30 Dec 1996 12:34:48
15:45 GMT TWA flt #721 London->St. Louis :: 29 DEC
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
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
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
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."
|| Gordon Jennings, 1938-1996
A typical response to his children's exuberance,
and much to their groaning dismay;
they'll miss it dearly.