Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Remembering Dad in His Day: The Dude Abides

Okay, I’m of an age my parents were when I first thought about catching up with them. They were vibrant in their sixties, and I in my thirties  could relate as a full-fledged adult and a parent, myself. 
Both my parents are gone for nearly a decade now, and I am well past the mourning. 
But still, standing at the brink of my own - euphemism - “golden years,” there’s not a day I don’t stop and think deeply about my father, which is strange, because I was closest to my mother, but then thinking deeply about that, my father was never far from her side, and so there you have it, never far from my thoughts, there’s my dad.  
If you ask my sister, it would seem as though we had two entirely different fathers, as she has not one kind or charitable memory of him, which is crazy to me because I know that he loved her.  Their relationship was something I could never fathom. There’s no disputing the genes however, as they shared certain traits, including impatience with one another. 

First thing I would say about my father was that he was blessed with longevity.  Perseverance I suppose it was.  Healthy and strong, in spite of numerous medical setbacks,  he outlived his brothers and sisters, not by years, but by decades.  And he lived well. 
So let it be that these are the things I know -  or think I know  - or remember (and love) about my father,  Edward Goldman – with the disclaimer that NOT everything here may be factual, but all of it is true: 
  • First, the name on my father’s birth certificate is Isadore Goldman.  To his boyhood friends he was Izzy, then Eddy.  And this we discovered - going through old photos and documents,  that his high school diploma states his name as Isadore Irwin Goldman.  Irwin?  Now there’s a name he dropped. For all I ever knew, he was never an Irwin.    According to his military records, he was  Isadore E. Goldman - a name that evolved to Edward I Goldman, the legal name he had as far back as I can recall. To my mother, he was always her dearest Ed. And of course, to my sister and to me he was Dad.  To his first two grandsons,  he was Pop!  And to our sons, he was grandpa – sometimes “Grandpa from Florida,” to distinguish him from Grandpa from California.  But what’s in a name?
  • If my father had a Hebrew name, I did not know it.  But  Yitzak seems  the most plausible of names for Isadore/Edward/Ed, recalling the story of Isaac.  My father believed in making sacrifices: for love, family and nation. Yaakov—the Hebrew name for Jacob also would have suited.  I believe my father wrestled with angels.  With his impaired vision, his broken body in old age, and  the blessings of his final days, the biblical imagery of a formidable, all-too-humanly flawed family patriarch fits him, but that’s another story.
  • My father’s life story might be far more interesting had he, himself, any interest in telling it. But he was not a storyteller. Treasures and photos of his family were virtually non-existent. He liked to joke that his family descended from trees. In retrospect I suspect that his own father was a dark, stern figure, easy to anger, perhaps even abusive.  I’ll never know.  
  • This I do know: my father grew up in Cleveland.  His parents were Sophie and Harry. His brothers and sister were Benjamin, Lenore and Louis (a.k.a Larry) There are no family photos - at least that I’ve ever seen. 
  • My father attended Glenville High School in Cleveland.  An able and graceful athlete: he played baseball, tennis, loved swimming and rollerskating.   His passion for the game of golf came later. Much later.
  • My father never spoke Yiddish, though it was the language spoken in his home. 
  • My father, when asked: “Are you serious?” often joked, “No, but I’m Jewish.”
  • In his teens, my father worked for his father, who was a tailor. In his twenties he worked as an “egg and butter man” at Bruder’s Dairy in Oberlin.  In his thirties he worked as a garment cutter- tailoring mens’ suits for Bobbie Brooks.  He understood how clothes should fit, His garment sheers, ancient artifacts of a time now gone, can be found in my kitchen drawer. 
  • My father never went to college, but always stressed the value of a good education: “Your education is something no one can ever take away from you.” That’s what he often said.
  • It would seem that my father’s life began when he met my mother.
  • My father was 88 when we heard for the first time how he met my mother.  “I’ll confess, I was a little dishonest,” he admitted. “My brother Larry met her first, and when he told me about her, she sounded like a person I’d like to know better.  So I called her, posing as my brother on the phone, and asked her for a date.”

