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.
I would be just as pleased to be remembered in the kitchen. Oh dear. That sounds like I am caught in the sexist roles I was accustomed to as a child, when women were raised to get married and have babies, contribute to the public good through charitable works, support their husbands in the mens' careers, and to do no harm. It would be impossible to tease my upbringing out of my present points of view, but you couldn't say a person who has done all I have done had no aspirations above being barefoot and pregnant. I'm a well-traveled person -- in fact, I'm writing this in Rome. I've lived in many places for long enough to know them well -- Israel, Austria, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Spain, to name a few. I'm also a well-educated person: Two MA's; in English in 1964, and in Linguistics in 2006. I'm an accomplished home cook, play the piano and sing. I'm in good shape for my advancing age, and just retired (at least temporarily) from a successful eight years teaching freshman writing at Montclair State University. A lot of my writing has been published, and my memoir, DARING TO DATE AGAIN: A PICARESQUE MEMOIR comes out in November. The point is that after all of this, I find myself most proud of my role as a mother, and a grandmother. I had a job and was not able to be there after school with milk and cookies, yet somehow my children grew up strong. Oh, how I would have loved to be home for them. If I learn on my deathbed that my children remember Christmas dinners, or me doing the laundry, I will not be upset. That is grist for another post..... I am freer now to be there for them, though they are in their 30s. It's still important. Public and private lives are sharply demarcated. Knowing that one's mother or father was a famous movie star or a beloved politician can be harmful to family relationships. Can you imagine being Marilyn Monroe's child? We all have to choose where to lay our sacrifices, and I have lain mine at the feet of my children. The greatest sacrifice was going to work every day, thus missing important events in their lives. The household had to keep functioning, and that was the only way to do it. I was a pretty good secretary, and made a fair amount of money doing it, but my public life really began after my children were grown and I left my daily commute to a lackluster job for pursuits that earned me less but pleased me more. Writing has been nothing but pleasure to me, and teaching writing was an inspiring challenge. I was once asked to write my own epitaph, and came up with "Zestfully done." I'm sticking with that one, but I will be happy if some people remember me being zestful in the laundry room.
This is a photograph of my grandchildren looking out on the Pacific Ocean. They have their backs to us, and that is appropriate. As Kahlil Gibran writes in his poem On Children: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. …….. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. It doesn’t hurt to remember from time to time that our childrens' and grandchildrens' eyes are on the future, which stretches past us, especially past grandmothers. What the children will see and experience, we never will know. At some point, they will be on their own, and I can only hope as profoundly as I could ever hope that they will still be standing protectively next to each other. It doesn't depress me. I still have a lot to do, like teaching them how to swim….