6/16/10

I CALLED HIM ATTICUS | FATHER'S DAY



I guess I've always been the kind of person to speak-up and to wear my heart on my sleeve. My father encouraged it. My 9th grade creative writing teacher told me to try to hide my emotions a bit {he was a Bouvier, a cousin of Jackie}, but I've never been good at that. When my father Jerry {I called him Atticus} was clearly suffering from the ravages of years of smoking {those damn cigarettes}, I felt compelled to write about him. He was in the book business, when it belonged to gentlemen. He had a M.A. in English from Columbia. And, he had more emotional intelligence than anyone I've ever known. I wrote the story that follows about my father when I was 25. I read it to him when I was 27, the year before he died. It was one of the many incredible moments I had with my father, because I didn't hide my emotions.


FINDING A BEACH OF MY OWN

I remember his sturdy, tan suitcase with gold initials - JJM - on fine leather. I would always wonder what was inside of it for us—the five of us—his children, as we eagerly awaited his return.

First he would kiss Mom, then pour his drink. And then we could jump on him, asking what he had brought home.

The drink was the color of gold, and he put water in it. Often, he let me make it for him. His cigarettes were long and white: Kents. He smoked a lot of them. There was a special drawer in the living room where he kept extra packs and our playing cards, some photographs and two leather cigarette cases. The cases had thin gold stripes around the edges. They were made for short cigarettes. Maybe he had once smoked the short kind.

I can hear the tone of his voice. When I heard it from another room, my day was complete. He was home. He seemed always to bring us a lot of books, and he gave us a lot of hugs. We all loved him. He was quiet and gentle and loved our mother. He wore a light blue sport coat in the summer and took us away to the ocean. He read and became bronze on the beach. He always taught us things, and he said things about life, but he rarely told us what to do. He left the orders up to Mom. He wanted to relax.

Tanned, in khakis and V-neck cashmere sweaters, shucking clams, smiling. I wanted those days never to end. The sinking of the orange sun. The dark, cool night air settling in. Our kisses goodnight, the aroma of Sea & Ski, and cool cotton sheets... we were all happy.

Then, one September day... things changed. Mom died. She did not die suddenly, but I was eight years-old, and I had no idea that she was dying. I wish that she had told me. I can not say how it made me feel. I do not remember. I played with my friends, and I tried to be sure that my little brother was happy. At least not sad.

For Dad, life changed the most—though he tried not to show us that it had. He was ours, as always... but even more so now. He had us to love and to care for and to remind him of the beautiful woman whom he loved more than any other in his life - our mother. I don't remember much about her; just specific loving moments. It seems now that those moments revolved around a good report card, or a piece of art accepted in a show. I suppose when you are as busy as she was with five children, it takes an occasion to reward a child individually.

My younger brother and I were extremely sensitive to our father's loss. When we missed Mom, we knew that he must, too. We would make up little secrets together, and at night as we lay in our beds, we would say good night to each other and again to him, after he had left the room.

We loved him so much. If you were sad, he hugged you, or gave you a pat on your shoulder, and you felt better. "I think you should go to bed now," he would say. The response always would be, "in a minuuuuuuute," as whoever had answered darted from the kitchen {where Dad sat and read} and prepared for a jump down the three steps to the studio, after a flip over Dad's favorite living room chair. Funny to think of how my stepmother has newly upholstered the few memories I have left of those days—Dad's chair is just one of them.

I never saw our father's normally expressive eyes show the painful emptiness that he must have felt then. Or I was too young to see it and read it. Children have such misconceptions about their parents rarely crying. But I can remember Dad's tears when Mom died, and also when his best friend Ed, died. And I felt that when you see one of your parents cry, you don't feel as though things are out of control—you feel closer, and you realize that they need you, too... for support. It's not always you needing them.

Maybe Dad cried more than we knew, but it's a hard thing to ask your father about. He probably thought that spending too much time crying was letting out important things, and that instead of spending time crying, you should be listening to feelings—thought provoking insight and strength. That would be Dad.

Many years have passed, and I am that much older now. I miss my father. Boston is my home, but at times, when I think of going home... I am not always sure where it is anymore.

