Monday, August 30, 2010

Early Memories of My Dad in Chapters

I've spent a lifetime with a conflicted relationship with my father. I adored him and thought he was one of the smartest, funniest people ever. And...I also found him difficult in oh so many ways as well. 

Many of our members remember the old man, so I decided to share some memories with everyone. Summer was my dad's favorite season, and he died in the middle of summer, and so I think of him when the days are still long and until we head into October, his birthday month. So, here goes, some early memories of my dad, in chapters.

Chapter One - Cucamonga, California

Light filtered through the opaque windows in the back of my condo at the Broadway Lofts, where I had my first office in Utah and where I made that fateful decision to join with my brother, Stephen, to buy our dad’s supplement business in early 2002. I had never joined any of my dad’s businesses, as my brothers had, and had some strong opinions about any business my dad was involved in, namely that he had to be totally “out” for me to be “in.” In his late 60’s and “ready to retire,” I decided to partner with Stephen, and ultimately Teri as well, to buy what was then called “The Generic Co-op.”

My earliest memories of my dad include him talking to his glossy black Myna bird, which lived in a cage in our living room and repeated choice words my dad taught it in our two-story home in Cucamonga, California. I remember my dad’s signature gray hair with a bulky set of headphones in a messy ham radio room across from our basement playroom. My dad’s ham radio room was a place my dad escaped from the demands of a sensitive wife and four boisterous young children. In that funny little room, with wires and equipment, my dad seemed happiest, communicating unselfconsciously with sheiks and social outcasts alike from around the world, all in the quite strange-to-a-child’s-ears language of manual Morse.

As a kid, I remember my dad and mom playing bridge with friends around the dining room table, both of them smoking heavily. I remember frozen dinners and a special dinner my dad prepared the night my mom was at the hospital giving birth to Stephen. My dad made a kind of 1960s version of nachos, dumping a whole bag of Fritos on a cookie sheet, ladling out the contents of a can of chili, slicing some Velveeta cheese on top, and heating it all up in the then-novel microwave in our kitchen.

While we lived in Cucamonga, I remember my dad bringing home ducks one day (we had a large property but it was still a suburban development.). Next, he bought two goats, a Billy goat with a beard for my older brother, Jim, and a sleek black and white Nubian goat, ostensibly for me. With a dog named Julie, who gave birth to a ridiculously large litter of puppies under my brothers’ trundle bed, our suburbarn-country life gave us  a lot of room to play and plenty of companionship from four-legged friends, including a Siamese cat (and fabulous mouser) named Fritz and a Persian cat (not such a good mouser) named Pixie. 

Then, suddenly, when I was five years old and Stephen was only a few months old, my mom and dad split, with my mom packing the station wagon up and heading back to Texas, where she grew up (and where she met my dad, incidentally). We landed in Arlington, Texas, where we kids learned to talk with deep southern drawls, did battle with Copperhead nests, fished in a stocked pond with pieces of Oscar Meyer bologna, and, sadly, also where our brother, Joey, drowned at Lake Arlington one tragic April afternoon. My next memory of my dad was at Joey’s funeral, where he brought his second wife, Anne, and did his best to lighten the heavy mood, even though my mom was inconsolable. My dad didn’t do sadness, after all.

There were a couple of brief summer visits to my dad’s new house in Houston and introductions to my Uncle Fred and Aunt Rita and four Fason cousins, consisting similarly of three boys and one girl. It was nice to have cousins, but we really didn’t get to know each other, as our time in Texas was just about over.

My mom’s family was still back in Santa Monica, California. With Texas reminding my mom of the loss of her son and missing her grandmother in particular, she put a fresh coat of champagne white paint on the walls of our little tract house, called Bekins to pack up the house, put a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, and then loaded us up in that same station wagon to move back to California. We stayed in cheap motels as we journeyed west across the fantastic desert, learning about stalagtytes and stalagmites at the Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, taking turns walking our little Cocker-Spaniel mix dog while imagining where dinosaurs had walked, and looking after our three cats, who mostly hid in the car.

     It was to be a long time before I had much contact with my dad again but he lived large, almost mythically, in the family stories. And, my mom never missed an opportunity to say, "You're just like your father."  Hmm. My brother would probably agree that I had the "arguing" gene but I had years to go before I would understand what that less-than-musical refrain of my mom's really meant. I wasn't sure he would ever be back in my life but he would, of course. More in the next "chapter."


SamIAm said...

I lived in Ontario, Upland and Cucamonga as a child and early teen. In Cucamonga we were on Red Hill. There was a huge ravine across the street that had been excavated. We use to play in that "pit", and the family stationwagon nearly ended up in it when my stepfather didn't engage the parking brake.

I remember walking down to the public gradeschool (we were in Catholic school) to pick pomegranites, a strange fruit that we had plenty of during our time in Cucamonga. Thanks for bringing back the memories... don't have many from childhood.

Anonymous said...

I moved to Upland/Ontario after the service (1972)and often travelled Foothill through Cucamonga to go to Chaffey College. Profs at the college often spoke of the "bario?" in Cucamonga, but I was never certain where it was. The whole burg looked pretty much the same as the places I lived in Upland and Ontario.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Texas for a few years during the 60s. For a few quarters, I attended Arlington State College in Arlington, Texas. I remember Kennedy's assignation in Dallas that were amongst the saddest days of my life. I am sorry to hear about your brother. It must be very hard to lose a brother so young.