Today marks the twelfth anniversary of my beloved father’s death. This blog is a chapter of my memoir, The Reckoning of the Black Butterfly. May the memory of Frank. T. Snyder be eternal.
Following my father’s forty-day memorial service, his Orthodox Parastos, my husband and two daughters returned to Meadville that afternoon. I didn’t unpack and do laundry like I usually would after an overnight trip. I needed to unwind and be away from checklists and chores. I joined my family and Italia, our ten-week golden retriever puppy, out at our patio and swimming pool. We ended up enjoying an incredible afternoon.
The bursting thermometer and cloudless backdrop inspired frothy servings of smoothies and colorful sno-cones. Cara and Elena, then ages four and two, splashed and played, drenched and sprayed. Pup Italia lapped liquid bullets while tempting the girls to squirt-gun her down mafia style.
While refreshing my feet poolside, Cara kept squirting Italia’s furry breast as I spied our black butterfly hover then merely skim the water. This plain, yet somehow extraordinary, silhouette had become a part of our summer patio company, and his presence mysteriously captivated me. He, whom I perceived as male, seemed as thick as midnight yet lightly fluttered about like butterflies do.
My gaze often averted to this particularly unremarkable fella flickering around for his brief interludes. With just a sheen of bluish-green scales outlined in ivory specks, his velvety shadowed wings had little décor. I always expected butterflies to personify rainbows, but I discovered that a less colorful, simpler design can also serve as a spectacular specimen.
The butterfly was overhead and I had to squint behind sunglasses to watch his elegant swoops and sweeps. As my vision focused on him, my mind wavered from the present to the past, from falling to flying, from being on earth to praying for heaven. Blinded, I had to turn away from the acrobatics of the butterfly so blazingly illuminated by the sun-kissed sky. To quench my sight, I sank my eyes towards the pool brilliantly mirrored with eye-opening deliverance.
The ping-pong table of time bounced back and forth in my mind and finally retreated to the past. My thoughts flashed with old movie type reels like those my father dug out of the dusty attic to share on special occasions. No longer did I see my present Meadville family but, instead, witnessed another from days before. There was no soundtrack in those old films nor in this one which suspended and memorialized time. Without audio, my memory, imagination, and complete visual focus were demanded by such rapid glances of pictures.
The silent movie I was privy to in the swimming pool water featured a father-daughter relationship. At the beginning, I thought I was just watching random yet rewarding, tender fragments of life. Piecing it all together, I later realized how purposefully ordered each shot and scene was. I’ll always cherish what I saw in that special screening on such a heavenly serene day.
Entranced by the first scene of this reflecting pool daydream, I saw a tall, thin, yet muscular man with dark-framed, thick glasses standing in a rocky, shallow creek. He was with a little girl wearing two long blonde ponytails neatly tied in purple ribbons. The dark-haired, middle-aged man, who was the father, was teaching his daughter how to catch minnows and crayfish in her net. Effortlessly, he lifted slimy boulders to expose where the creek-life rested, nested, and hid. Stunned at what swam out of these rocks, she clasped her big net in her little hand as he secured the other. With newfound creek confidence, she was able to swiftly scoop up the quick, little, living treasures, admire them in her bucket, and then spill them back home to be with their families.
Then the same girl, slightly taller and leaner, with longer, flopping pigtails was sprinting full-speed in a wide field. She flew a red kite that was frantically flapping in the strong wind. Running amuck, she accidentally decorated a multi-branched tree with her kite. The same father from the minnow segment gingerly removed the tangled kite while she plucked him a bouquet of dandelions. The father wore a big photo button pinned to the center of his blue ball cap that I couldn’t decipher since it faded out with a quick blur of images.
The next scene faded into another with the father smoothly and skillfully skipping a stone across the Ohio River. He tossed it like a Frisbee that leapfrogged across the ripples. A close-up depicted the little girl excitedly worming a hook for the catfish and bass she’d hopefully catch. She wore her fishing gear: a canvas bucket hat and her baby blue and white polyester jumper speckled with tiny turtles.
Casting her reel, she straightened her shoulders in confidence and shook them with snickers as the red and white bobber jiggled with a bite. The father helped her reel in the medium-sized flat head. What a whisker-doo of a catfish-catch for a little girl and her dad!
