Tag Archives: Father

Leaving Elias’ House

His dad stood on the back of the pickup. His sleeves rolled up, his hair matted with sweat, Maynard thought, “This is how I’ll always remember him.” Of course that wasn’t true, the way many things we think aren’t true for long, if they ever were. Maynard will remember his father the way he will look at 63, lying in a hospital bed looking thinner than he had since he’d graduated college. Maynard will see that man in that hospital bed in his own face when the skin begins to sag and gather around the edges of things like a bed slept in. But the day they moved grandma out of her and Pawpaw’s house, he saw his dad standing on the back of PawPaw’s red Ford and thought he looked completed, as though every moment in his dad’s life had been forming the man he was right then and the years to come would only erode and chip at his surface.

Grandma sat on her porch while they moved her things out of the house. She seemed to be remembering each brick that outlined the edge of the porch as though she’d lain them herself. She was moving to the Ever Glades Maturity Center, an awful, ridiculous name, but the nicest they could afford. The Center’s porch–she’d noted–looked like it’d been constructed out of thick plastic meant for the siding of a house or a playground for accident prone kids. She’d have to share the space with God knows how many others. It’d be a main attraction, a thing to do rather than the rest stop between her garden and her home. Maynard banged out of the side door with her bedside table, using the feet of the thing to force the screen door open. She moved from the bench to the concrete floor of the porch. The burn of the hot concrete through her cotton dress–she’d begun wearing big, shapeless cotton dresses after Elias died–reminded her of sitting by the pool as a kid, her mother’s voice from inside the house asking what flavor of popsicle everyone wanted. She reached her hand over the edge of the porch as if to touch the water, closed her eyes and felt the sun on her skin, focusing on the bead of sweat making its way down her back.

“What’s grandma doing?” Maynard asked his father. They leaned against the truck like some black and white photo.

Maynard’s father used his sleeve to catch the sweat before it reached his eyes. “What do you mean? She’s just sitting there.”

“Yeah, but I mean, what’s she doing with her hand?” Maynard knew he should let it drop, but he felt like he and his dad were on even planes right then, doing the same amount of work, both watching the end of something they had thought would always exist.

“Well, she sure ain’t bringing that old dining table out to the side of the street, so maybe we should get on it.”

Maynard nodded, kept himself from saying, “Yes, sir.”

They didn’t say much the rest of the afternoon, even when Maynard broke a vase and cut his finger. He stuck the finger in his mouth and tore a piece of his shirt off to tie around it when the bleeding didn’t stop. All the bathroom stuff had already been packed and moved out. The house had been rented out, and they had asked if some of the old furniture could be left in the house for their use. They were recent college grads who couldn’t afford things like the island in the kitchen or queen-sized bed in the master bedroom. Maynard’s father was hesitant to rent the house that he grew up in to kids not much younger than his son, who he didn’t seem to trust, but Maynard had convinced him it’d be cheaper to store the old furniture in the house rather than in a storage unit. Throwing it away hadn’t been an option.

They sidestepped the old woman, still pretending to run her hands through the cold blue water. Her upper lip was beaded with sweat and her hairline clung to her skin, but she didn’t seem to notice. Maynard set his glass of water next to her, just in case. After he walked away, she stuck her fingers in it and ran them over her face.

I’m working on a lot of things right now, specifically a collection of stories, so if something feels unfinished, it probably is. Don’t judge me. See you next week!

Picked Him Up at Three

She stood next to her father, thinking about the more than just two foot height gap between them. She fingered her pulse. My blood, she thought, is the same as his. When she was younger she thought of any relation she had to her father as an infection, an unavoidable and fatal flaw she’d tried to hide. Now he was out of prison, standing next to her with the same curly, straw-colored hair and lip-biting habit.

“How you feeling?” she asked him, trying to ignore the stink on his clothes from the government-issued soap. He smelled like a hospital, sanitized but still not clean.

“So far so good,” he said. The alarm on her watch beeped, telling her she was late to pick her dad up. She’d been so afraid she’d forget that she set three alarms at home. She forgot she’d set the watch alarm. She banged her stumpy fingers that looked like his against the buttons she wasn’t sure how to work, afraid the high pitched sound would never stop. The bus pulled up as she silenced the incessant beep. She led her father onto the bus, putting three dollar bills into the slot for each of their fares. He seemed embarrassed that she had to pay for him, whispered something she assumed was a thank you.

