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.

Memories of beasts gone by

I WAS AWAKE before 6 this morning and listening to the chickens.

I have a history with chickens.

The poultry next door are the most recent. Around 6 or so, they begin to wake up and converse. It’s not the rooster, which has a distinctive morning call. No, it’s the hens, which also explains the constant chatter from their apple tree roost.

I was born in Atlanta, but I’ve hardly ever lived there. My parents and my sister lived in Atlanta for decades, but not me. When I was about six months old, we left Atlanta and headed to my maternal grandparents’ 500-acre farm in Southwest Georgia between the towns of Sylvester and Albany.

In later decades my parents and my sister returned to Atlanta, but I never went back except to visit. It’s a beautiful city, especially in the Fall.

Among the Herefords, rabbits and cats on the farm (we never messed with pigs and there was just one dog. I’ll get to him later) there were chickens, about 2,000 of them at one time.

The chickens were my father’s doing. He intended to make a living off chickens while becoming a famous writer. Neither of those notions panned out.

One dark summer night in Georgia, a large chunk of those 2,000 chickens was stolen. I remember Sheriff Andy and Deputy Fife standing in the kitchen the following morning. We never did get those chickens back.

New ImageDuring those chicken days, my father would give me baby chicks that he figured were not going to survive.  You read that right. My father gave me dying chicks as pets, and they did. Die, that is.

But I played nursemaid with each for a few days, keeping them in shoeboxes. They didn’t look ill to me when I got them. But they always died.

On that farm, we raised rabbits for profit, but my sister and I had one rabbit we considered a pet. We named him Rusty due to his color. One afternoon at dinner, as we were finishing up, it came out that we had just eaten Rusty.

I’ve written about some of these events, years ago, so it may sound familiar.

There was a dog on the farm too. He was named Pepper. He was a frisky, middle-sized dog of unknown mongrel heritage, and the only (almost) dog my sister and I ever were allowed to have.

Pepper was still there when we left the farm after six years. We then saw him only during our frequent visits up from Florida.

For First Grade I went to a Catholic school in Albany, even though we were not Catholics. Between First and Second grades, we abandoned farm life — chickens, cats*, Pepper, rabbits, Herefords — and moved to Jacksonville, Florida.

I never lived in proximity to poultry again. Till now.

The neighbors’ apple tree in which they roost abuts the property wall, and the chickens on occasion jump down to our yard and walk around. I’m not fond of this because chickens are nasty animals, and then there’s the poop.

But their visits are short, and they’re capable of the brief flight back to the apple tree, back to their own home where they belong.

Especially when I shoo them!

And every morning they greet dawn with chatter, reminding me that I once lived with their ancestors, thousands of the bloody things.

* * * *

* Sometimes there were up to 25 cats!

Southern Roots

beach
Florida, 1961. Father on left, me in middle, friend on right.*

MY FATHER was born in North Georgia on the edge of Atlanta during the First World War.

I was born in Atlanta during the Second World War. My father’s parents were born around 1890, which means I am just two family generations south of the Victorian Age.

My father’s parents’ parents were born shortly after the end of the Civil War. I’m not sure where, probably North Georgia. If they were not born there, they moved there.

My father was an arrowhead collector, a newspaperman, an excellent writer and poet, a boozer who shunned coffee and tobacco, and he wasn’t much of a father either.

For a while, he was a chicken farmer. He was drafted into the U.S. Army late in the Second World War and sent to Korea on a troop ship. He didn’t like that one little bit.

Yes, he was in Korea during the Second World War, not the Korean War, which came later. He never fired a shot at anyone, and nobody ever shot at him. He was a typist.

pop
1987

The war ended, and Uncle Sam shipped him back to Georgia. He never traveled anywhere again if he had anything to say about it.

He was not an adventurer.

As I said, he wasn’t much of a father. He had no interest, and it showed. About the only things that interested him were my mother, booze, writing and arrowheads.

He died in Atlanta of a heart attack in 1991. Coincidentally, he was lying in a hospital bed due to some unrelated issue, and was on the verge of being discharged.

He died just moments after brusquely hanging up the phone. He was talking to me. I had called.

He had not called me, of course. He never wrote me a letter in his entire life. He never wrote my sister either.

Those were pre-email days.

Minutes later, my sister phoned to say he was dead.  Age 75, three years older than I am now.

It was Mother’s Day.

I didn’t much like him, but I am just like him. I look like him. I think like him. I sound like him. I think I was a better father, but my daughter might tell you otherwise.

I did make an effort. He never made an effort.

He and I both stopped drinking in our early 50s, but for both of us the damage had already been done, irreparably.

My father was a lifelong leftist. He had witnessed Pinkertons shooting at strikers during the 1930s. For most of my life, I was a leftist too, as was all our family.

Unlike him and the others, I wised up late in life.

Will our many similarities include dying at 75? I hope not because I’m having way too much fun.

* * * *

(Note:  The inimitable Jennifer Rose recently noted the 20th anniversary of her mother’s death. This got me to thinking about my father, which led to the above. I wrote about my mother after she died at 90 in 2009.)

* The lad on the right in the photo is John Zimmerman. We were good friends. He went on to become a pilot in the Vietnam War and later a captain for a major airline. He sent me this photo a few years ago when we reconnected on Facebook.

Fame at last

THE WAIT was long, but now I will be famous. Maybe I’ll be rich and invited to host Saturday Night Live.

TolstoyFor the first time ever, my fiction has been published. And I didn’t even ask for it.

There are three ways to publish:

First, you submit to places that publish. Though often encouraged to do that, I’m too lazy. Second, self-publish. This really does not count. Third, an editor spots something you’ve written, and asks to publish it.

They come to you.

The third option is what happened in my case. It’s the best option of all, if ego-stroking is the objective.

Paper books still are published in today’s electronic world. Two sorts of people purchase them. Luddites and folks who want something pretty on the coffee table.

Old-line publishing houses now publish both paper and digital books. Getting one of them to publish your stuff is difficult, especially in the paper versions. Proven authors are favored. Publishing houses are very risk-averse.

I recently opened an account on Medium, and for the fun of it I downloaded a number of my fiction pieces that have rested on links here for years, mostly on Pearls of Zapata.

Within 24 hours, an editor on Fiction Hub asked if they could publish The Dark Girl in the Blue Dress.

I’ve been entertaining and irritating people online since 2005, but it’s all been self-publishing, which doesn’t count.

Now that I am a truly published writer, my odd, sometimes cantankerous, personality makes more sense.

* * * *

(Note: Fiction Hub uses my real name, but you likely knew that anyway. The photo up top is not me. It’s Tolstoy.)