Bed, Bath and the Great Beyond

Illustration: Eduardo Recife

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SLIDESHOW

Alex Banner on the ways his father keeps in touch.

Before my dad died of cancer, he wanted two things: for me to get into jazz, and to own a Tingler, one of those spidery, metal-pronged head scratchers. After he got sick, the Tingler fell down the priority list, but jazz—that was important. One day just before he went into the hospital for the last time, he and I drove around listening to music. He played me a track by Les McCann and Eddie Harris, a performance of "Cold Duck Time" with a good groove.

When my dad was near the end, his best friend, my brother and I sat with him while he played us the Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson record Black, Brown and Beige. It was a profound thing—us men, together, listening to this woman's voice. We knew we were saying goodbye. The last song we heard was "Come Sunday," and I thought, "This is the most beautiful song there ever was."

He died on a Wednesday, ten years ago in October. Not long after, my mom called, laughing through tears. She had found a Tingler in the discount bin at Bed Bath & Beyond. She took it to the counter. The clerk told her Bed Bath & Beyond didn't carry Tinglers. She could just have it, he said. My mom didn't call it a sign, but it was something, she said, something from beyond—or the beyond part of Bed Bath & Beyond, at least. She felt like he had visited her. And then, soon after, he visited me. I was a mason at the time, spending my days digging holes. One day, I was four feet into the ground, listening to "Cold Duck Time" on my headphones, when I hit something: a little white dove carved out of stone. I wept into the hole I'd dug.

Two months later I got laid off. For weeks I walked around San Francisco, asking for work at every job site I saw. I must have left a hundred résumés. One day I was so beat up, so broke and broken, I put on "Come Sunday," which I hadn't heard since that day with my dad. As it played, a guy called to offer me an apprenticeship as a woodworker. I had no experience, but I said yes.

I'd never believed in an afterlife, in heaven and hell. I'm not sure just what I believe now. But I do know that when people die, they don't just die.

I still think "Come Sunday" is the most beautiful song ever recorded, though I don't listen to it much. I prefer to save it. I keep the dove on a high shelf, watching over my house. I own my own woodworking business. And I use Mom's Tingler a lot. It feels so good—like a gentle hand, reaching out to touch you.