  • Ed and Clare.  Now there’s a love story. Clare and Ed. She was 19. He was 21. They dated and broke up and made up for three years.
  • They were married on New Year’s Eve. December 31, 1939.  Married nearly 65 new years, they faithfully-forever-after made a big deal of anniversary celebrations.  “Grow old with me, the best is yet to come.” That is what they said. 
  • Ed and Clare.  They were lions, those two. That is how I think of them. I look at their pictures and I am smitten by their images. In the full bloom of their youth, they we beautiful. Hollywood-beautiful.  They were always “US” with a capital US.   They were a circle of two.
  • My sister Susan was born in April 1943.  
  • My father enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 1944, at age 28. Trained as a marine engineer in Florida and New Orleans.  Served in England and France, for nearly three years. First Lieutenant in the 115th Anti Automatic Gun Batallion – a chief engineer of an army small tug, harbor operations. 
  • (I find this piece of the puzzle curious, because my father was not really mechanically inclined.)
  • My father never spoke of the war, and never cared to return to Europe. 

  • The war stories were my mother's. The years of separation and loneliness. The love letters. The photos my parents exchanged, my father dapper in uniform and sunglasses, my mother with her come-home-come-hither eyes, and my sister, Susan in curls, adorable baby, then toddler. A cherished little girl, growing up with Clare living with grandparents “Mom & Cop” and uncles, Art and Wil, and all the while my father overseas, missing Susan’ first steps, the birthdays, all of it. By the time my father came marching home in October 1946, Susan was four years old. By the time I came along, there were six years between us.   

  • We will never know my father’s war, its casualties and losses.  It never defined him, as far as we could tell. He came home, he built a house, a family, a life,  Assuming his “parental role” (as he always called it) didn’t come effortlessly to him. Not a demonstrative man, never the natural, easy-going dad.
  • In our all female household, he was challenged and often deferred to my mother’s judgment on the complexity, the anxiety and mystery of daughters.  I think he would have enjoyed sons, though he never ever breathed a word to that regard (This is purely an observation of a mother of sons.) 
  • Fast forward- the Fifties, Sixties. And my father’s transformation, from garment cutter to Nationwide Insurance agent, the years of contentment and satisfying work, from a home office – first in the house in East Cleveland, then to the ground floor of the split level home he built in the burbs -- in University Heights. 
  • Through those years, I remember my father, unlike the typical dad of the times. I was in kindergarten when my mother started working. It was Dad who was home for me at lunchtime. I remember him – a tender and capable “mom.” 
  • Strangely, it was my Dad who was the heavy-duty housekeeper. His home was his castle, and he insisted on an orderly household.  I remember him on his hands and knees washing the floors.  I remember him hanging wallpaper, painting the exterior of the house, cutting the lawn, tending the flower beds.   Oh yes, and my father’s classic move, after family holiday meals, when the goodbyes lingered on too long, he’d take out the Hoover and start vacuuming, oblivious to the guests in the next room.
  • My dad could carry a tune. When he sang he sounded like Perry Como.  My dad had a habit of humming to himself. He was a hummer. 
  • My dad had a sweet tooth: favorite bakery items: ladylocks, coconut bars, lemon pie. 
  • My dad loved movies. On holidays (we’d call them binge days) we’d indulge in two movies at a time.
  • My dad had a penchant for purchasing cars on impulse.  Worst vehicle he every bought: The Gremlin. Kept it for 6 months.
As the life and times of my dad flood back to me now in memories, I think of the day he died.  Fifty-five degrees and blue skies in January in Michigan is a gift, one my father would have enjoyed.  Had he personally chosen the day to leave us, he couldn’t have planned this one better.  Just as the sun was breaking, he passed away, peacefully I pray.
Beyond grieving for him now, there’s gratitude.  That’s it, I feel gratitude, as I believe he did, for every day, every breath of life, a gift, a blessing.
I feel gratitude for the time we shared and what he taught me as our roles zigged and zagged, flipped and reversed over the last four years of his life.  I had the privilege of caring for him as he once cared for me.  
I am consoled that my father enjoyed nearly 26 golden years of retirement in the perpetual sunshine state of Florida in the company of my mother, the love of his life. 