My father raised me and taught me a lot. More than anything else, he taught me how to understand and appreciate all sorts of people. Strength is another thing he taught me. I wonder, sometimes... how he really feels about us, his children, and about his own life. I suppose I'll never really know. I feel, at times, that he is one of the few reminders of those days of solitude. Others are the warmth of the summer sun, the smell of suntan lotion, and the beach.

To know him, you might read the books that he once read—by Dostoevsky, Thomas Wolfe, Sigrid Undset... I hope that I made him happy. To quote Dad and his forever loving inspirations, "Life goes on..."

THE END.

After reading this to my father that day in 1984... I looked up, and a tear was rolling down his cheek. Thank you, Atticus. Happy Father's Day! ox

photo: my Mom & Dad

21 comments:

  1. Your post is a memorable and moving tribute to your father, as well as your mother.

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  2. Thank you Harrison. I showed my friend Jane your site. She is so impressed by your art. And, we both agree how absolutely original your aesthetic is. Thank you for reading my Dad tribute. I've been so lucky. Best, Barbara

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  3. This is so beautiful. I am definitely choked up. Your father was so lucky to have a daughter like you to show him this love.

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  4. innisinsxJune 16, 2010

    now there is a tear rolling down my face. happy father's day to the best of the best. love you my dear sister. xox

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  5. I love you too, dear sis. We were blessed beyond blessed! oxo Boo

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  6. Mary SaundersJune 16, 2010

    Beautifully written Boo. I feel very lucky and blessed to say this dear man was my Dad too. Happy Fathers Day to all the great Dad's out there....and thanks to my Dad, for deeply loving and teaching your "5 jewels" so many valuable lessons...that's what he called us. :)

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  7. You have me in tears. Beautifully written. Barbara

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  8. Tribute - something given or contributed voluntarily as due or deserved; especially :
    a; gift or service showing respect, gratitude, or affection b; something (as material evidence or a formal attestation) that indicates the worth, virtue, or effectiveness of the one in question.

    Your father's name should be included in the description of the word. Barbara what you wrote was truly moving. Your father was an incredible 'dad' and husband. I admire any man who can encourage his children to 'wear their heart on their sleeve'. Quite the opposite in our household. He was quite the accomplished man but I suspect his proudest was the raising of you and your 4 siblings. I know many years have passed but I am truly sorry for the loss of your mother and your father. I suspect it would be far more painful to loose them and not have tender, vivid memories to carry you through.

    I must go find the Kleenex box now. Amazing 'tribute' my wonderful friend. xx

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  9. BWS, thank you so much for reading my Dad story. I truly appreciate it!

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  10. Deb my dear, you are going to make me cry! As I assembled this post yesterday... I felt an inner peace because it was like spending time with my father. Working on 'his' post, brought all that he has given me to the very present moment. Thanks so much! ox B

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  11. So beautifully written and wonderful that you could share it with him too.

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  12. Oh Barbara,
    So heartfelt and beautifully written. I think that not having a father around made me even more aware, when we were young friends, how wonderful your dad was and I secretly wished that he were mine too. He loved you all so much and was the true anchor in your home. I can only imagine how you must miss him every day.
    You have his amazing gift for emotional intelligence, quick wit and a beautiful dreamer's mind. He lives everyday through you and your brothers and sisters. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  13. D, he was your Dad too! And, to many more. Lots of love. ox

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  14. I just hope to be as good as a father to my daughter, Barbara.

    Thanks for the inpiration.

    Gustavo.

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  15. Gustavo, I'm sure you are! Our fathers are so important to us. Thank you for reading. My best to you. Barbara

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  16. My skin flesh creeps and my heart starts throbbing at the thought of losing my father,the only person who has never betrayed me and has always been my best teacher and true support.I get up in the morning and go to bed with the same fear..He is 86...

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  17. Mila, your father will always be a positive, loving light in your light. Take that thought and his gift of love to you and give that to someone you love now and after he's gone. Appreciate all of your moments together and know that they will always live in your heart.

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  18. what a gift you just shared with me. thank you!
    my own father died when i was 26 and felt as if i was immediately orphaned. your piece spoke to me profoundly
    thank you!

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  19. Dear Teri, Thank you so much for reading and for commenting. All the best to you and to all of us who have lost our loving fathers. ; )

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