Of course I didn't realize it at the time, but my father had a gift for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Maybe my not noticing was natural. I was just a kid, after all. And my dad was just Dad.
His capacity for play certainly didn't seem unusual to me. From my earliest memories, he was something of a human amusement-park ride for his kids. He was never too tired to turn us into airplanes. He would grasp a foot and arm and swing us tirelessly, swooping us around and around in wonderful, dizzying circles.
When Dad would work in the yard, he was always good for a wheelbarrow ride. "Faster, faster!" we'd shout, and "Bouncier! Bouncier!" He would push, grunting with the effort, and run. Clouds of red dust and our own ecstatic giggling swirled up into the air above our heads.
"There go the Millers," we'd be sure to hear on fine bike-ride afternoons. Since we knew everyone in town, these were social occasions. The four of us would wave and shout greetings as we sped by on Dad's ancient green bicycle. One of us would be perched on the handlebars, one on the bar in front of Dad, and the third would be seated behind him.
Some weekends Dad would take us for rides on his motorbike. A nearby vacant lot would be transformed into an obstacle course for our enjoyment. In my dad's eyes, bumps and dips were there solely for our pleasure - the more, the better. And the happy kid hanging on to Dad's waist couldn't help but agree, squealing with joy.
Speaking of dips, certain roads in our area were well known by the Miller family. As our car approached the best places, my stomach would tighten in anticipation. In the back seat, the three of us would grin at each other. We could see Dad's smile in the rearview mirror.
"Are you ready?" he'd say.
"Yeah!" we'd shout.
Then off we'd go, my dad giving it a little extra gas. Each peak and valley was greeted with the appropriate "oohs" and "aahs." Our own private roller coaster! We were so appreciative that often Dad would turn around and thrill us again - at least a couple more times.
Don't think my dad's talent for fun went unnoticed in our neighborhood. After he got home from work, and on weekends, our doorbell would ring. When my sister, brother, or I would answer, a neighbor kid would ask, "Can your dad come out and play?" Flattered, he'd go out and play football, hide-and-seek, or catch. Sometimes we kids would tag along, too. But we knew who the real attraction was.
"How come your dad doesn't come out and play?" I overheard my sister asking one of her friends.
"Oh, he does grown-up stuff," the girl said shrugging. "Not like your dad."
Dad loved old cars. He was constantly tinkering with his Model A or his 1936 Ford coupe.
But there was one ancient relic he was unable to get running. "Let's leave it for a while," he suggested to Mom. "The kids might enjoy it."
I spent hours daydreaming on top of that maroon monster, the metal pleasantly warming my skin through my jeans. My sister, on the other hand, must have driven millions of miles in it. She was constantly behind the steering wheel, signaling appropriately, and traveling the farthest reaches of her imagination.
No, in my childhood I didn't realize what a precious gift Dad had: his talent for joy in the ordinary, that art for celebrating in the face of the humdrum moments of the everyday. But now I do. I'll never know if it was a matter of moment-to-moment conscious choice or if it was entirely spontaneous. But it doesn't matter.
After we'd played our last for the day, we had important decisions to make in our bedtime ritual. We could either stand on Dad's feet and be walked backward into our room or we could walk on our hands while he guided us by holding our ankles.
Done with our giggling, we'd be tucked safely into bed. We'd ask, "Can we do it again tomorrow night?" The question was asked only for the pleasure of hearing Dad's answer. Because we knew in our hearts we could.