An old man’s father

MY FATHER WAS born in 1915, two years before the United States entered World War I.

I was born 29 years later in the penultimate year of World War II. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were still walking the Earth.

My father and I were very much alike, the good and the bad. He was a newspaperman. Me too. I probably wouldn’t have been one had he not blazed that trail. I wonder what I would have chosen otherwise — or what would have chosen me, more likely.

I never heard him call himself a journalist even though he had a journalism degree. I’ve never called myself a journalist either. I’ve never even taken a journalism course.

My former coworkers used to say, “And it shows.” Hilarious.

I consider the term journalist pompous.

He was 6′, 3″ tall, and so was I. I’m probably not anymore. They say you shrink a bit in time, and I’ve not measured myself in decades. But I’m still probably taller than you. He was a good-looking guy, and so was I, something that gives you a leg up in life.

I’m still not chopped liver in the geriatric category.

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Him

We both retired early. He got out at 49 due to an inheritance. I fled at 55 because I was eligible and also because some of that inheritance had dripped down to me. My maternal great-grandfather, a very successful farmer named Dard Moree, owned a huge chunk of Worth County, Georgia, at one time.

My grandmother remembered Dard paying the field hands from a travel trunk stuffed with cash.

My father wanted to be a writer all his life. I never did, though I discovered I had talent after I retired. He was very good but too painstaking. After he got out of the Army in 1945, instead of returning to newspapering, he moved the family to my mother’s parents’ farm in Southwest Georgia, near a town called Sylvester.

He constructed a small writing room apart from the main house and started typing short stories for the pulp magazines that were very popular in those days before television distracted everyone. Simultaneously, he became a chicken farmer.

But neither the writing nor the poultry panned out and, by 1951, he was back in the newspaper business down in Florida where we relocated.

When he retired at 49, he and my mother moved back to the farm in Southwest Georgia because it was theirs by then. He started writing again, but poetry, not prose. He was very good. He finally focused on haiku, and became quite “famous” in the small haiku world. Two of his slim books are listed on Amazon, one for the incredible price of $58.

I too have a better than average skill at prose. I’m lousy at poetry. I’ve never published anything on paper, just online. My favorite is Dark Girl in the Blue Dress.

Where my father sweated the proverbial bullets over his writing, I never did. It seemed to flow out seamlessly when the inspiration hit, and it almost always struck me as I awoke at dawn, the ideas. My scant writing career took place during the decade of my 60s, nothing before or after. I don’t know why. The Muse was born late and then she died.

My father drank too much, but he quit in his mid-50s. I also drank too much, and I also quit in my mid-50s. FYI: Life improves spectacularly when you stop boozing.

In the 1980s, my sister once shared a joint with him, but he loathed it, and never did it again. I, on the other hand, am quite fond of mind-altering substances.

We were never close. I didn’t like him much though others did.

He died suddenly at age 75 in 1991. And I turn 75 next month.

A deviant Saturday

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We got to La Plazuela just before 2 p.m. Few other customers had arrived. That’s an actual half-car hanging on the wall, sliced right down the middle.

WE’RE PRETTY staid people, and our days don’t vary much, especially Saturdays when it’s baking in the morning, and hawking pastries downtown in the afternoon.

But we chucked all that yesterday and broke out of our mold.

We drove down the mountainside to the state capital with just frivolity on the agenda, not shopping, which is normally what takes us to the big city.

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First, we dined at a Cuban restaurant called La Plazuela. We ordered what’s called “the Banquet.” That’s it on our table. We ate it all.

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View in the other direction, toward the bar.

In 2012, we had quite a few Cuban meals at ground zero, the communist hellhole of Cuba itself, which is where we went for our 10th anniversary. You can read about that here. But we prefer our Cuban food in a free world.

After the meal, we headed to a movie theater, one of those fancy ones with the wide seats where waiters come to where you’re sitting to take orders, but we ordered nothing.

We were full of Cuban food.

The movie was Rocketman, the life of Elton John. It was a very good movie. I’ve long been an Elton John fan. The English actor Taron Egerton did a superlative job of portraying the singer and actually singing Elton’s music.

Elton John overcame his serious addiction to the bottle and drugs almost 30 years ago. He’s an old coot now, just two years younger than I am.

Saturday was notable for another thing: the initial lawn mowing of the year. Abel the Deadpan Yardman started his work for the summer of 2019. He arrived at 10 a.m. and finished before we headed to the state capital.

The lawn looks very nice this morning.

Sometimes, you gotta break out of your mold. It’s fun.

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Not a tall blade in sight. That’s an aloe vera on the right.

An incurable affliction

I’M AN OLD MAN, and I don’t like it one bit.

New ImageThis phenomenon sneaks up on you like a rat snake. First, you feel the energy level slipping. I initially noticed that about a decade ago when I was in my mid-60s.

That’s when I quit mowing the yard in summertime.

Then your body begins to jig and jag in various ways, nothing that puts you out of commission (yet), but it’s noticeable. Your balance becomes unreliable. You feel this most on standing from a chair or bed.

What separates the sickness of aging from other afflictions like a bad cold, the flu or injuries from a motorcycle accident is that you can recover from a bad cold or flu and, with luck, from accident injuries of every sort.

