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My father, James Owens Sr., opening gifts on Christmas day, circa 1985. Photo by Edwina Owens Elliott.

I think about my father just about every day. He was an interesting and complex man. Far from perfect, he could be an angel one minute and a mutha the next. I adored him. And will probably write about him a lot. He left behind plenty of stories. Here’s one…

Sometimes Daddy and I grocery-shopped together. I lived alone, reveling in my single life, and he lived alone, too. He and my mother had separated for the last time years earlier, right after I graduated from high school, but they were still married and did just fine as long as she had her house and he had his.

Grocery shopping with him was like going on a little adventure. Fat and fine, he was a handsome Mississippi charmer and the ladies loved him. Flirting came as natural to him as his full, silvery head of hair. His focus would often be the cashiers —

“Oh, that’s a pretty hairstyle…”
“What a lovely blouse you’re wearing.”
“Purple is indeed your color.”

Were any of the women offended? Did anyone call the police or complain to the manager? Nope. Sometimes they would sneak a peek at me, unsure of my status. Was I his daughter? His wife? His caretaker? But they all smiled. Some giggled and blushed. Others flirted back. His compliments made their day.

Of course, before we’d even gotten to the register, Daddy had eaten half a pound of grapes back in the fruit section. He’d walk the store aisles cracking and munching on pecans or walnuts he’d taken from the open produce bin. And once we’d check out, exit the store, put all of our bags in the trunk and get settled in the front seat, he’d show me the little things he’d slipped into his jacket pocket. A can of black pepper. Sardines. A pack of oreo cookies.

“One day they’re gonna catch you, Daddy. Then what?”

His round tummy, usually swathed in a snappy argyle sweater, would jiggle as he laughed.

What else could I do but chastise him? And try not to laugh myself. Like so many men, the Peter Pan in him never died. And he never got caught.

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