"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Monday, March 29, 2010


Lately I've been wanting to write about my father.  Probably because:

1)I'm currently transposing a big bunch of his essays and "stream of consciousness" thoughts to a blog, which I thought I'd then share with some people who know him and might like to read them (he's been published in the newspaper as a paid contributor so he's doing better than I); 
2)He and my mother have closed their safe deposit box (for some reason, I don't ask) and not only have I seen their last will and testament laying on the couch over there in a folder, rumor has it he's got new thoughts in his head about what he wants to do with the house; 
3)He asked me to type up his wishes for what he wants and doesn't want for his funeral, which made me very light-headed (makes life seem so prosaic in so many ways...);and,
4)Somebody started one of those "post this on your status if" things on Facebook and it was "if your dad is your hero, etc. post this" deals.  Then today, out of the blue a Facebook friend posts "Anyone can be a father but it takes someone special to be a Dad."  And I happen to know she, my friend Jerry, was raised by a step-father, not that they had any animosity between them, I'm just sayin'.  Anyway, I read The Celestine Prophecy.  I know about synchonicity.

I can not be objective when I write about him, or anyone else in my immediate world, I just want to warn you.  But  my father is, in fact, an interesting case study  for anyone who is capable of this, which is illustrated nicely by the varied character sketches of him which journalists have written over the years.  They make an appointment, they set aside what I'm sure is very valuable time to them, they meet my father and it all flies out the window.  My father - really, a country boy who yes, saw more of the world than the average Joe (in the service) but who ended up a couple of houses from the one in which he was born, and seems quite happy about it - will charm you, disarm you and literally play music for you.  You may form an opinion that this is an intelligent, genteel and sincere man, who's also pretty funny, and he is.  But what keeps you in your seat I think are the eccentric, Thurber-esque bits and pieces weaving in and out of serious, plain and usually pleasant conversation.  No lie.  The man defines eccentric.

Example: my friend Gregg (here's Gregg again, the same guy who was in the The Forty-Degree Thing!) has known Dad for over 25 years.  Gregg lives quite a ways away so no longer gets to see Dad on a regular basis, but one of the routine questions Gregg will ask me on the phone is "Has your dad done anything funny lately?"  (He also asks that of my uncle Bob Zuppe.  Bob Zuppe is wonderful fodder for funny stories.  When Dad and he get together it is very akin to Andy and Barney, Dean and Jerry, Ricky and Fred...wait, don't get me off track.)  

Probably the funniest thing Gregg thinks my dad ever did (because he, Gregg, refers to it so often) occurred the day Dad and I were trying to get a box spring up to the second floor of my parents' 1702 colonial house.  We had long practice, as pretty much anything on the second floor of that house has had to come in through the window; the stairs are tiny and too angled.

Anyway I was up in Dad's room standing by the window and Dad was halfway up the ladder and the box spring was stuck half in and half out of the window and Dad lost his footing.  "I'm going to fall!" he started yelling, "I'm losing it!  I'll aim for the shrubs, that way maybe I won't get hurt."  Yes, he actually had enough time to say all that before he fell.  Then he yelled "Here I go!" and sure enough, letting go of the ladder he went down ass-first onto a yew bush, which broke his fall perfectly.  "Here I go!" has been the battle cry for our family and for Gregg, who is like family, whenever the situation warrants it.  I think it is just a little three-word-sentence that we think of as first, a perfect picture of the incident and second, as a charming inside joke, and third, as a small but united affirmation. Of what, I don't know.

But there is just so much more.  There is Dad standing there quietly putting on his pants and suddenly in a puzzled manner, as if to himself, musing "I wonder how many people in the world are putting one leg into their pants right now."  You could tell he really wanted to know, too.

There is Dad's mercurial attitudes which he often levels off with a propensity for carving small-to-medium size propellers out of scrap wood.

There is Dad trying to nab a mosquito that's dive-bombing his head as he sits talking with Gregg, and Gregg saying "Did you get him?" and Dad answering "No, but I think I scared him pretty bad."  Gregg always says this immediately created a "Far Side" cartoon in his head of a big mosquito's face with eyes round and full of fright, stopping in mid-air to scurry the other way.  That image never left him.

There is Gregg explaining to Dad that he's going to use just his wood stove for heat one winter and Dad saying quite seriously "I don't know if that's a good idea.  What do you think, wood grows on trees?"

And there is Dad dressed in his workaday finery (and he loved going into good mens' clothing stores and picking out suits, ties, hats and coats) mowing the lawn or raking leaves, which tickled all who have seen this.  In  fact my friend Jerry, who I spoke of above, having not seen Dad or me for over twenty years, when reunited on Facebook and asking about my family asked if Dad still shingled the roof in his coat and tie.  It has become legendary, I would guess.

But a lot of this is "You had to be there" type stuff (I can only tell you that this man knelt to take a bath and smoked his pipe throughout, I can't show you pictures -- which is good news for all of us), and I realize that, so if you've been bored or felt let down by any of these recollections, I will understand.  Dad deserves a really good character sketch, and sitting at my kitchen table on a Monday morning with serious rain falling outside and a cat who can not make up his mind if he wants to be in or out (I've gotten up four times so far) and me trying to forecast how much money I have to last til the end of the month, is not likely to produce many good results, I'm afraid.

Suffice it for now at least that there is a man you could look at as the absent-minded professor, the baffled sheriff, the tender-hearted stooge.  I almost wrote about 1)the oddest thing I've ever eaten, or 2)collection agencies, or 3)whether astrology really has a basis.  I probably will write about that stuff pretty soon.  It all seems to beg some good exploration.  But I've been wanting to write about my father.  And I still do.

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