September 27, 2013

Fathers, daughters and goldfish

I've been awake since four o'clock puzzling over what scintillating anecdote to relate today. My sister tells me it had better be funny because she needs a laugh. But at four in the morning I don't know how amusing I can manage to be.

However, in an effort to make Chris laugh, I will relate the story of my Dad and the goldfish.

My Dad was a wonderful man. He was very British; stiff upper lip, duty and honor in all things. He was raised by a widow who was just a bit nuts. When she was seventeen she ran off to Canada with the black sheep of the Clover family. (Here my sister, Heather, who has finished our family history will tell me I've got the timing all wrong, and I probably do, but you get the gist - young woman elopes with older man who can't get his act together.)

After my grandfather died when Daddy was very little, they moved around a lot. I believe Dad told me he had been to something like twenty schools in twelve years. He had one older brother, Bob, who was by all accounts an absolute terror. Dad himself was always the reliable one, the boy who got good grades, worked hard, and took things seriously.

He could be quite strict and unbending. I remember some royal battles he had with my brother over hair length and with me over skirt length. We had to eat everything on our plates or we sat at the table until we did. If we misbehaved at dinner, we were sent to the kitchen to finish. He had some pretty strict standards we were supposed to live up to.

But at heart my dad was a gentle pushover. He loved his wife, he loved his kids. He loved his pets.

We had many pets over the years. A lot of cats, a number of dogs, a rabbit named Eugene, a wild mockingbird who seemed to adopt us for a summer. And we had a goldfish. It was an ordinary fish, gold in color, kept in a bowl just like a million other goldfish. I don't remember it having a name.

For some reason Dad took care of the dumb thing. He would put the fish bowl in the kitchen sink and dribble cool water into it instead of just dumping the water and adding new. Sadly, the sink had an old single handle faucet with a mind of its own.

One Saturday, he did this maneuver in the usual way and left the bowl filling while he busied himself elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was the day the faucet took it into its head to slowly shift to HOT. I noticed too late. The little fish was a goner, boiled in his own bowl.

I told my mother who immediately said, "We can't tell your father." This was a constant refrain during my teenage years. He had an ulcer that might act up. But, really, I think my mother just didn't want to hear it. So she and I decided that I should run out to the store and get a new fish. We'd replace it and he'd never know he had whacked the little fishy.

I brought home the only goldfish I could find - a white one! We put it in the bowl and hoped he just wouldn't notice. But he did. And he was amazed. He excitedly called my mother and me into the kitchen to see this fish who had changed color! "Have you ever seen such a thing!" and "I can't believe it. This is amazing!"

My mother and I had to lock ourselves in the bathroom because we were laughing so hard. We never told him about the switch. And to this day I have no idea if my father really believed that fish had changed color. I like to think he did. I like to think he witnessed a miracle.


  1. Great story, Penny! I have to wonder if he had a good laugh, too, maybe pretending to know about the switch ... or maybe not.

  2. I know we get glimpses of the women in your family in your novel, but it's good to know that your Dad was cool too. And I'm SURE he had a good laugh!

  3. he probably thought you had killed it and replaced it. Poor man, never knew he committed the 'crime' but at least he knew enough to pretend not to notice.