I miss my father at the strangest and, frankly, inopportune moments. For instance, when I am trying to innoculate trypticase soy agar plates with bacterial specimens for Microbiology lab. I’m diligently swabbing my plate when my memory hits ‘rewind’ all the way to the 6th grade.
It was at the tender age of 12 when my father decided that it was high-time I became well trained in the scientific process. Shouldn’t all 12 year olds be familiar with staph. aureus, aseptic technique, and the nuances of managing millions of microbes? Other kids were growing tomato plants under various light sources or turning potatoes into transistor radios – things the average parent could easily handle. My dad, though, was nothing if not a scientist. Dad thought it would be brilliant for me to investigate the actual efficacy of the anti-bacterial sponges that had come into vogue among anxious, germ-phobic housewives.
One summer evening, he came through the front door bearing a heavy cardboard box loaded up with agar plates, mechanical pipettes, sterile swabs, sterile saline, bacteria/fungal/yeast colonies, and other tools of the trade. Free bacterial specimens are no doubt just one of the perks of being well-liked at a major academic institution. Needless to say, it was a long summer of science. My experiment was housed in a small, vacant room in our basement whose floor tiles emanated the sickly-sweet smell of microbes for months after the school year had started. This less than thrilled my mother who didn’t register the same joy I felt over successfully nurturing a colony of staph. aureus or discovering a perfectly round clear zone around a chunk of sponge.
Dad and I were bosom-buddies in our love for discovery, for that eureka! moment. To my 12 year old self, that summer was filled with annoyingly tedious moments – Dad demonstrating the proper innoculation of an agar plate, Dad helping me create my very first lab notebook, Dad pulling me from other activities to ask “Have you checked your plates today?” Yet, no one was prouder when I found a blue first-prize ribbon dangling from my presentation board in the school gymnasium.
My grief isn’t palpable in many of the everyday moments where most would expect sadness to rear it’s ugly head. My memories of him are tightly woven together with certain life events. I don’t merely miss his presences in the house. I miss all of the things we’re not going to discover or being able to call him after one of my labs to report on our latest experiment or recounting how I got to see a new procedure at the hospital. When I’m driving my car, I remember him frustratedly teaching me to parallel park between trash cans he had set too close together, which leads me to memories of learning to drive a stick shift in South Africa that remind me of the phone calls when he would ask “When you coming home, girl?” even though he knew my departure was still 6 or 5 or 4 months away.
It’s only natural that Dad would pop up in Biology 241 and whisk my mind away from my droning professor to that little room in our basement in the summer of 1996 that held not just the smell of microbes, but also the possibility of discovery.