Archive for December, 2013

From the Editor’s Perch…

December 23, 2013

Dad1

DAD

(1917 – 2013)

 

There are a lot of things which come to mind when I think about dad.  I remember way back to farm days.  He taught me how to milk a cow.  He let me ride on the seeder during planting.  He gave me a little plot of land to farm which was a triangle-shaped area created by the bifurcation of one dirt tractor path into another.  I planted cantaloupes.  I didn’t think there were enough cantaloupes in the world.  I loved them.   I can remember only reaping one or two quite small ones.  But they tasted great.

Dad also taught me how to ‘set a siphon’.   As memory serves, he was reaching through an electric fence to do so while milking the cow.  Inadvertently touching the fence with the metal siphon while demonstrating, the shocked cow bellowed loudly and sprang, leaving my dad tumbling.  I also remember the huge tumbleweeds that used to roll across the sage land.  Getting anywhere when the wind blew could be like a punt return.  We built a huge kite out of newspapers and glue and thin strips of wood which dad created with his table saw.  We needed a rope to hold the kite in the wind, and then it carried me off the ground.

Dad also let us use fence posts to make rafts with which we fought ‘wars’ in the waste water pond.  And he let us build forts in the baled hay.  This followed our digging a fort which dad inadvertently drove his tractor into.  When we first arrived, I can remember dad building our farmhouse with hand tools and eating cherry pie from a lunch packed in the trunk of the car.  I used to step out the back of the house when we were first there and listen to the coyotes howl.  To my small ears it seemed like there was a million of them.  Dad explained that one coyote could sound like a dozen.  So… maybe only a hundred thousand.

After we moved to Spokane, dad left with mom each day, to where he worked in the downtown Federal Building.  I visited once and saw his fellow workers.  There were lots of metal filing cabinets, rolled drawings, and drawing tables where a lot of his work was done.  He used interesting plastic rulers and triangles.  And he always carried a pen or mechanical pencil in his pocket.  Whenever I asked him for help with a homework problem, out would come his pencil.  Then he would find a piece of paper to use, before he began to speak.  I never asked him about Tolstoy or Hemingway or Shakespeare, but if I had, no doubt the pencil would have come out again.

Dad always wore leather dress shoes, even when he was doing carpentry or shoveling the drive – and very thin socks, it seemed to me.  It made me cold just to look at them.  He also wore khakis, which I guessed he started wearing during the war, and just continued.  And, as I’ve said, he always had a shirt pocket with a pen in it.  And he always kept track of the gas he put into the car or truck, the price, and the mileage at the time.  I continued to do this long after I left home, diligently scribbling down each item as I gassed up, until one day I asked myself.  ‘Why am I doing this?’  I didn’t know.  But it was hard to stop.   And he always wore pajama bottoms, but a jersey top.  Where did all the tops go?  I guess they stayed in the drawer, starchy new.

These memories start to go on and on.  Dad was mostly a nice guy.  I wouldn’t say that dad was an especially empathetic person, but he was basically mild and so endured a lot of arrogance and foolishness.  Dad had a fine smile and a pleasant demeanor.  In a conversation dad would always encourage me to be optimistic.  But I can’t say this was because dad was an optimist himself.  I think much of Dad’s good humor and agreeableness stemmed from the fact that he didn’t expect too much.   It’s been said that one of the reasons lots of people have trouble with marriage is that they try to get more out of it than there is in it.  Dad didn’t try to get more out of life than was there.  This used to bother mother.  She would complain that he never had a “great time”, it just went “fairly well”.  He never “loved” a meal.  He felt it was usually “pretty good” though.  I can’t remember him ever turning up his nose, or criticizing anything mom cooked.  He used to wake us in the morning by shouting, “Daylight in the swamp!”   He told me once that the way he got through flying all those missions in World War II was by figuring he was already dead.  Some people are offended by dark humor.  I love it.  I probably get that from dad.

Dad used to say that he let mom handle all of the little decisions, and he just handled the big ones.  After I had some experience, one day I argued, that usually after all the ‘little’ decisions had been made, there weren’t any big ones left!  He acknowledged that that was often true.  But then, being dad, I doubt he had ever expected it to be otherwise.

Dad was a pretty good racquetball player.  His forte was to place a shot right into the corner where it would roll out.  He had great placement.  He got me running all over, and I can’t recall ever beating him.  Now and then he would play this loud, hefty, gum snapping, arrogant, ‘phallus-head’ down at the club who I just wanted to smack.  That guy loved to really put himself into it, and would rocket the ball around several walls.  You could hear the impact way down the courts.  Then Dad would place those shots into the corners where the ball would roll out down the floor until it bumped a shoe.

Dad’s very acute sense of humor never left him.  Even when he couldn’t remember his last bite of food, he could follow a sophisticated turn of thought – and it would bring him a smile.  It seemed odd that dad’s recall got so addled while his humor remained.  I think it was because humor was dad thinking.  Some people might say that dad would joke too much, or was temperamentally a bit contrary, but to my mind, mostly he was just thinking.  And the best thinking often curls back on itself.  Every idea intends to produce “that which is seen”, to quote the French economic essayist Frederic Bastiat , but also produces “that which is unseen”.  Dad’s thinking would curl around to anticipate “that which is unseen”.  A few might recognize his comment’s wisdom.  But, “what is unseen” when expressed is often likely to be taken as ‘inappropriate’, ‘impertinent’, ‘contrary’, or just ‘off the point’ to downright ‘puzzling’.  So dad tended to stress the humorous nature of the unanticipated – or he chose category ‘G’: “Keep your mouth shut.”   Dad was fairly silent on many matters, and left Mom to hold forth.  Mom had a pretty big grip on “what was seen.”

Dad’s favorite portion of the newspaper was the funnies.  He would collect e mails full of funny stories and events.  But I can’t remember him telling a joke.  He did with his humor, what he did with his racquetball placement.  He worked the corners.  Someone would fire a verbal shot that blistered past, and dad’s funny would reduce it to something which rolled out and gently bumped their shoe.  It’s a peculiar form of power, but it’s the kind dad was given.

I don’t have to go very far to remember dad.  All I have to do is to be me.  We were very alike.  And I don’t think he was very pleased with his nature, and so he wasn’t very pleased to see me reproduce it.  But as he was apt to say, “That’s the way it goes.”  And, “Don’t make more of things than they are.”  And we got along fine once I learned that relations with dad were like a marriage: don’t try to get more out of it, than there is in it.  “Don’t make more of things than they are.”  It’s good, hard advice.  We’ll miss him.

Photo by Carl Nelson

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: