My father died in January, 1966 at the age of 66. My family were Christian Scientists and were praying and arranging their thinking to “overcome” the “belief” or “manifestation” of disease and death, and they didn’t let me know he was ill until he was in his last days. I was on a kibbutz in Israel, awakened at 3:00am by my brother’s call telling me that they didn’t know if he would last through the night.
The next day I took a flight home from Tel Aviv; the plane was full so the stewardess gave me her seat. I tried to process Daddy’s illness during the flight home, but had so little information it was difficult to formulate the proper feelings.
When I arrived, my aunt said I’d be staying at her house, and would I like to clean up and get a good night’s sleep before I saw Daddy. She meant well, but I chose otherwise. ” They say they don’t know if he’ll last the night! I have to go there right away.”
He was skeletal and weak but brightened when I walked in. I took his hand and he looked at my mother standing at the end of the bed and said, “Isn’t she beautiful!” I’m so glad I got home in time to hear that — he’d never said anything remotely like that before. It was almost like “I love you.”
I went on about my life — he and I had kindred spirits but didn’t share any daily routines or projects so there wasn’t so much to remind me of him. Now, almost 50 years later, I find myself thinking about him more and more. I knew so little about him that I have to dig, but that kindred spirit is hovering ever closer in a way that other such spirits don’t. I am writing about him in my next book, and find that we had much more fun than I gave him credit for, and I am staring daily at his influence on me.
He was a cavalry officer in the First World War, a publisher’s representative until the Depression knocked him out of that, an officer in the Civil Conservation Corps, a Major in the Armored Corps in the Second World War, then had his own business, again as a publisher’s representative. He also made dioramas of moments in history — tiny replicas of people, clothes, weaponry, houses, tools, and landscapes. One is in the museum on Trenton, NJ.
Then his main client told him, just after his 65th birthday, that they were going to find someone younger. And four months later he was dead. I know about deductive and inductive reasoning — he might have died anyway. Now I’m 7 years over 66. If I had died when he did, I wouldn’t have met my granddaughter. He never met his grandchildren.
I remember you, Dad. You had a hard life, full of disappointments, but you did your best by us. You’re the stuff of story, and I’m writing about you now.