Europe :: November -- December, 1996

Subject: Missing Wingman
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 1996 12:34:48


15:45 GMT TWA flt #721 London->St. Louis :: 29 DEC 97

I'd intended to segue that last entry back onto the house I was staying in, or actually onto the owner. We can write our own biographies for the presses, but a house itself is something of an autobiography of its occupant. In this case, I was growing to like my benefactor without ever having met him. But before moving onto that, I uploaded some email and a couple of them contained, as my brother-in-law quite deftly put it, the "worst possible tidings."

I'm on my way to Arizona where my father suddenly, and apparently without undue pain, suffered a heart attack and died the morning of December 28, 1997. He was in the Phoenix airport, on his way with my mother to New Hampshire to share the second half of the holidays with one of my sisters, her husband and their 15 month-old girl.

I'm OK with it, I think. His droll, often ridiculous sense of humour will be sorely missed...not forgetting for a moment the love and support that flowed in no small abundance from the heart even still beating in his spirit. So seeing as I appear in the mood for biography, I'll tell you a bit about the man who remains my father to me.

Wallace Shawn wrote these lines in his play The Fever ...

Well, maybe for certain people--maybe for certain people who lived at the beginning of the twentieth century--what was hidden and unconscious was the inner life. Maybe the only thing those people could see was the outward circumstance, where they were, what they did, and they had no idea at all of what was inside them. But something's been hidden from me, too. Something--a part of myself- -has been hidden from me, and I think it's the part that's there on the surface, what anyone in the world could see about me if they saw me out the window of a passing train.
I don't know enough about my father's inner life to comment. There are a whole pile of questions I'd ask him given the opportunity but I'm left with the mystery. But from a moving window I see a barrel-chested man in his late fifties (though the barrel had been sagging toward the beltline for several years) with a full head of platinum hair, sky-blue eyes and a ready grin that squints his eyes, obscuring that darling blue. There is a little mischief and more than a little magic in those eyes that are the larger part of his smile than his wide grin. I've always loved his forearms and hands, the strength of them, and felt myself slight by comparison even well into adulthood. And if that is an observation of our inner selves, his and mine, then I'll add to the image the great gentleness in those hands as well.

07:34 Mesa, Arizona -- USA 30 DEC 97

The sun rises south of the Superstition Mountains, coloured like violets in a bath of amber. My father was something of an insomniac and he chose this place for his retirement carefully. I imagine him reading the paper over a cup of coffee, morning light streaming through the blinds. He'd take a few moments to appreciate the awakening day. Is it possible I understand a little more of that inner life than I let on?

Back on the train, at 30 mph, there's not much more you can tell about a man standing trackside. Were he to take a few crooked steps he'd give away his bum knee. If upset he'll purse his lips, the upper stiff, the lower pressed up and past it like a mountain formed by colliding continental plates. I know this look all too well from my youth. What else? His clothes, maybe? Dad was a 60/40 man--cotton/polyester. Images of him are blue/grey slacks and golf shirts with soft-soled shoes--Brooks sneakers--typically grey.

Wallace Shawn was talking about what can be understood about an individual's social and personal conditions through even a passing glimpse. Wallace might hone these observations of my father down to the observation:, "retired middle-class American," which he was. But only recently have I begun to appreciate the other life between the inner and outer. This is the life of personal contact, of personal achievements that exclude the degrees we hang on our walls, the companies we build, the artwork we complete and the other elements of `success' which are more appropriately appended to our trackside appearance. My father was pretty good at this `middle life', exceptional, really. I'll expand on that in the next entry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Dad, we're going swimming!"

"OK, don't get wet."
  graphical element Gordon Jennings, 1938-1996
A typical response to his children's exuberance,
and much to their groaning dismay;
they'll miss it dearly.

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