Herman, a gift from my Dad

By Billie Johnson

I’m having a yard sale this weekend. Peace be with me.

I’m discovering I might be a packrat. Not the packiest of rats because I don’t really buy a lot of things (except ninja turtle t-shirts) but I do hold on to clothes and keepsakes.  I’ve felt guilt in wanting to part with gifts that I don’t wholeheartedly love or use any more. I’ve felt pangs of failure in wanting to sell jeans that no longer fit or mementos from my past relationship, and good ole sappy nostalgia has stalled the sorting and piling process.

I have six boxes of stuff from my folks. I go through them once a year. Sometimes, I actually make it through all of them, but most times I stop after 20 seconds and tape up the first box while wiping tears and thinking about what ice cream I’m about to have.  I’m forcing myself to go through all of the boxes this week and there will be no comforting ice cream until I’m done.

I surprised myself when I decided to give away one of the only gifts I still have from my dad.  His name is Herman and he is a 14-pound marbled blue bowling ball. I’ve never considered parting with him, but a few weeks ago I went to a BBQ at my friends Barry and Marjanna Hulet’s house. They have a colorful collection of bowling balls all over their yard.  As I came across Herman in my basement, I immediately envisioned him in the Hulet’s yard among the other orbs.

I got into bowling my seventh grade year during Mrs. Atkinson’s Life Sports class. We took lessons at the old Moonlight Lanes on Yellowstone and my mom let me join a Saturday morning league as long as I rode my bike so she could sleep in and enjoy her leisurely Saturday mornings.

My dad lived in Lava Hot Springs but was making regular trips to Pocatello to see doctors. His emphysema diagnosis was looming. He never paid child support and my mom always had a complaint into the court, but he’d still stop by to give me some ones from the bar that he called my “spending money.” Sometimes in lieu of cash, he’d bring an off the wall gift he procured second or third hand. One time he brought me a mildewy tent. He knew what I tomboy I was and thought I’d like to go camping sometime.

Both of my parents were severely overweight and never camped. Who the heck was going to take me camping? But thanks, Dad.

At age 12 and wanting to enjoy his gift, I disassembled my bed with a monkey wrench, took the frame downstairs, pitched the tent in my room, and put my mattress inside.

Dad got progressively sicker and weaker and on his next visit, I had to go to his car because he couldn’t lift my gift.  In a box in his trunk was a magical blue bowling ball he found at a Garrett Way warehouse sale. Dad didn’t leave me any spending money this time, but I didn’t think twice. He was in tuned to my hobby and even though I could barely lift him, Herman was beautiful!

Now that I had my own ball, Mom was going to have to give up her leisurely Saturday morning to drive me to league. Herman also needed holes drilled and a bag to carry him. Mom couldn’t afford either, so I rolled him into my bedroom tent until her next payday.  She ended up only paying to get the holes drilled and made me use an old piece of luggage to carry him. It worked but it was ugly.

Herman epitomizes how my dad showed his love, how my parents managed their individual relationships with me, and how they fostered my relationship with the other parent separate from their own issues. Dad was so happy to give me Herman, but he paid no attention to how heavy he was, how I’d carry him, how finger holes might get drilled or any of the ramifications the gift would have on my mom.

Mom didn’t disparage him, but she did communicate the predicaments his gift and lack of child support put her in. She spoke matter-of-factly of their interpersonal conflicts but simultaneously encouraged me to revel in my dad’s imperfect love and all of his whacky gifts because they were sincere and from his heart.

Herman came from his heart and has a special place in mine. When I asked the Hulets if he could join their spherical herd, they were delighted.  Perfect. I have a sense of peace in passing him on to them and in creating a little more space in my basement.  Herman Hulet has a great ring to it.

Billie Johnson of Pocatello holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree from Idaho State University. She works as an engineer, is an avid community volunteer, and maintains a blog about her adventures in a cow suit at www.CowSuitSaturday.com.