Most of us would agree, you can’t beat that. 
And who among us will ever see their grandchildren reach adulthood, spanning the ages of 25 to 41?  And there were his great grandchildren, Lauren and Zachary. To see a second generation of grandchildren? Life doesn’t get richer than that.

Ed-and-Clare. One last story.  In 2002,  in their mid-eighties, Clare and Ed decided to pack up, leave their home in Lauderdale, and move back “up North.” To be closer to family was their mission. It was an act of wild optimism and courage. The family had changed, moved on, grown up, and scattered from Cleveland to Detroit and Chicago. Ed-and-Clare, both in the early and undetected stages of Alzheimer's, were coming "home" to a new city altogether.  Their “final adventure”, they called it. Together, on their own steam, they sold their condo, pared down the household, and made their choice, against all protest and reason to live in independence in a place unknown.  And for a time, they were invincible. Together, hand in hand, like young lovers, they braved the onslaught of winter in Northville, Michigan.  Together, arm and arm, still young at heart, they began a new life. Together they grew infirm. And then, inevitably, they were together no more.  
My mother passed away. My father journeyed on.  Alone. With an iron will and a strong heart, he chose life, grabbed and held on. Never looked back with regret at what could be or would be, if only this or that.  Even as his body betrayed him, his sight gone, his bones broken, his hearing diminished, his speech and memory tangled, he held on.
I like to think he held on for his dreams. His memories of my mother. His love for his family. His spirit and resilience - And his fierce pride: a life well lived.
Asked “How are you today, Dad?” he’d yell  “I’m going to LIVE.” Delivering it like some kind of punch line to a private joke. 

Edward Goldman – the Nationwide Insurance man – was a reasonable, if not prudent planner for life’s events and eventualities.  I’m sure it was never his plan to outlive my mother, his Clara - to spend his last days in the arms of nurses and caregivers, under the scrutiny of doctors and surgeons, a triumph of geriatric medicine.   At 89, heading valiantly to 90, he prevailed. Feistily sometimes.  Heartily most the time. With gusto, grace and good humor, he welcomed his days as they dawned.  As his grandsons, Matt and Andy would say,  “The dude abided, the dude abided.”

And that’s a comfort to me. May Edward’s memory – and his legacy of life lived to the fullest – always be a blessing to us. 

A New Dad's Day. . . my son and grandson

 And look who's here, named after his great grandfather, 
Mason Edward Henoch.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer Reading

Past Memorial Day, you know it’s summer at last, when the kids are home from school, when you’ve grilled the first dogs and burgers of the season, when you take in the heady fragrance of lilacs in full bloom in the heat of an evening, and when you’ve been out too long in the sun, lazily reading a book.  
For me, one of the vast pleasures of summer reading begins the first weekend in June in Chicago at the Printer’s Row Book Fair, now called Lit Fest.  

Printer's Row Lit Fest 2011

Readings. Book signings.  Authors, famous and not-so.  Cooking demos. Cafe food. Street art and theatre. Music. People-watching people reading on the streets of Chicago. It’s all there, a book festival at its best, (even under threat of a thunderstorm).  For wordivores and hoarders of books, it’s all about the books.   Stall after stall, bookseller after seller, it’s nonstop browsing for  - what is it? - three, four city blocks on Dearborn, from Congress to Polk, just south of the spectacular Harold Washington Library on State. For best results in the hunt, wear sensible shoes and sunscreen.  And stay well hydrated. 
Harold Washington Library

Beating the heat and traffic, through the gate around 9:30 in the morning, ice tea in hand, camera over shoulder, I have the pleasure of meeting Mary T. Wagner author of Running with Stilettos.  Standing at the Indie publisher tent, she’s bright-eyed and eager to share her new collection of essays, Fabulous in Flats.  Literally - putting her best foot forward, she engages me in conversation, and before I know it, I’m thumbing through her book.  But of course! With the promise that Mary is “the reincarnation of Erma Bombeck – in sexier shoes,”  I decide to purchase the book. As Mary adds her signature with a generous inscription – I snap a picture, too.   
Mary T. Wagner, signing Running with Stilettos
One of the pleasures of owning a decent camera is watching people on the street - observing them with a photographer’s eye, capturing moments and delicious little slices of life-  if you’re lucky.  Steps from Mary, I encounter Jen Wylie – looking radiant as a bride. With good reason.  Jen shares with me that the book in her hand is her debut novel, (so new, in fact,  she’s just seen it between two covers for the  first time, not two hours earlier when she unpacked the books, “hot off the press”  - from the publisher (Eshelon).  Ahh  a romance, appears to be a juvie at that … not my genre, but I’m heartily pleased for her.  

