April Fools Day: The Story of the Salt and the Sugar Shaker

selective focus photo of salt in glass jar

A personal essay remembering my father and our April Fool’s Day tradition.

April Fool’s Day: The Story of the Salt and the Sugar Shaker

An Essay of a Daughter and Her Father

It is March 31st. It is a day each year that my grief catches me by surprise. Although there have been several April Fool’s Days spent without my dad, each year, for one beautiful, heartbreaking second, I remember to go put salt in the sugar shaker. Then, before I even have time to finish the thought, my shoulders droop, once again weighed down by grief.

It started when I was in middle school. One morning, I witnessed my father lift a large sugar shaker – the same kind chain restaurants used before they all switched to packets – and shake an obscene amount of sugar into his coffee. “Dad! That’s too much!” I laughed.

“How else do you think I stay this sweet?” he joked.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. This happened on March 31st, decades ago. A seemingly silly couple of lines spoken in passing, yet out of it, a wholesome tradition was born.

That night, I would sneak into the kitchen and replace the sugar shaker with salt. The following morning, my dad sat down in his recliner with his coffee and took a sip. He recoiled, not quite understanding what was wrong with the coffee. “APRIL FOOLS,” I yelled, before he could even process what had happened. My dad shook his head and tipped his mug to me. “You got me,” He smiled. I proudly told everyone that I knew how I’d fooled my dad, the unfoolable, on April Fool’s Day.

Each year thereafter, I would pull the same prank. I would go to the kitchen after he went to bed and replace the sugar in the sugar shaker with salt. The next morning, he would wake up and innocently prepare his coffee. That was the beauty of the prank; it only worked because he hadn’t yet had his coffee and was still groggy. He’d take a sip. His face would contort in reaction to the heavy salt taste in his mouth and his eyes would fire with the recognition that he’d fallen for it, once again. He’d spit out the coffee and curse me loudly while he laughed. He’d shake his head and say “you got me again. You get me every single time.”

Years passed, and eventually I grew up and moved out. On March 31st, I’d call my little sister, and remind her to keep the tradition. He would call me the next morning. “You involved your sister in this?” he laughed.

 The next year, he was prepared. He texted me on April 1 to say, “I went out for coffee this morning, just in case you’d changed the sugar again.” I hadn’t changed it that year, though. We all lived too far apart from each other. I think that it was his sadness at the hundreds of miles that separated us that made him finally remember what day April Fools was. I sometimes wonder if he knew every year and played along anyway, just to let me think that I fooled him.

The year my dad died, I had planned to replace the sugar from his big sugar bin with salt. That way, if he figured it out and dumped the salt from the sugar dispenser, when he refilled it, he would be unwittingly refilling the sugar dispenser with more salt. I can only imagine what his reaction to that would have been. He was very sick at that point, and he died eighteen days later.

April Fool’s Day will always have such a special meaning to me. I know that someday I will lose that short, blissful second where I remember the tradition of the prank while having forgotten that I cannot play it anymore. When that day comes, I will still have the memory of my dad’s gentle laugh and how he loved me so much that his pride that I had fooled him outweighed the frustration of being fooled.

Go forth and prank the people you love.

The Salt and the Sugar Shaker
My dad and I, circa 1998

For Dad. July 15, 1951 – April 18, 2017.

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