It’s a gorgeous day. 93 degrees, periwinkle sky, perfect for sitting outside Peet’s and drinking one of the new, 150 calorie Freddos. (They’re like a coffee slushy.) I did just that with my bff, T. She just got back from an Alaskan cruise where she managed to lose two pounds in eleven days of eating two deserts twice a day. I gained, of course, but it was cyclical weight and I’m not too worried about .5 pounds. Honestly, so what? If I keep gaining .5 a week I will have a stern conversation with myself. But that is not for today. Today is for cold coffee, walks with my seven(!) year old and screen doors. It’s also time to write about some family history.
The other night my father started talking and I started listening. He doesn’t talk too much about his past. It’s as if his life began after Vietnam when he married my mother. We hear tidbits, but not as much as we’d like. We’ve been back to his hometown, played piano for his mother at the rest home, and returned for our grandmother’s funeral, but that was about it. Whenever my dad speaks of his childhood and past, my brother and I savored it. The world my dad grew up in is like another country. It would never be written down, as much as we wanted him to write his memoirs, so we had to listen closely. Of course he exaggerated, so do I, but there is always enough truth to want to remember. His story is what is important.
My dad’s biological father was a creep. Let’s call him “Donald”. I’m sure the extended family breathed a huge sigh of relief when he left. My grandma was pregnant with my dad at the time Donald left, which made things a little difficult. After that she remarried a man significantly older than her, to the man who was my real grandpa.
My dad started talking about his step-father, Floyd Earl. Although he didn’t know it at the time, my dad said, he was one of the best men my father knew. My dad told the story I’ve heard a dozen times about their courtship. Grandpa asked Grandma to the movies. She told him she had three boys, so he took the four of them to the show. I can just imagine three tuffy haired boys on one side of grandma and old Grandpa on her other. He asked her again, wanting to be romantic. She told him, I don’t want to go to the movies. I want to get married.” So they did.
My father said that his father was crazy about his mother. My grandma, Marylou didn’t do anything to earn his affection. She couldn’t cook, never worked, and never drove. None of that mattered to him, he just loved her to death. She, on the other hand, still carried a torch for her first husband, and favored her oldest son because he looked the most like him.
I loved hearing these stories. I had heard a lot of bad things about them, but wanted to fill in the spaces with the good. I chat with my cousin on line a few times a week and told her I knew all sorts of great family stories. I told her and she listened politely. Then she told me all these awful stories, of how Grandpa always favored is only biological son, buying him a bicycle and hamburgers when the other kids got none. She told me about how they made her dad drop out of school so he could help support the family. She told me how Donald and gone around and written hot checks everywhere in their small town. Since her father was Donald Jr, it got so there was no place in town without a check with his name on it on the wall as submitted and unpaid. There were so many others things she had to say, and I was not really surprised. There are a lot of stories I’ve heard that I didn’t bring up. (I want to add, though, that I probably inherited my bipolar from this side of the family. My eldest favorite uncle had schizophrenia, there is some question whether or not my grandmother was also ill.) Still, I wanted to have a somewhat sunny view of our family of origin, I wanted there to be good things to tell my daughter, and as bad as things were, there were good things. For example, she and I are friends. My dad and his younger brother are good friends and visit each other frequently even though they are far away. I’ve talked to her about it since. I don’t want my perspective to negate the suffering her family went through. They stayed; my father left. He was able to move on, and their family hasn’t. Later I talked about it with her, and she said she was okay.
Forgiveness still needs to play a big part in the family. I think in my dad’s case it has and the guilt and after all these things unforgiveness has run its course. He hadn’t seen his biological dad for thirty plus years when Donald got in touch with one of his older brothers. I don’t know what he wanted but I doubt it was much more than money. At that time we were planning a trip to his home state and my father told me he was thinking about going over and visiting his dad. I told him what my brother and I talked about years ago. If we ever visited his house, we would not get out of the car. We probably could have garnered more sympathy for Donald, but even though we were very young we still understood how people like him work. My dad would have gone to the door with a great probability of rejection. My dad would want to introduce him to his children that he was so proud of so he might get some sort of validation as a father and a person. I’m sure he would not have been impressed. He would not praise him for having such terrific kids. There would be no good news. I didn’t tell him the reasons, just that we wouldn’t go. That was it, my father trusted us, and he never spoke of visiting him again.
I was the one who told my dad he was dead. I found out on a website dedicated to the deceased of his small hometown. Perhaps it was modern-day pauper’s grave, but my father was upset. He thought about it and said, “If I had known, I would have paid to give him a proper burial.” My heart feels like it is going to pop when I think of this. My daughter is sick of me pointing out grace, but I think that there is no other word to describe his plan. That man deserved nothing, but was going to be given something honorable for a man who, in so many ways, paid for it all.