All was ready in the breakfast room: upon each placement were the buttered toast, sectioned grapefruits, cereal and milk, and coffee for my parents. A jar of mother’s freshly cooked grape jelly sat in the center of the table with the condiments. Through the Venetian blinds sunrays slanted upon the walls like a military band in procession, or so I fantasized. Strains of “Pistol Packin’ Mama” came from the kitchen.

This was a special morning, and I knew it. I sat on the edge of my chair, waiting as I glanced at my siblings dressed in play clothes and jawing, taking swipes at each other; then, studied my heel, tender from new sandals. Mother was settling my youngest brother in his highchair when I heard his footsteps in the hall. It was my dad. It was about to happen.

In resounding tones, he said, “Happy First of September, everyone!” His warm smile briefly assuaged my chronic anxiety, as he took his place at the head of the table and opened his napkin. I could breathe in his presence. So breakfast and the beginning of a new month began, September being the most dreaded with the parochial school reopening after Memorial Day.  

Throughout my childhood, I anticipated this ritual and was never disappointed: his way of sharing joy, despite stresses from work which also required wearing one of his three-piece suits and tie, with the edge of a folded handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket.

His early death, however, prevented me from fully appreciating his selflessness, his knack for telling Irish jokes when tensions mounted over the supper meal. Dad served us very well and I’m grateful.