I guess it’s natural to forget “stuff” as you grow up. Too bad it isn’t all the bad stuff and remember only the good. But I’ve been in a mood lately to look at old photographs. I scan them so I can save them and also they can be enlarged and brightened or whatever, enhanced, with the result being you can oftentimes they are much more clear in detail. You can see faces better usually. Anyway, I forgot it a while (lol, if decades counts for “a while”) but I remember now a time and a feeling of connection, of “him and me”. Those feelings are portrayed very well in a picture that is now one of my most favorite. My brother shares most of the credit for me remembering because he talks about how my dad used to carry me everywhere. How special, but also how odd, that it isn’t until I’m in my 50’s that I learn this new and, to me, pleasing revelation. If I ever thought about it, the “age” thing (I don’t think I did much until now that I’m getting “on” in years) it must have been hard for him when I was born. Because, for one thing, he was 55 when I was born yet through these pictures and my memories and what my brother shared, I know he liked me. And its opened up a whole lot of memories, not huge ones, but snippets big enough to learn from and enjoy remember. I have discovered that, incredibly, he liked me, and probably he loved me too.
Why do such nice memories have to be marred with painful knowledge and memories?
My father was mugged in his own yard, my parents were just divorcing and he was on his own being probably 80 years old or so. My mother who had, for so many years, seemingly lived a very (too) religious life and a reputation as a very good and kind person, had left my father for somebody new. Well, I think she was in her own way a good person but her way never seemed to include caring that much about me. Anyway, she had switched directions midstream, had taken an interest in a few someone elses. And the last one, she had moved in him and eventually they got married somewhere else. None of the “old” or “original family, us, were invited or present (not saying I would have wanted to be or would have gone though) so I guess I don’t feel hurt about it. So typical of my mother to behave and act in ways that would have had me with a scarlet letter on every item of clothing I had and probably branded as well. She had this way of justifying whatever it was she did at the same time she was very critical, very cold often, where I was concerned. When I first became sexually aware and later active, I guess it was natural she wasn’t thrilled for me but she might have tried to advise me ahead of time, maybe in a conspiratorial “girls” kind of way that could’ve brought us closer together. Or maybe I’m just dreaming and stuff like that doesn’t happen anywhere but the movies, I really don’t know because I only have knowledge of how it was with my mother.
Anyway, it was during that time, with the pain and I think, humiliation that my father must have felt, the rejection. And then the fact that she was still young enough (50 or so?) to go out and have fun and make a new world for herself, including a new family she seemed to care, imo, more about than she did me. I was still very immature and young myself, 25 or so, so most things I thought about, sad to say, revolved in some way around me. But not that I was stuck up or arrogant, no, it was an obsession almost with wanting to find evidence that I was important in my own right and that’s still a problem for me even today. I wish it wasn’t but that’s the truth and maybe if I was a better person I would have been able to unhitch myself from those feelings. But I ain’t I guess, I’m just me.
But that’s where “things” were, what life was during that time. And I felt a loyalty to my father (I wonder if inside me somewhere too I didn’t have these feelings based on the closeness we had back then but that I forgot. Then one summer day, these two creeps, thugs actually though I have no idea what they looked like, followed him home apparently from the store and mugged him in his own yard. Which seems to me would have been taken by him as doubly painful for a man who had always carried himself and his possessions safe from intrustion or harm. I wish I had understood better, back then, just how much of a blow this must have been to him but he didn’t make a big deal out of it. I should have made sure to tell the police, I don’t know if he did or not. But the police didn’t always get involved so much back then it seems to me whether because of custom or just because of the time and/or the way we (my family) were. But all my memories of my father were of this larger than life man I looked up to (and I confess sometimes feared during my rebellious years). He had always carried himself well, not haughty or arrogant, just self-possessed and assured and confident. And after that, it wasn’t that way so much anymore.
He seemed “softer” and smaller to me and when I think back, not quite as tall and not nearly so confident. Always before, his home, such as it was, was his castle as the saying goes. And now? The unpleasant knowledge to such a man that he had been robbed and he had been unable to stop it or defend himself. He didn’t give a lot of details but I think maybe they pushed him or threatened him or maybe even struck him (my mind can’t absorb that picture). I think it was too hurtful to him to, in his mind, confess his newfound weakness and having been just dealing with the news my mother was involved with someone else. So my father lived alone at that time and then this very real threat occurs to this strong and self-confident man. My father was never the same after that. If in fact he did feel shame, he had no reason to and if I had been more aware and in-tune with him I would have told him so. The two surly and hateful thugs should have (I wonder if they ever did reflect on it and feel bad or were they coldhearted jerks forever) felt guilty, but not my father. They took more than money from my father. They took something he would never regain, his confidence in himself. I remember when I was still at home, my mother telling my father he shouldn’t be carrying the sums of money (however much it was I don’t know) he did as “someday” someone was going to “do something”. And now, all these years later, sadly, one of her predictions came true. But she wasn’t there to help him through it. Other than myself, and I guess he told my husband (my ex now) but knowing my ex like I do I doubt he was much help but then neither was I. We were still “young” and sound and Not Alone.
