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.

dad
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.

Death of the muse

TURNING THE CALENDAR to a new year makes one gaze both forward and backward. Well, me at least. And at my advancing age, there’s far more behind than ahead.

When I retired my former website, The Zapata Tales, in 2011, it was because I had wearied of writing about “Life in Mexico.” What had begun in 2000 as an incredible adventure that I wanted to share had become mundane, everyday life.

Still love living here, but I’m used to it.

I wanted a fresh online slate. My main interest was writing short fiction. I had done a bit of that with The Tales, but I wanted it to be my primary focus — fiction.

And it was, for a good while. I wrote some pretty good stuff that I’m not modest about. Interestingly, I’ve never taken a writing class. And, though I spent 30 years in the newspaper business, I have never taken a journalism class either.

Something weird happened a year or so ago. My muse died, inexplicably. Here’s how my fiction previously came into being: It just landed on me, magically, more often than not at dawn while I was lying in the sack half asleep.

An idea!

Then I would write it as the sun rose over the mountains. Some of it was remarkably good, if I do say so myself. Reading it later, I would wonder, where did that come from?

My father was a writer, mostly poetry and even more mostly haiku. He would worry it to death, think on it, mull on it, spend lots of time on it. And it did come out good. Some is still available on Amazon. He died in 1991.

I never mulled much. It just flowed, surprising me.

But then it stopped. Why? I have no idea. Age? Possibly. I have noticed a general attitude change of late.

The Unseen Moon now focuses on two things, politics/culture and — yet again — my life in Mexico.

Well, enough of that. To welcome in the new year, here is one of my favorites, a blast from the past. It’s titled The Broken Staircase. Maybe this will kick-start my muse:

* * * *

The Broken Staircase

Five steps rotted and collapsed in the middle of the staircase, and that’s how it all began.

Alcott was upstairs. He never left his home again.

He decided to write a history of mankind. It would be thorough, but due to having no reference materials upstairs, it would be fiction by necessity, a history of mankind as it should have been, the perfect people. He liked the idea, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing fictitious history.

. . . which should not be confused with historical fiction. No, he wrote history hidden by a mask, creating a dream world, but really, after all, it was not so different from actual historical writing at times.

But first there was the matter of survival. For that he turned to his old friend Beaman whom he had known since boyhood.

Beaman lived nearby.

There was the question of food.

Beaman tossed up a rope, and that was how Alcott received his daily meals, a basket connected to the rope. Beaman’s wife, Aldyth, simply made a bit more than she and Beaman ate each day, and Beaman took the leftovers to Alcott.

We should mention that Alcott was married too. His wife was Godeleva, but Alcott had not loved — or even liked — Godeleva in many years.

As luck would have it, Godeleva was downstairs when the five steps rotted in the staircase. She noticed the problem even before Alcott. She smiled, walked into the downstairs bedroom, packed two bags, and headed to the beach.

. . . and never returned.

* * * *

Alcott was not a social man, so the upstairs isolation suited him, plus there was lots of time to invent fictional history.

Luckily, there was a bathroom on the second floor of Bockingfold and an antique typewriter.

Bockingfold was the name of the home, which had been in Alcott’s family for generations. Godeleva had always found it cold and dreary there.

About a year after the five steps rotted in the staircase, Alcott awoke one morning thinking of Godeleva whose body was as fine as her personality was foul. That afternoon, during their daily chat through the second-floor window, as warm stew was ascending, he asked Beaman for a woman.

Man does not live by stew alone, he said, or something like that. There was an obstacle. The rope was medium-weight, and the basket had been bought at a discount outlet that imported from India.

The woman, they concluded, must be lightweight and short, a wisp of a girl.

This was acceptable to Alcott, desirable even, because Godeleva, although quite beautiful, was big-boned. And Alcott was ready for new adventures.

Find a mini-version of womankind, Alcott said to Beaman, but she must be over 21 because Alcott wanted no problems with the police.

One week later, Beaman stood beneath the window with Vulpine, which means like a fox. She said she was 26. And she was quite small, a midget actually, which should not be confused with a dwarf. She was well-formed, firm and fine.

Her hair and full lips were flaming red.

She fit perfectly into the basket, holding the day’s stew in her lap. Alcott, with a bit of extra effort, hoisted both dishes to the window sill and inside the room to which Vulpine hopped effortlessly and looked up at him, smiling.

* * * *

Vulpine did not speak much about her past. There was something about a circus, a prison and horse rides through the mountains with a man named Smoke.

Alcott and Vulpine hit it off immediately. She liked the security, the daily stews, and he liked the look of her, the red lips, the hair blazing like a bonfire.

redhead1And that’s how it stayed. The years passed, and Alcott wrote. In time there were 35 volumes of fictional history. He grew old and gray and stooped.

But Vulpine never changed a bit.

She was like magic, and that was what he wanted.

No one ever repaired the staircase of Bockinfold, and when Alcott died one day, Vulpine kissed his cheek, shimmied down the rope like a child and walked off into a sunny winter afternoon, her hair lit like Christmas candles.

American Gothic

Family

MY SISTER RECENTLY  mailed some photos to my daughter, and my daughter sent this copy to me. The original was in color, but I made it black and white because it’s more in line with reality. It would have been taken around 1987.

You might notice that nobody is smiling. We were not smiley people. I still am not.* Oh, but my sister is smiling, you say. Not really. That’s her Cheshire Cat expression. She was probably planning an assassination of someone on Fox News.

We were not a happy family. Strangely, I would not have said that had you asked on the day of this photo. I would have shrugged. My father was a boozer, and so was I. He had stopped when this shot was taken, but I had not.  We both stopped voluntarily in our early 50s.

For the same reason, I imagine. It got too painful.

We drank in the same fashion. We were not violent or abusive. We were quiet and out of touch, the sort of drinking that can do about as much damage to relationships as someone who throws chairs through windows and screams. We did none of that sort of thing.

My sister was no stranger to the sauce either. I don’t know to what extent she overdid it because I rarely saw her. She graduated from high school and left home when I was 14. That was about the end of a sister in my life. She went on to stumble around, primarily in university settings. She took up with hippies. She taught English a while. She got graduate degrees in stuff like counseling.

In her 40s, she hooked up with a New York City gang called Social Therapy, which had connections with the New Alliance Party and a shadowy, charismatic figure named Fred Newman. Many call it an anti-semitic cult. I am one of those who call it that.

She is 73 now, lives alone in Atlanta, and has a private counseling practice. She is a left-wing fringe, lesbian, feminist fanatic, and I quit communicating with her about two years ago. I would have cut ties far earlier had my mother died sooner. My mother long embraced a family fantasy. As it was, I communicated only rarely with my sister via snail mail and then email. I have not seen her in person in about 12 years.

My father died about four years after this photo. Downed by a heart attack at 75. Like me, he had been a newspaper editor. He retired early, age 49, and became renowned in American haiku poetry circles. He still has two books of poetry available on Amazon.

My mother, in spite of appearing in this photo as if she could be the wife of Josef Mengele, was the nicest of the lot by far. In contrast to the other three, she drank not a drop. She was an elementary and junior high schoolteacher before becoming a school librarian in middle age.

She died in 2009 at the age of 90.

Some people sweep their dark family secrets under a rug. I take that rug off the floor, hang it on a clothesline, invite the neighbors, and beat the bejesus out of it with a big broom. And I feel better for it. Photos bring memories, no?

Thanks for listening.

* * *  *

* In spite of that, my child bride says I have a fantastic sense of humor, and I do. Go figger.

(Note: Unrelated to today’s topic, let it be known that there is now a Moon Google+ page.)