A first for Jen Wylie
Last stop at Tent 6 – St. Martin’s Moon.  As author Marc Vun Kannon explains, (sounding like one of his own characters)  it’s a gothic sci fi about, uh,  werewolves and ghosts in space, on a lunatic (I mean lunar) hunt on the moon. Earth's moon? Who knows, some lunar colony out there!  Anyway.   Still scratching my head about the genre, gothic sci fi, thinking about the preponderance of vampires (vamp lit?), wondering if all sci fi isn’t somehow an outburst of gothic convention, anyway... I snap his earnest picture, too.  So here you are, Marc... with all four books, under your influence.

Lunar Man, Marc Vun Kannon

More ice tea.  The morning heats up. The book stalls begin filling in with browsers, readers, collectors, families and dogs.  Serious, studious readers and their dogs.  I take my time, scanning the shelves . . . looking for that one, spectacular accidental find that makes the hunt all the more thrilling and rewarding

 Browsers, writers...

Booksellers, shoppers. . .

 Best find ever – first year I attended the festival, I pulled off the shelf a mint copy of Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson.  Picked it out of the thousands of used books, because it was recommended reading—bought it for a pricey little $40, only to discover later that my copy was one of only 2500 in the first printing of the first edition, and that the book is now worth some $1500. (I have since had it signed by the author at another book.)

At the Printer’s Row Festival in years past, I’ve stood in line to see John Updike, Erica Jong, E.L. Doctorow, Studs Terkel. On the lookout for famous authors, I’ve caught a glimpse of  Joyce Carol Oates on the street and shared a few words with  Jim Lehrer.   Headliners this year were Terry McMillan (waiting to exhale, again) and Elizabeth Berg (27 books I have yet had the pleasure to meet.)  

With no author in particular and with no special book  calling to me out on the street this year, I  slip into the cool of Printer’s Row Fine and Rare Books, where owner John LaPine plays on an entirely different field, specializing antiquarian and literary classics, as well as modern first editions.  No outdoor tables and riff-raff here. This bookshop is strictly for insiders.   John claims if he doesn’t have it among his million or so volumes, he can find it for you. I believe him.  His store is crammed with lustrous oak cabinets. All locked.  His shopkeepers hold the keys, opening glass doors to anything from a $30 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to a $30,000 copy of The Grapes of Wrath.  

John LaPine, Rare Books & Friends

 I think back at the first time I walked into the shop, more out of curiosity than anything else, I presented him with my mother’s copy of The Grapes of Wrath -- (third printing, no dust jacket, well worn and sun-faded).   He sniffed,  handed the book back to me in slight distain with the appraisal, worth $2.    
It hit me right then and there in that shop, that if I were to cover my books in vinyl, stash them in bookcases - dust-free, behind glass doors -  and in alphabetical order, then by golly,  I too could have myself an almost respectable little collection.  Though I’ve purchased very few books from John LaPine, I credit him with starting me on the quest. Book collecting.    

So what did I "collect" last week at the fair called LitFest? Damned if I know what rhyme or reason prevailed in my selection: one graphic novel, purchased on impulse at 3.98;  a vintage Seuss - If I Ran the Circus (I can never resist a good clean copy of a Dr. Seuss,  especially one in a bright dust jacket);  Mark Z. Danielewski Only Revolutions (inscrutable); Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers (not gothic, but literary sci fi!); and oh yes, Running with Stilettos.   Lots to read this summer.

(Will let you know how it all ends.) 
Photos:  V Henoch and M Henoch