Disturbingly, the mood abruptly shifted to the girl crying while tightly holding the father’s blood stained-hand; he had just rescued her from the nosebleed she unexpectedly dripped while baiting a new hook. His white hankie was ruined as he comforted his girl who was so shocked by her gushing, freckled pug nose.
The film cut to a new, colorful view. The father and his girl were on a plush carpet picking out corner and border pieces to build their next puzzle. The daughter proudly placed final trophy pieces of multiple jigsawed pictures of: animals, landscapes, mountains, and oceans. Many coloring books and Crayolas were also scattered about the floor. Both artists added their own shades to pages of puppies, princesses, and Peanut’s Gang characters. She was done coloring, yet he relaxingly finished what he started. She peeled and sharpened crayons waiting for him to complete his masterpiece of Snoopy sleeping atop his red doghouse.
On the same floor, the scene panned across time into a new episode with the two counting and rolling coins. He dumped treasured pennies out of a giant green glass jug that once housed wine. The film zoomed in on orderly copper piles of 50 ready to be wrapped and placed in safe storage, a tan Thom McCann shoe box he slid and hid under his bed. They searched the coins for favorite dates and interesting abnormalities. Then several Jif Peanut Butter jars appeared with silver jingles of nickels, dimes, and quarters. These were dumped and also rolled. The two were serious coin-counting machines probably saving up for a prize.
Another cheerful scene zoomed in on the two playing various board and card games. While she tried to tweeze the funny bone from the Operation patient, his red nose glowed like Rudolph. She studied the father’s steady, surgeon hand as he painlessly removed the “broken heart” and “butterflies in the stomach.” Then he was shown blowing into a blue cup of dice for good luck. Doing the same, she shook out a Yahtzee! An old, well-used, checkerboard appeared, and she chose black, smoke before fire. She was quick, but her slower, strategic red opponent hopped over black like a Jumping Jack.
With a traditional 52 card deck, the two warred at Go Fish, Memory, Old Maid, and Blackjack. Once the deck was well-worn and lost its slick luster, they stood and leaned the cards together to raise and rebuild fallen houses.
He taught her to create more than fragile, card houses. The next clip showed him giving her sandpaper for her personal piece of plywood. Using his ruler, she measured and penciled a fine line where she wanted the cut. The father attentively watched over her as she maneuvered the sharp saw from her mini-tool box.
She then arranged multi-bristled paint brushes on the plastic covered ping-pong table in their basement. She was prepping to help paint a life-sized wooden snowman he trimmed out as a lawn ornament. He was teaching her how one brush stroke could make a difference, be an influence, act as a beautifier, or serve as a mistake. What a lovely vision of crafting keepsakes together!
The next clip moved a couple blocks from home and showed the father bringing the girl a bag of Snyder’s brand BBQ chips, a piece of beef jerky, and an icy ginger ale. He had just placed his Friday order for fish and chips at The Monaca Cornet Bandroom, one of the small town’s many social clubs.
While waiting for their meal, they went to the back room where the three-lane duckpin alley wouldn’t be used for a couple of hours. While eating her appetizers, the father kept setting up duck pins for her to clobber. She strikingly aimed while curving to crack the pins with the mini-marbled bowling ball the father kept returning to her like a beloved memory.
One alley scene dissolved into another where the father wore a faded, crusty baseball glove while catching with the slightly older girl in the alley behind a yard with a wooden swing set. Using the same curve she spun on her bowling ball, she chucked a crazed softball through the air. Thankfully, the father could stretch his arm like a superhero to trap most of her wild throws. With a little more sweat on his brow and his steadfast smile, he continued beaming her grounders and fly balls to train her how to catch.
At this point of my movie, the picture on the father’s cap came into focus; it was the same little girl who had grown out of her bows and pigtails into a curly, hair-sprayed perm. Sporting an awkward, teenage grin of metal braces and big-80’s-hair, she posed in her Monaca Indians softball uniform. I finally realized the movie I was watching starred Frank and Donna Snyder, my father and me.
This concludes the chapter. To summarize how this ended, my graceful vision of memories continued until I “woke” to witness our black butterfly disappear into the endless sky. I couldn’t catch him and watched him soar within the immortal wind. I whispered, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.