My Dad’s Magic Navel
By Joel Haas
One Christmas in the early 1950s, my mother bought several jumbo size cellophane bags of plastic toy cars. Plastics were just beginning to be used in making toys. Each bag, must have contained hundreds of toy cars about an inch long moulded in a variety of shapes and colors representing a wide range of cars then on the road.
It did not take my parents long to discover the promise of being given one or two of these little cars was a powerful incentive for my two younger brothers and I to behave. After supper, if we had been good and Mom and Dad were inclined to reward us, we’d each get a little car or two.
Their stroke of genius was in the presentation.
After concealing several tiny cars up his sleeve, Dad would lie upon the couch and, accompanied by hysterical grimaces, howls, and gyrations, “give birth” to toy cars by pulling them out of his bellybutton!
We boys always enjoyed the show almost as much as getting the cars. And, of course, we were in awe of Dad’s bellybutton. A thorough canvas of our friends demonstrated how lucky we were—nobody else’s father could do anything remotely like it.
My mother must have bought many bags of toy cars because this went on for years. Of course, she probably “recycled” some of the cars to the secret supply whenever she was cleaning up after us. Next to Lincoln Logs and little Monopoly houses, the toy cars were the most common litter we’d leave on the rug.
One summer morning, my brothers and I seized our only chance to view the inner workings of the “magic bellybutton.”
It was a Saturday in June, not yet 5:30 am but the sun was already up and so were my brothers and I. We always got up early Saturdays—literally at the crack of dawn—to see “Sunrise Theater,” a local television channel’s offering of B grade—or even C grade—horror and science fiction movies.
Passing down the hall to the den, I glanced into my parents’ bedroom. There, lying like a beached whale, Dad snored away, oblivious to the fact his pajama shirt was open.
The great mystery of the magic bellybutton might yet be plumbed!
Gathering my brothers, I took the flashlight from the laundry room, and then, crept to our parents’ bedside. Now, my parents slept in a very high and old fashioned bed. I, as the oldest, was the only one tall enough to gaze down into “the source.” Michael was tall enough to hold the flashlight in both hands over Dad’s stomach. John, still in “footie” pajamas, was along for moral support.
My father was a very rotund man, so adjust as he might; Michael could not get the flashlight to shine all the way down into Dad’s navel. Frustrated by this shadow, I suddenly took the initiative and plunged my chubby, childish index finger as far and hard as I could, right into the pit.
Instantly, Dad sat bolt upright in groggy surprise, Michael reared back, flashlight still in both hands, but now shining squarely into Dad’s face.
“What’s going on here?!” Dad bellowed.
Wisely, Michael moved the flashlight away from Dad’s face while I explained we were looking to see if he had any new cars growing in the bottom of his bellybutton.
“Well, I don’t!” Dad tried hard not to yell. Scooping his old US Army watch from the bedside table, he squinted at it, grumbling, “For the love of Pete! It’s 5:30 in the morning!!!!”
Scowling, he dismissed us. “Y’all go watch your picture show! And I don’t want to hear a peep out of you three! Go on now, so your mother and I can get some sleep!”
As we paraded out the door single file, Michael asked me, “What was it like? Did you feel anything?”
“Yeah,” John reiterated, “What was it like?”
“Kind of gummy,” I said as we entered the hall, “but no cars.”
Joel Haas, Raleigh, NC, November, 2001