They sat toward the back, next to a young kid. She looked around for his mother, but he appeared to be alone. His headphones were cheap, and she could make out some of the lyrics of the rap song he was listening to.

“Thanks for coming today, Scout,” her father said. She stopped staring at the kid to look at her father. He hadn’t called her that in years and the sound of it felt out of place and forced.

He smiled in his way that looked like he was grimacing. She stared at the bus map overhead, counting the stops to her apartment.

[So this is something I wrote—and tweaked a little—at Creative Copy Challenge, a cool website with writing exercises to get the juices going. I hate that phrase. Too late now.]

Before The Flood – Bob Dylan and The Band

I sang Stage Fright in the living room
Skipped over four to avoid the gloom
Of a beautiful song dressed in death while we were both alive
Casually and comically cast aside.

I Shall Be Released, from the car it dully roared
Engine under stress from the hill endured
Conversation about the life he had led
As we ignored what Dylan said.

The only track we skipped in the car that night
Was a song surreal with forward sight
The morning came much too soon
A dying man in a living room.

Thanks I’ll Eat It Here – Lowell George

Lately I have found myself fixated on death. Not the actual cause or philosophy of grief, but the thoughts before death, the victim’s own self awareness of a death that could otherwise be categorized as sudden and unexpected. Patsy Cline claimed for years she had feelings that she was not going to live past age 30. Cline went as far as to hand write a will on a commercial airline just a short time before her death which coincidentally came in the form of a plane crash in rural Tennessee. Brian Jones went as far as to write his own epitaph before his death at the age of 27 which read “Please Don’t Judge Me Too Harshly”

The reason for these thoughts is the fact that my father, in his last year, had grown more wistful, emotional and responsible. He retired, cleaned out his workspace and displayed his collection of locker 37 memorabilia which he had accumulated over the last 30 years. This collection contained cut outs from the newspaper, pictures of my brother and I throughout various years of awkward adolescence, notes from a younger version of my mother she had ages ago packed lovingly into his lunch. We spent time discussing his music collection and the fact that after he had died I would be left with nothing but good music to remember him by, not the Big Band cassettes my grandfather had left him.

A week before his death my father led my Mother, Brother and myself to a house on a quiet street in Newport. This house was where my father spent a lot of his time until his grandmother passed away around the time he was 6. We stood there quiet in the slim beams of sun while the cold February morning warmed to a barely tolerable temperature. He spoke of the vineyard they kept in the backyard they used to make their own wine and how his Grandmother used to call him “Peaches and Cream Cheeks” due to his rosy young complexion. We waited patiently while he finished a conversation with a mailman we had run into and then made our way back to the car.

At the time I didn’t think much of this journey. My father was just telling a story we had never heard before. After a few months I began thinking more about how he had acted that day. Many animals have an instinct which enables them to be self aware of the harsh fact of death. When Wolves die they leave the pack to die alone. Elephants wander off to graveyards which are designated for the death of their species. It’s tough to know if the actions of my father were due to confusion on how to react to a sudden change in his life and inability to fill time during a retirement, or if somehow he was subconsciously aware of his limited time. A week later, down the street from his grandmother’s house, 3 blocks away from his childhood home, my father passed away. Another seemingly poetic foreshadowing on the end of an otherwise private average life.

Lowell George Died of a heart attack at the age of 34. Hours before, he performed his last song ever, 20 Million Things (to do)

If it’s fix a fence, fender dents
I’ve got lots of experience
Rent gets spent
And all the letters never written don’t get sent
It comes from confusion, all things I left undone
It comes from moment to moment, day to day
Time seems to slip away

But I’ve got twenty million things to do, twenty million things
And all I can do, is think about you
With twenty million things to do

I’ve got mysterious wisteria hanging in the air
The rocking chair I was supposed to fix
Well it came undid
And all the things that I let slip, I found out quick
It comes from moment to moment, day to day
Time seems to slip away

But I’ve got twenty million things to do, twenty million things
And all I can do, is think about you
With twenty million things to do

And all I can do, is think about you
With twenty million things to do

Hot Rats – Frank Zappa

I woke up hungover. Saturday night spilled into Sunday morning with no sign of the snow that had been previously predicted. My apartment was so empty it echoed; boxes were still packed and I probably would have been lonely if it wasn’t for the security of youth and the constant inner dialogue. “It didn’t snow, weather said it won’t until tomorrow, I guess I have to drive to the island.” I usually try to make nights out of my trips–6 hours of visiting barely makes three hours of driving enticing–but it was my father’s birthday and I had already told him I wasn’t coming because of the weather. I woke up, showered and decided to head to Rhode Island.

