My father is morbidly obese and diabetic. At 380 pounds, with ruined knees,
the ex-athlete has traded cheers and adulation for gawks and whispers. He’s a
carnival attraction, given wide berth, even in the most spacious locales. He’s lost
two toes on one foot and one on the other. A wound, usually weeping, comes and
goes on his lower left calf. Outwardly he’s happy, with a shocking sense of
immortality for someone slowly disappearing from a lack of circulation.
I’m a working stiff, who every other year boards a plane with my father
bound for Alaska to enjoy our time together; most of which is spent apart. I
volunteer my time by living in the bush for two weeks as a Backcountry Ranger at
Kobuk, Gates, or Yukon Charley. My father travels only as far as Fairbanks.
Inwardly he is proud of my desire for solitude and hardship. He seeks neither.
At Fairbanks he rents a pickup, preferably a dually, and drives a mile to my
Aunt’s house to watch her parrots, cockatiels, and toucan while she travels to Costa Rica, Belize, or Hawaii to replenish her Vitamin D. He orders all his food in, and I carry all of mine on my back. For two weeks he will be glued to Alaska reality shows and surrounded by empty cartons of Chinese, Mongolian or Thai food. Asian delicacies are absent from our Nebraska village of 383 souls. Bird crap replaces feedlots for olfactory ambiance. After two weeks he is ready for home.
Awaiting our return flight south we sit across from the bustling airport food
court; the type flanked on both sides with restrooms and janitors closets. The
processed Mexican food, hot dogs, and pizza vapors turn my stomach and touch his soul.
My father fidgets and rattles his newspaper. His appetite whetted, but soon
tempered, due to his tendency for acute airsickness. He sits his paper down
brusquely, and is about to stand, when he stops. His body stalls in a half-dip
position, elevated six inches above his seat, forearms bulging, supported by bowed armrests. Out of the corner of my eye I see what has prompted his behavior.
Airborne cardboard boxes land and jettison mini pizzas across the tiled
surface. They skid to a stop ten feet from a stationary form now holding only an
empty tray. The man does not audibly swear. His control is commendable. After a
split second of hesitation, he casually approaches the disks loaded with all the
fixings and scoops up each pie with its respective box. Stacking them neatly, one by one on his tray, he serves his family of five. They are too enamored with watching the jet way connect to our plane to have witnessed the retrieval. My father slowly sits down, and with a judge’s solemnity declares, “It’s been another good trip son, but I sure look forward to your mother’s Italian home cooking.” His tone indicates he will take the food court scene home as his Alaska memory.