My father grew up in a hard, tough world I think if common sense is any measure to go by. One of 14 children born to a struggling immigrant couple living on a remote farm and with not much money or conveniences, and a story or two I heard, his life was far from easy. H’d joined the Navy and served in World War I (incredible!). But my father knew how to dress up when the time was right, like for Sunday church. His word for it, if he saw the same kind of thing and way of dressing up in someone else, was “snazzy”. He cleaned up real good and was always well-shaved. And when Sunday rolled around and he put on his suit and tie and fedora he did indeed look “snazzy” although I never thought back then of him as being snazzy, I knew he took dressing up seriously. No clip-on ties for him, he knew how to “do a tie knot”. I watched him do it lots of times and the tie and the knot always would be in the right place as far as length and the knot “balanced out”. And his shoes were always well-shined. You wouldn’t ever catch him dressed in a suit and tie with an incongruous pair of sloppy unpolished shoes. His fedora hat was, if I recall correctly, a Stetson, not cheap.
When his good one got a certain degree of “wear” to it, it became his old work or everday hat and a new quality hat took its place for Sundays and special days. He did not spend much money on himself but when he bought something he wanted quality. However humble his education or his life or his earnings or his home, he was a good man. I think one measure of a “good man” is that he is all the things my father was in spite of all the advantages he never had.
Due to my own problems, my feelings I’d never dealt with for things I never revealed to anyone, plus the difference in years, moreso than most father/daughter or sons relationships, we weren’t close really. We “operated” in two different worlds while I was still home. No one talked much, you just did whatever you had to do and dealt with whatever came your way. That’s a shame, I realize now, especially in light of my returning memories of a time when him and me were buddies I think. Like I said, we lived in two different worlds. He wanted to watch Walter Cronkite news or Dan Rather (the new young upstart) and I wanted to go out and experience some of the world outside my small experiences. My mother was not one to give pep talks about how “you’re a good or fine” kind of person. She had self-esteem for herself, maybe because she’d been forced to in order to survive her difficult life when she was younger. But she sure didn’t pass any of that along. I rarely if ever felt like I had any real value, which maybe has more than a little to do with the “trouble” I got into.
This picture I found a picture of him with me recently, I’d seen it before but it didn’t really impress (register with me). Until now, until my brother shared what he knew as my older brother, and my snippets of special memories. In all the pictures of us together he’s either carrying me, holding my hand, or down on ground level with me, ain’t that sweet? We were “in touch” back then, not maybe so much in words as my daddy was never really into talking, but in spirit we were one I think. I can only imagine his thoughts as he saw his cute little girl growing up into a teenager back in the 60’s, the Beatles and all, and like all teenagers wanting some autonomy. I wonder if he ever thought something like “wow, what have I done, why DID I do that). Where’d his sweet baby girl go to? With the exception of one time, any corporal punishment that came my way came from the hands and doing of my mother. So I guess that’s the way it just was but I know for a fact that because of his age, and my experiences and feelings of guilt from before, we were definitely not “getting” each other. But in the end, at the end of his life, we came back together again and it was him and me right to the end. I was with him the day he died and I was overcome with a kind of grief I was very unfamiliar with.
Anyway, this picture, if you could see it, I look at it now with “new” eyes of appreciation and love. I see a man who is definitely not young anymore with a little girl at a country “swimming hole”. She is quite cute, really, blonde curly hair, very small in a plain swimming suit, but she seems to feel quite safe, quite sure of herself because she is with daddy. He is down on my level, he’s gotten down in such a way as to be very near me, his face just inches from mine. He doesn’t seem to be unhappy and wishing he was home (where I mostly remember him) but glad to be a part of the life of this little girl. And for myself, I hadn’t yet learned how bad a place, how scary, the world can be especially for little girls.
I love this picture, I love my dad, I hope he’s somewhere and knows that and maybe I will surprise myself and make it there too and then oh boy, I’m gonna give him the biggest hug he ever had. Maybe someday we’ll be together again, my daddy n me.