Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Leaves Memories

My father never promised much. So when he did, the expectation was always a little overboard. Like the time he was all set for his vacation and lost his job on the eve of a special dinner to celebrate the event. The bottle of white wine chilled in the refrigerator for the next ten years.
At his worst, he was distant, brooding, obsessive-compulsive, and underachieving. At his best, he was warm, tactile, intelligent, and romantic. I owe my interest in literature, history, politics, and music to him. He often told me that I reminded him of my mom, and that brought us closer after her death. I don't think he ever got over the fact that she died at 54. His death came 10 years later at 71.
My father bought into his own chiseled version of the American dream. I love this photo of my sister and me smiling as he dutifully cuts the grass. Could this moment in time bring contentment? Aside from the house payment and the two kids in the suburbs, his was a world of July 4th picnics and parades, baseball doubleheaders, dramatic political conventions, and neighborhood gatherings to celebrate wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and mild weather.
My father was really a New Yorker all his life. Even though I'd never been in New York with him, he lived partly in the San Fernando Valley and partly in New York. He never drove a car. He loved baseball and was a loyal Giants fan, not too easy in L.A.
When I think of my father, I think of his dedication to our front lawn. I could never rake the leaves or mow the lawn correctly. I gave up trying. Wish I had known then about that lawn being one of the only things he could control. How it became such a wonderful metaphor for his life. I remember one windy Saturday morning after all the leaves were raked and the lawn mowed his way, (first North/South and then East/West) he stood there a minute and then as one or two leaves blew off the big Silver Maple tree n the front yard, he'd go back and pick them up. He did this for about 15 minutes. I was peeking out of the living room window, where I was sneaking a look at the Major League game of the week, watching him wait, gather up a few new leaves, and then stand back. After he finally walked up the driveway, a dozen more leaves trickled to the ground. Something Sisyphean about his life. Perhaps all life.

1 comment:

Cameron McPherson Smith said...

the immediate post-war period is so interesting. there's the relief of having won, the promise of what could be done next, and (ironically i think, for the champions of 'freedom') the perceived responsibility to fit into very narrow social roles. and all this in a world that was just inventing suburban life, changing from a pretty-much rurual country to a pretty-much suburban country. i think it's no wonder people were confused and content all at the same time. american history seems to just move way too fast for its citizens to keep up. it's just too much, too fast...