The old brick building that houses Wayne Electric was a treasure in and of itself. Its classic pie shape wedged between Cermak and Hoyne. I admired the warm texture of the weathered bricks and we approach an unassuming door on the south-east side.
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust after the bright midwestern sun. The dim glow of a yellowing light fixture added to the dinginess of the front office. A young woman with feathered hair left over from the eighties smiled amiably if a bit baffled. Strangers probably only wander in if they’re looking for directions. After all, if you need an electrician you usually just call. There was a table to one side stacked with magazines wearing coffee stains and six-year-old dates. I watched my father walk purposefully to the counter, like a man familiar with his surroundings.
“Is Mrs. M in?” He asks. The doorway to my right darkened as a short, heavy-set woman with stone gray hair approached. My father turned and his face lit up like a kid pulling a good prank while praying it all be taken in fun.
“Why Daniel John-is that, is that you!” Mrs. M exclaims incredulously. In one motion she crossed the floor and swept his six-foot frame down into an affectionate embrace. My father grinned impishly, pleased at catching her off guard. After all, it’s been what ten, fifteen years as Mrs. M kept exclaiming.
The side room seems to be made from leftovers. None of its four walls are of equal size. It seemed to be the juncture of a hallway and a three-sided office.
Two of the walls are piled five feet high with boxes and miscellaneous objects. Some of them were recognizable and others appeared to be pieces of unknown appliances. To one side a toolbox spilled over onto a table against an orange lamp with a once-white shade now stained yellow with years of smoke. Mrs. M deftly clears the table of paperwork, pushed aside an oddly shaped glass vase with a what! Is that? But it can’t be. I looked at my sister incredulously and her eyes opened slightly, her lips barely twitched.
Holding our steaming Styrofoam cups of instant coffee my sister and I smiled at the thought of our father as the long-haired hippie boy Mrs. M and her husband took under their wings over thirty years ago. He had helped them renovate this building when they were just starting out. Gazing around the office I wondered if the work was ever finished.
My eyes kept wandering to the side of the table. Maybe it was left there carelessly thirty years ago? My sister and I looked at our father expectantly but he stubbornly ignored our mental interrogation. I kept waiting for Mrs. M to break out the herb or complain about some damn grandchild. But she never missed a beat. She cheerfully continued her stories, and offered us more coffee -as if the bong on the table were just a part of the scenery.