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Honorable Mention - "Daddy Isn't in the Radio"

1993 Anne Horton Writing Award
Honorable Mention
"Daddy Isn't in the Radio"
Nancy Reiter Lauritzen

She was five years old, almost six, and fathers were coming home that fall of 1946. Handsome in their uniforms, they marched down the street and their families ran to welcome them. This had been going on since the end of something called "THE WAR". Every day she rushed home, tripping on the porch steps and adding new wounds to already battle -scarred knees. Maybe her daddy had gone "to war", and he would come home, just like her friends' daddys had .

She remembered the morning she had sat (still grumpy from sleep) in her mom's lap and watched her daddy leave with suitcases and boxes . "Your father is leaving us." was all her mom would say, her shaking arms circling the sleepy little girl. Daddy had glanced at her and said "Be good, Suzie Q." He always called little girls that, and she never really liked it when he said it to her. But that was a long time ago and every time she asked about him everyone acted like she had done something bad, so she stopped asking.

Her mom was not home much anymore. She went to work now, not like her friends' moms, who still had cookies and milk waiting for them after school. She missed that. Now, she had a baby sitter, which made her angry because she was not a baby! The woman was real old-older than her grandmas, even. Now, she had to go home right after school without stopping to play with her friends.

Most days she would slam into the house and plop down on the scratchy old green rug in front of the large , boxy radio. She liked looking at the eerie green light on the dial and feeling the vibration of the sound when she put her hands on the cloth covering the front. She always hoped she would be in time to hear Mr. Down's soft deep voice coming out of the radio. It made her feel connected to her daddy, since daddy and Mr. and Mrs. Downs were friends. They had been at her house last year before Daddy left and she had a picture, taken in front of her house, of herself, the Downs', and Daddy. She didn't know where the voice in the radio was coming from, but it made her feel good to look at the picture, hear the voice in the radio, and think about Daddy. Maybe Mr. Downs knew where her daddy was and if she listened real hard, she could find out without anyone getting mad.

Today, she was really angry. Her babysitter was grumpy and it had been raining all day. The radio seemed her only friend anymore. Suddenly, she sat straight up and stared at the radio. What had Mr. Downs said? It had sounded like "and now a song from Frankie." Her grandma called her daddy Frantzie, but his name was Frank. Could it be? Then Mr. Downs said more and the little girl hugged the radio and put her ear against it. He had said something about a new song and that it was dedicated to Frankie's little girl, Nancy. Her name was Nancy. Her daddy was in the radio! Wherever Mr. Downs was, her daddy was with him and he had a song just for her-"Nancy With a Laughing Face". The song started..."When I don't see her each day, I miss her...", it had to be him! She listened so hard, her ear hurt when the song finished. Mr Downs said more after the song ended, but she didn't hear. She had run to her room so the babysitter wouldn't see her crying and tell Mom.

Every day after that, she would tear into the house-forgetting cookies, play or anything else. Her daddy was in the radio and he sang other songs besides her song. She didn't know why no one had told her about it, but she knew she shouldn't say anything.

Several weeks after she first heard her special song, a friend of her mom brought her a present. It was a record player, and he also had another package with a round black record. He showed her how to work the player and as she set the needle on the turntable, the song started. "When I don't see her each day..." "It's my song", she screamed, "you brought me Daddy's song!" The friend looked at her, then at her mom. He seemed mad. She shouldn't have said anything! She knew they got mad when she mentioned him. Everyone went into the kitchen as she continued to listen to the record.

Soon they were back and mom's friend stooped down and asked if she would like to go out for ice cream sometime next week. Looking at her mom, to see if it was ok, she noticed her mom's eyes were red, like she had been crying. She didn't know what to say, but her mom said "It's ok, honey. You can go." As she looked around at everyone, she noticed they were giving her the same look they did when she was sick.

They were going on Saturday, the day she usually went to Grandma's and Grandpa's. Before leaving for work, her mom had washed and braided her hair, curling the ends of the braids with the curling iron and putting new red ribbons on the braids, just like Sunday mornings. Her next best dress, a red and blue plaid, was hanging on her door. Her Buster Brown shoes had been polished and sat by her bed. A petticoat and red socks were laid out and the babysitter helped her dress. Mom had called two times. Why was everyone so excited about her going for ice cream? Grownups sure were hard to understand sometimes.

The friend came right after the babysitter finished tying the bow on her dress. As he helped her up onto the running board of the big black car, he gave her a hug and said "You sure look pretty today." As they drove to town, she noticed they were going to a part of town she had never seen. Stopping the car, the friend asked, "Have you ever been in a bowling alley?" She didn't know, but decided not, when they walked down the steps into the dark, funny smelling place.

The friend sat her up on a wobbly stool at a counter and asked what she wanted. Silly, he should remember they had come for ice cream. He ordered her a soda and she got on her knees so she could reach the top of the straw in the tall glass. Just as she took her first sip, she heard it. "Hi Suzie Q. How are you?"

Choking on her soda, she spun around and fell from the wobbly stool, catching her heel in the legs and scraping open one scabby knee. Looking up, she saw him. Daddy was here! But he looked different. Instead of the suit he always wore, he had on work clothes like Grandpa, his shoes were splattered with paint, and he was wearing a funny looking hat. As he picked her up off the dirty floor, she noticed he still smelled the same-like the soap in that brown wooden bowl he used to shave with every morning.

"I heard you on the radio with Mr. Downs, Daddy." "You did, did you?", he answered. "Well, maybe we better go for a walk and you can tell me what you've been doing." The friend looked at her and nodded. "It's ok,honey. I told your dad we would be here today and your mom knows about it." As she and Daddy walked, he told her about where he had been and she realized how wrong she had been about the song, the radio and her daddy. He and mom had been "divorced", and he had a new wife. She would later meet her and spend more time with Daddy, but she learned not to talk much about her visits. Mom still got upset when she mentioned him.

In years to come, even after her father had been dead many years, she would remember that little girl with her ear pressed to the radio, every time she heard a Frank Sinatra recording..."When I don't see her each day I miss her..."