends that Saturday, angrily stomped to the tool shed, grasped the pruning shears, and took vengeance out on the multiple bushes in their yard. A startled gasp from his mother after he declared his work complete revealed his dreadful mistake. The three lilac bushes with their wilted flowers remained untouched unlike his father’s prized peony bushes whose red blooms dotted the lawn like opened wounds. He shuddered, thinking of his father’s certain rebuke when he returned home. When he heard the car on the driveway, he expected thunderous footsteps to cross the threshold. Instead, the screen door barely creaked on its rusty hinge. A large, work-worn hand rested on Joey’s shoulder as his father’s Swedish brogue spoke, “Son, you didn’t know the difference. I forgive you.”
My father’s Joey Stories taught me about grace, forgiveness, and love in ways none of my story books did. His Joey Stories may be collected one day on the printed page, but they will be bound forever in my heart.