When I was a child we had very little money. My father was an alcoholic and drank most of it away. What was left over wasn’t much with seven children. Luxuries were scarce but every so often we got a treat. The next door neighbor owned a potato chip factory and every once in a while he’d bring us over a large gold colored can of potato chips. Back then you would buy the large can of chips and take it back and have it refilled. It was heaven to get those chips and seeing that can made everyone happy.
When I was ten my father died in a car accident. When they buried him they placed an American flag over the coffin. I remember the men folding the flag so carefully and handing it to my mother. When we came home from the funeral she got out the potato chip can and cleaned it until it glowed like pure gold. The she placed the flag in the potato chip can and stored the can in an upstairs closet.
The closet upstairs was like a small room and everything was stored in there. I hated going into that storage room. Whenever I did I would look at the can and think of my father and what would never be.
Thirty years later my mother asked me if I’d like to have the can and I was kind of flustered. By this time my older sister and brother were dead and I was the last child in the family to even remember my father. My sister was only eight and the triplets were two at the time of his death.
I took the can home and didn’t open it for a few days. After work I’d look at the now tarnished can and think about all of the things I would have said to my dad. My biggest regret being that I had never had a conversation with him.
Finally one night when no one was home I opened the can. The flag was still folded perfectly, as if it had been placed there that morning. Surprisingly, there were all of the cards people had sent when he died. I spread them out on the bed and read them all. So many of the people had passed away and many I didn’t know. Many were cousins that I hadn’t seen since I was a boy or had only heard of.
At the bottom of the can were two silk maps that my father had carried with him as a radio man on a bomber during World War II in Okinawa. The maps were of islands I had never heard. Also on the maps were phrases written phonetically of and how to say “I am an American” and such in case they were shot down. I would have loved to ask my dad about the war. I can’t imagine what it was like to be on that plane.
I put everything back in the can and put it in my own closet. A year later my younger brother, one of the triplets, asked me about it. He had nothing of my fathers so I told him he could have it. I went home, took it out of the closet and shined it until it glowed like pure gold. My brother seemed very pleased with this memento but I doubt it has much meaning to him.
It’s funny how life is. My father could have left us with so much, but all we got was a flag in a potato chip can.