We always waited, but we rarely worried. My mom allowed herself to be annoyed — and it’s true, she probably ruined some roasts, trying to keep them warm — but likely she used grouchiness to displace concern. But there was never any need. My dad was just one of those guys who was either out in the plant, talking to the guys on the galvanizing line, or on the phone all day, or both. So when 5 o’clock came around, he had pre-computer-age paperwork to finish. He was always one of those guys who put his head down, dug into his work, and never failed to be surprised when he looked up and it was 6:48. Then into his coat, grab the briefcase, perching on his balding head the furry-inside vaguely Tyrolean hat my mom hated, and out the door for the 30-minute drive home. And then dinner, at 7-something. I never minded. He seemed tired, especially in winter.
That was the one time I worried, actually. He came in later than usual on a frigid night, the kind with the old snow piled up in crusty hillocks beside the road, frozen hard enough to bounce a wheel across the lane… or prop a nail just right. It was that, or a pothole, a bad one. But flat was flat, in the deepest dark of December, in single-digit cold, too cold to snow any more, as we used to say in Pennsylvania. So then it was seven-something-plus by the time he came in, mouth frozen in an oval and face white as a sheet.
“My fingers stuck to the lug nuts,” he said to my mother, by way of exhausted explanation. “I couldn’t work them with my gloves on.”
We had dinner, and he began to thaw. I think my mom made that cake in the glass loaf pan, the cherry pudding cake, the one that always seemed to stay hot forever. — Adam Barr