I walked up to the front stairs and saw a familiar sight: my father sitting on the couch watching TV, tapping his fingers and occasionally taking a drag on his cigarette. After casual conversation my father got off the couch, walked into the dining room and returned with a worn crumpled paper bag. He pulled out a Portable CD player, a pair of large studio headphones and a Frank Zappa album, Hot Rats. We had a sound system, but he wanted me to listen to the guitar solo the way he did in the Army. No, not on drugs, but with headphones. We bought a microwave for my new apartment and ate cake to celebrate his birthday, but really we spent most of the day listening to music. I drove back to Boston right around the time it started snowing. I saw three accidents on the expressway and got drunk to celebrate the snowstorm that was going to allow me to sleep in Monday.

********************************

The phone woke me up that morning. I shoveled through a foot of snow and followed plows like a funeral procession down Route 24.

A week later I was at a bar my parents frequented and one of the patrons walked up to me and said, “You know, the last time I saw your father he had a crumpled paper-bag full of music he was showing everyone”

I thought for a second, and said “Me too.”

Rock On-Humble Pie

This album was a stab in the dark. I chose Rock On by Humble Pie for three reasons. 1) My father owned two copies on vinyl and copy on CD. 2) This record was released in 1971, the same time my father was stationed in Germany while serving in the army (draft, not volunteer) and 3) Humble Pie features the lead guitar and vocal styling of one Peter Frampton, who left the band a year after Rock On was released to pursue a much more lucrative solo career (i.e. play guitar with the annoying “talk-box” and write songs like “Oo, Baby I Love Your Way) Needless to say once I heard about Frampton’s involvement I began to have second thoughts, maybe I’d turn to something with a little more meaning behind it, something we shared, something we both liked…but no. That’s not why I got into this. At the least, I needed to listen, to try and find out why my father had so many copies of this album (and why he had so many other Humble Pie records.)

Wow.

Steve Marriott was the leader of the band and it is apparent on this album that he took artistic control. “79th and Sunset” features lyrics that would pink the cheeks of most mid-seventies Frampton fans. Most of the songs have a deep Zepplin-esque blues-metal feel to them, while they lacked the thunderous drumming of John Bonham they were able to deliver a powerful sound because of the two guitarists, one who switched to keys intermediately. Sure, they were a good band who would tour in the 70’s with the heavy hitters people of Generation Y still idolize, but you’d be hard pressed to find a trace of them in today’s popular culture. I can understand why Humble Pie didn’t quite stand the test of time; they fit in, but didn’t stand out.

Why does this album have such a large presence in my Father’s collection? I think it has a lot to do with where he was at that moment in time. It was 1971, he was drafted into the army and spent a lot of time hanging out with the various other recruits who had the unfortunate luck to have their numbers drawn. They weren’t army material and they spent the majority of their time listening to records, altering their minds, and trying to avoid the shell shocked and mildly insane Vietnam transfers. I can tell which records he took overseas with him and which ones he bought there by the initials on the inside of the sleeve (GWC written in marker) or by the language in the liner notes (German). These records were different then what he usually listened to. My father preferred Blues, Funk, Indie Rock and Soul, but through his army years he had Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf, a lot of heavy music. While most of us have music that defines a period of our lives, in this I feel that my father had a time in his life that defined the music he enjoyed.

Two side notes.
1) Humble Pie is mentioned as a touring band alongside Stillwater, Bad Company and Led Zepplin in the movie Almost Famous.
2) Peter Frampton wrote the 2 most radio friendly, pop-oriented songs on this album. Although it pains me to say this; he is actually a damn good rock guitarist.