But there is no recovering from getting old. There is no pill to take. You will not take an aspirin and feel better in the morning. It’s a downhill skid.

This is rather disturbing, that there is no cure for the first time in your life. But I have been fortunate. I can say there is no cure for the first time in my life because — knock on wood — I’ve never had anything incurable befall me. Others are not so lucky.

I have no vices, and I’m skinny svelte. These things work in my favor. I used to have vices. Smoking, drinking. But I quit smoking about 30 years ago, and I quit drinking on a March evening in Houston, 1996.

I started smoking at age 19 when I was in the Air Force. I smoked pipes like David Niven, cigars like Fidel Castro and cigarettes like millions of people. Oddly, it was not very difficult to stop smoking. I tapered off. No cold turkey for this boy. I recommend that method.

I started drinking in my mid-20s when I was married to my first wife. It was moderate at first, and I favored Southern Comfort, which is ghastly now that I think back on it. Syrupy swill.

After the first divorce at 26, I got serious about drinking, switching to alcohol for adults, and I remained serious about 25 years. I wasn’t a falling-down drunk nor a nasty one. But I did drink daily, every single, solitary day. Then I quit. Life improved immensely.

Oddly again, quitting was easy, easier than stopping smoking.

And I was not always skinny svelte either. I weighed about 55 pounds more than I do now until I was in my early 30s. Heftiness is bad for your health, and you’re less likely to reach an advanced age if you’re a meatball.

I weigh now what I weighed at age 21.

So, no smoking, no drinking and skinny svelte, all positive things if you don’t want to die prematurely, and I will not die prematurely.

It’s too late for that. I can only die via the normal schedule.

I’m hanging in there, but I don’t like it. And there’s no good solution. There is only one cure. And you know what that is.

Lotsa wives, lotsa in-laws

AS YOU MAY know, I’ve been married three times. That means I’ve had three fathers-in-law and three mothers-in-law. This can be a good thing or not.

Let’s look at my in-laws because it’s the in-laws who created the wives.

* * * *

Buddy and Violet

My first in-laws lived in a shack in the woods of Louisiana on the outer reaches of New Orleans. Well, not exactly the woods, but it was close to it.

It looked like a shack in the woods. A car motor slept on the floor of the living room, and as you sat on the toilet you could see the ground through a hole in the floor between your legs. The shack sat on stumpy brick pilings.

There was ancient grease on the kitchen ceiling.

My father-in-law was a carpenter when sober and a raging drunk when not. He was more the latter than the former. In spite of this, he and I always got along fine, not because we were drinking buddies because this was before I started drinking.

And I never drank like him. He was a world champ, and I never rose above bush-league status. My first father-in-law was named Durward, but everyone called him Buddy or Bud. Maybe it was after Budweiser.

Buddy was a beer man, 100 percent.

To his credit, in late middle age, Buddy went cold-turkey, completely on the wagon, and he never drank again. When sober, he was charming. He was also a wonderful artist.

His wife was named Violet. She mostly bore up. It was a life of endurance. I liked her. She never drank at all that I recall.

* * * *

Art and Dorothy

My second in-laws lived in a big, beautiful house in St. Louis, Mo. You couldn’t see the ground through a hole in the floor in any of their bathrooms.

I don’t recall exactly how they came to live in that lovely house because my in-laws didn’t buy it. Someone bought it for them. I forget the details.

Art was a schizophrenic who spent long periods institutionalized. He’d be released on occasion, and my second wife-to-be would find herself with another sibling. Release, baby. Release, baby and so on. They were Catholics.

People who breed.

When he wasn’t in the mental hospital, he was a lathe operator, apparently a very good one. He finally was put on lithium and spent the rest of his life very subdued. Dorothy, who always welcomed him home with open arms and open legs, worked, but I don’t recall exactly what, something to do with offices.

They had ten children. My second ex-wife was the first of the litter.

I don’t recall meeting Art more than once. We lived in New Orleans and later Houston, and we never went to St. Louis but one time.

* * * *

Carlos and Margarita

I never met my third set of in-laws because they died before I came upon the Mexican scene, but I hear good things about them. They were neither drunks nor schizophrenics.

They were hard-working folks.

They had one thing in common with my second in-laws, however. They were fertile, producing five babies. There definitely would have been more had not Margarita died in labor while having her final child. She was just 31.

Carlos was a doctor, a general practitioner and surgeon in Los Reyes, Michoacán. He remarried and went on to produce another six babies, well, that we know of.

The doc was a lover. A heart attack killed him when he was 61.

I would have liked to meet my third set of in-laws, if for no other reason than they produced the best — for me — wife of the lot. Carlos was not fond of Gringos, I’m told, but that was true of the whole family. My charm brought them around.

* * * *

One’s roots

It’s said that one’s childhood plays a large role in forming the adult. I put more stock into this idea than many folks do. I believe the effect is enormous.

I look back on my in-laws and later the problems I had with their children, my wives. And I look at my parents and see issues my former wives had with me.

With luck, you mellow as you age. I think that’s why my child bride has few problems with me. I have none with her.