Postcard from Paradise Island

filename-1-2 copy

I have not been writing much since my father passed away. This confession would probably sadden him a bit. Once, when he and I were driving to Kansas City last summer, the day we went to watch the Royals play, he told me that he thought I had a book in me.  I laughed it off, saying that I didn’t feel like I could write a book.  What I did not tell him, something he already knew, is that I wanted to write a book but was afraid of failing.

A few months ago, while my dad was alive, my mom pulled out a box of photos and cards that had been tucked away in some closet.  Some pictures were familiar and others, new to me.  The cards and postcards were mostly tourist notes from family and friends’ visits to New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and San Francisco, placed I grew up dreaming about and except for Chicago, went on to live in for a while.  The notes on the back could all have been written by John Cheever or Evan S. Connell characters, simple observations from a new city.  “The wedding was beautiful!” “This church is the view from our hotel room.” “Tell everyone at Newberry’s I miss them.”

My Dad’s work trip to the Bahamas in the 70s looms large in my youthful memory.  It sounded so much more far away and foreign than Tan-Tar-A or Colorado. After a week, when he came home, he brought gifts for all of us. He brought my Mom a straw beach bag with the word Nassau embroidered into it.  (She still has it.) He brought giant coconuts that we had to crack open with a hammer.  And Bahamian coins and dollar bills for my brothers and me. (I still have mine.) He told us stories about his time there, not that I remember any of it.  I was a little kid, just happy to have him home.

Apparently, he sent my Mom at least one postcard from his travels because we found it a few months ago.  The image above is the front and the following image is the message he wrote to her.filename-1-1 copy

“Theresa, Boys,

This is where we eat at about every night, (sic) the water. We went downtown last night to see a show that they have on the street. Everything is high here. This is Sat and we just got back from golfing. We went out at 9:30 am and we got back at 4:30 pm. Everything they do here is slow. We are all having a good time. I wished you were all here to see everything with me. Will see you Wed.

Love, Ray”

And then at the top of the postcard, written in ink, he wrote, “This looks just like it.”

The postmark, I believe says July 14, 1975.  I would have just turned seven.

43 years later, I reread every sentence.  I try to imagine him sitting down to write the postcard in his room or maybe the lobby bar. Was he drinking Cutty Sark and water while he penned this? Maybe smoking a cigar?

Did he really wish his family was there with him or was he glad to just be unencumbered for a few days?  No negotiating with his wife over whether each decision was something the family of 5 could afford.  No disagreement among 3 very different boys as to how an afternoon should be spent. I don’t really know what thoughts passed his mind, but I can ponder.  A mystery.  I study his penmanship and admire its attention to detail, its politeness.  I compare it to the writing in the notebooks he kept to communicate in the last few weeks of his life, when most of us had a hard time understanding his words.  His pain medication made writing difficult for him too.  There are pages where he wrote most of a sentence and then he would scratch it out.  Fearful that he could not communicate the things he was trying to say.

So many times, I’ve thought about something I wanted to say, about my Dad, or my Mom or my family or this new place I’ve found myself in life. Something will cross my mind while I’m swimming or reading a book or driving home from work, but by the time I sit down with my notebook, I don’t know what it is I want to say.  I start a sentence then scratch it out.

I don’t think my Dad thought I was an especially great writer.  (Not that he thought I was a bad one, I hope.) But on that day, almost a year ago now, as we drove to Kansas City, I think he knew two things.  He knew he was dying and he knew how much I would need to write to get through the days once he was gone. Certainly, I need writing more than it needs me.

So, here I have shared a postcard from 1975.  A message from a midwestern husband and father to his family back home.  It can be taken at face value, or it can be studied like a mysterious code.  Unlock the mystery of your father and you’ll unlock the mystery of yourself. Maybe.

 

 

 

Advertisements

About Fathers and Sons

167445_10151027019872755_1950056074_nI posted a blog yesterday that had a big response. I received several comments as well as several private messages about bullying and even about my specific subject, a person I’ll call Karl Johnson. Initially, I used his real name and I’ve since tried to go through and change the name to Karl.

I have one more memory of Karl that I’ll share and then, I promise, no more. Maybe it will make you like him a little more or have some compassion. Maybe you’ll just think I’m even brattier for sharing more ugliness about my little town.

Karl was an athlete, a good athlete. His father was also an athlete, and a coach. His father was at every game of Karl’s, City Rec through high school, either as a coach or cheering from the sidelines. Well, maybe cheering wasn’t the exact word. Karl’s dad was that dad who always yelled at his son from the bleachers that he was being an idiot when he screwed up. His constant verbal abuse was expected at every game, habitual. His wife, Karl’s mother, always sat meekly by his side. Was she embarrassed for her husband? Did he yell at her like that too? Was he even meaner behind closed doors? I wondered. Do I remember the exact names and phrases bellowed at those games? No, but I bet Karl does. I bet it’s affected him his entire life.

In our adult, 21st century vernacular, we understand how the bullied become the bullies. It can be and often is a natural progression. In it’s way, me trying to tell an unsavory story about Karl from 35 years ago could fall into that category.

I remember my junior high self sitting in the bleachers at basketball games reacting to Mr. Johnson’s predictable outbursts with a mix of pity and thrill. At least somewhere on earth, Karl Johnson was getting the treatment he deserved, what he doled out to others.

Did he deserve, at 11 or 13 or 16 to be called an idiot or a screw up or worse by his own father in front of hundreds of people? I don’t think so. Did Mr. Johmson’s outbursts make Karl a better player? A better student? Maybe.

Karl Johnson had much better grades than I did. He went to a much better college than I did. (No offense, OCC, I do love you, though.) I don’t doubt for a minute that Mr. Johnson loved his son and was proud of his son’s accomplishments.

My own Dad’s approach to fathering was different. Because it was a small town, I always felt a pressure to play sports. I was almost always the worst player on every team. One evening, after the last game of the the Little League season, I remember riding with my Dad to his work, the gas station he owned. It was closed, but he had to pick something up. And I remember sitting in the front seat, eating a Hershey bar and we were talking about the season that had ended. My Dad told me he was proud of me. And trust me, like I said, I was horrible. And then he turned to me and said, “I think next year will be your year.”

In most ways, that did not turn out to be true. When I signed up the next year, I was as bad as the summer before, but still, my Dad (and Mom, too) sat in the bleachers and cheered for me anyway, never missing a game, never failing to take me for a root beer sno-cone afterward. At 12, I thought I was lucky to have the parents I had. At 45, I know.

Anyway, that’s it. How self-absorbed to start talking about my bully and end up talking about me! I will keep my promise, though, nothing more about Karl Johnson. I do have compassion for him. Just like for the rest of us, his life wasn’t always easy.