Blog-A-Day #4– “Why are bananas important?”

Someone jokingly sent this to me as a suggestion for my blog a day project.

What they did not know, is that, in all seriousness, I take bananas very seriously.

When I was a kid, I hated fruits and vegetables, and I generally refused to eat them whenever I got the chance. My dad, however, figured out that if he made it “cool” to eat fruit, then I would play along, wanting to be “cool” like my dad.

It is also important to note that my dad was a traditionalist, and was the type of guy who would eat the same thing, every day, because, well, “That’s just what he liked”.

Every day, before school, my dad would make himself a breakfast of either a bowl of plain cheerios or a bowl of plain rice chex. If he was feeling particularly fancy, he might make an egg or two, but generally, he stuck to cereal and one important side-dish– a banana.

Now, my dad was really, really particular about his bananas. As a kid, I remember endless fights between my mom and dad about the state of the bananas that had been brought home from the grocery store– my dad liked them nearly raw, and my mom liked them nearly composted.

So. Every morning, my dad would solemnly break me off a small portion of his bananas and offer it to me. I would accept, and he would declare us “banana buddies” for the day. It was incredibly stupid, but man, being banana buddies was THE COOLEST thing ever when I was seven.

As I got older (and a bit wiser), I finally figured out his game, but by then, it was too late. I liked bananas. Most fruit, actually, but I still loved bananas, and I would always accept his offer of being banana buddies for the day.

When I was finally able to drive myself to and from school, the tradition of banana buddies became lost in the shuffle of life, except on Sundays. Sundays was a day for church and family breakfast and my dad would wake up early to make chocolate chip pancakes— with his daily banana. I don’t think I ever refused his stupid “banana buddies” deal. It was…just….one of those stupid things that we shared.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, he encouraged (read:ordered) me to continue with my plans to go to England. I did, and while I was over there, he got a lot sicker, sicker to the point where I knew that I was going to have to come home. So I did.

The day that I got back, I took one look at my dad in his hospital room, ravaged by infection, and knew that he was going to die. Maybe not then, maybe not right there, but sooner or later, I knew, somehow, that he wasn’t going to make it.  He was too weak to eat anything but “thin” foods. I remember that the hospital brought him a “regular” lunch tray by accident, and on it, was a banana.

My dad was too weak to lift the tray cover, so I did it for him. He looked at the banana, I looked at the banana, and we both started laughing. He was bald, covered in disgusting sores, shitting into a bag attached to his leg and was half the size of the huge man that he had been, and still, we both laughed.  I spoon fed-him strawberry yogurt that afternoon, and that night, he died. Not even 12 hours after my flight got in, my dad died.

When I was about six or seven, still too young to really understand the implications of my dad’s job, we were at the grocery store, when a elderly, bedraggled (and, frankly, smelly) African-American man walked over to my dad. He shook my dad’s hand and thanked him, and he leaned over to me and said “Young lady, you have a fine daddy. You should be proud”.

I was terrified. I knew that my dad dealt with “bad men”, and for some reason, I was convinced that this guy, as scrappy as he looked, was obviously one of the aforementioned “bad men” that my parents talked about. To this day, I still feel bad about hiding behind my dad when the other guy reached out to shake my hand.

When he left, my dad was (rightfully so) embarrassed and a little pissed. He asked me why I had hid behind him, and I told him my theory about the guy being a “bad man”. My dad, ever the lawyer, asked me why I thought this guy was a bad man. I shrugged.

“Was it because of his dirty clothes?”

I shrugged again.

“Was it because of how he looked?”

I shrugged again.

Then my dad pulled me over to the display of bananas, and told me to pick out any bunch I wanted. I picked, (responsibly, or so I thought), the “best” looking bunch– free of any bruises or markings. We bought them, and I took them home.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, and my dad pulled out an older bunch that we’d had for a couple of days, that were marked up and dirty on the outside. He plunked both of them down on the table in front of me, and then proceeded to say something that I will never forget for as long as I live.

He took one banana–one from the “perfect” bunch I’d selected, and one from the bunch that’d been sitting around for awhile.

“People”, he said, “Are a lot like bananas”.

I was seven, so I started laughing.

“Don’t laugh”, my dad said. He said it in his SUPER SERIOUS voice, so I got kind of scared. “I’m not joking. Listen. Look at this banana you picked today. It’s really nice on the outside, right?”

I nodded.

“Try it”.

He peeled the new banana and I tasted it, and it wasn’t ripe, so it was hard and it tasted terrible.

“Now try this one”. He peeled one of the marked up bananas.

The one he’d peeled was super, super questionable looking, with a bunch of grody black marks and bruises all over the peel, but when he opened it, the fruit itself was perfect, and it was just ripe enough to be delicious without being mushy.

“That man at the grocery store today is like this banana. He didn’t look very nice or very clean, and he has been bumped and bruised by life,  but on the inside, he is one of the best people I know. You can’t always judge someone by their outside. You have to talk to them, and get to know them–peel away their outside so you can get to know them on the inside. Does that make sense?”

I don’t remember what I said to him, or what we talked about after that. All I remember is sitting at our grey Formica top kitchen table, sharing that ugly, marked up banana off of one of my awesome Lion King plates.

Years later, I brought up that story to my dad. I asked him if he remembered it, and he told me that I did. I was in my (perpetual) smart ass phase at the time, and I asked him what he would have done if the shitty-looking banana had actually turned out to be bad.

He paused for a moment, looked me straight in the eye and said “You’re old enough to know now, for years, I was terrified that you were going to become a serial killer, because for weeks after I told you that, you kept talking about how you wanted to take off people’s skins so you could get to know them better. I figured at that point, I’d done enough damage”.

Then he went back to watching his baseball game and I went to rehearsal, and life continued on, as it often tends to do.

I later found out that that guy who had spoken to my dad in the grocery store was an ex-felon who my dad had put in jail. While he was in there, he had written my dad a letter, telling him about his problems with drug and alcohol abuse, and my dad went out of his way to get him transferred into a treatment program, instead of just sitting in jail. I the guy went on to get his degree and become a teacher. That guy (and a number of others) were the start of what would later become the Drug Court program in Illinois, which my dad helped found and organize.

I never realized how much of an impact my dad had until his funeral, when a whole bunch of guys stopped me in the parking lot, and when they found out who I was, they thanked me, telling me that they were graduates of the program, and that my father had saved their lives because he went out of his way to get them into the program instead of letting them “run through the cycle”.

They shook my hand and told me that my father was a good man. I’d known for years, but in that moment, I was entirely sure.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that my dad kicked ass and bananas are delicious.
(Side note, please keep sending in your suggestions. I’ve only got enough to last for the rest of the month so far). You can send them in with this HANDY FORM!!

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