She used to iron his uniform, I think he called them fatigues, late at night. I watched her from the floor, sitting under the kitchen table. Sounds like a strange place to sit, but from there I could see the small black and white television on the breakfast bar in the kitchen and talk to my mother while she did her work. Mom colored at night at that kitchen table, hand-tinting black and white photographs with oil paints before the relentless advent of digital photography. She worked at the photography studio during the day but her real world seemed always at night. I watched all the old horror movies holding onto my mother’s legs under that table, secure in their strength. The scent of turpentine, linseed oil and thermos-glass instant coffee was her uniform.
The old metal frame of the ironing board would squeak as she pressed the creases into the khaki, the hiss of spray starch punctuating between creaks. Serious work, those uniforms. He had been wearing them since he was fifteen, when my father lied about his age and joined the Navy. In the Air Force now, Dad worked on the radios of the B-52 bombers. I watched him polish his heavy brogans in that kitchen too, ebony black. Dad’s real world always seemed to be the morning. Up at the literal crack of dawn, whistling, always rushing, packing. Dad worked. I watched him walk back to us from the flight line, his distinctive walk helping me pick him out from all the others. The smell of boot polish, starch and the Brilcreem in his hair was his uniform.