Saturday, June 27, 2009

FATHERS AND SONS

"If the relationship of father to son could really be reduced to biology, the whole earth would blaze with the glory of fathers and sons." — James Baldwin

My father died when I was 7. Most memories I had of him have long since faded. I keep a few but they are fuzzy at best and over the years I'm sure my mind has replaced actual events with a little boy's imagination. But as the poet Anne Sexton once wrote, "It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was."

In my memory, my dad was a builder of roads, a friend of John Wayne and a war hero. We would watch "Army" movies on TV together, go on long trips in his big trucks and eat ice cream together at truck stops. Those are the good memories. Real or unreal, I can't say.

(My dad working in the back of his pickup)

The not-so-good memories: me sitting on the kitchen counter holding a hammer while my dad worked on something under the counter and me dropping the hammer on his head. It's probably one of those funny moments we would have shared as grown ups.
I remember standing outside a hospital with my sisters waving at my dad as he stood at the window in his room. He had been admitted to be treated for lung cancer and back then kids weren't allowed in the rooms.

I remember being in our living room after my dad came home from the hospital. He was sitting in a chair and got up quickly to go do something as if he wasn't sick anymore, and I commented to my sisters about how fast he got up. I remember thinking he must be better now.

I remember a preacher coming over to pray with my dad.

And I remember one summer morning when my aunt and mom told my sisters, my little brother and me that our dad had died the night before and not really understanding what that meant.

I remember the funeral home, the way it smelled (to this day I hate going into floral shops), and sitting behind the privacy curtain with my family during the service. Seeing my dad in the coffin -- sleeping -- as we walked by. A Bible placed in his hands. I remember noticing the people staring at us. The flower arrangements -- yellow flowers arranged to look like my dad's dump truck. The soldiers shooting guns at the cemetery. The flag-draped coffin. I remember crying.

I know Father's Day has come and gone, but yesterday I received a packet in the mail from my sister, Debbie. In the package was my birth certificate, copies of family photos from when I was a baby and photos of my dad and mom. My sister also mailed me my dad's wrist watch.

I took the watch out of the package and gingerly wound it up. It had been sitting in a box for over 40 years. I doubted it would work but after the first wind the second-hand started moving. I wound it a few more times then set it to the correct time and slide it onto my wrist.

(My father's watch)

Somehow that watch made me feel good. Like a piece of my past that has only lived in my memories was real. Although the watch is in excellent shape I noticed that it had grease and grime in its seams. Grease that my father, who worked on his own trucks, probably got in it himself. I thought about cleaning it up and making it look shiny, but then changed my mind. I think I'll just leave it the way it was when he last wore it.

I looked up the watchmaker and found out that it was probably made in the 1950s and that it should have a serial number stamped on the inside that could possibly tell me the exact date it was made and who bought it and where. I just don't want to risk breaking it by taking it apart to get the number.

I wore my dad's watch for a day. I'd spend a few minutes at a time watching the Swiss secondhand sweep around the dial. When I got home from work last night. I wiped off my fingerprints and put it up for safe keeping. Some day I hope to pass it on to my sons and maybe some day they'll pass it on to theirs.

Fathers and sons -- the whole earth could blaze in the glory of fathers and sons ...

(My mom, my sister, Debbie, and me at age 2.)

(Me at 4 months old and my sister, Marilyn)
(Christmas Day. I was probably 4 or 5 here. I still remember that Christmas (I think).)

2 comments:

debbie said...

Randy, I think you nailed it. Except for the truck rides, which I never went on so I dont have those thoughts stored any where, your memory seems acurate. I am glad you are enjoying the watch. It seemed silly to keep it stored in a box of old papers and photos. I am not really sure why I am the one to have it anyway. But looking at all the photos do bring the memories rushing back. Do you remember watching The Red Skelton show and drinking DR.Pepper with peanuts in it. Or going to the drive in movies in our PJS to see Elvis Presley.I hope you can still recall those days. They were pretty fun. Anyway Happy Fourth of July, have a safe weekend, love ya Deb

Marilyn and Robert said...

I remember lots of army movies and me getting to get up on Sunday nights and watching Bananza with our Dad. It was really really hard for me too and still is. It probably took me 2 or3 years to finally admit that he had died to anyone. Just in case you dont remember alot he was awesome and you Randy remind me so much of him you are loving and caring and the best father any kid could want. So you my big brother has followed in his footstps well. I love you and I am very proud of you. ps... we were cute kids huh????

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