Monday, March 29, 2010

Revisionist History - Of Men and Myths


His real name was Herman, i never knew this until we were standing at the admissions desk and my father gave his name, Dale, my grandfather, my father's father, i had never met him and i was going to be fifteen at the end of the summer, he went back to Camden, a little town outside of Jackson which was outside of Memphis after he got divorced from my grandmother, all i knew is that he was kind and old and that he liked to drink, really liked to drink and my father had told me that we were going to see him in the hospital because he was sick and getting old, i wonder to this day if my mom made him say this, if she was hoping to keep me happy and naive but mom always did have a tendency to underestimate her boy, even that young... i do know that when i walked in the room it was the closest i ever saw my dad get to tears as his old man took a look at his grandson, now roughly 6'2 and still growing and the smile that spread across my grandfather's face as he mumbled and smiled "aren't you a big'un now" and i wrapped my arms around his frail body and said hi grampa...

This is what i knew of my grandfather Dale, he liked to drink, in fact years later my father would tell me he never had a beer with his dad and i looked at him in amazement and he said i never saw him drink one son, it was whiskey, usually straight, maybe a little ice in the summer, he told me that when he was 18 or so he had to tell his dad's boss that his dad was once again to drunk to come to work, my grand-dad worked cutting sheet metal for industry, a job that required him to do higher math in his head, shit like trigonometry, shit i'd never be able to do, Dale left school in the 4th grade to work on the family farm, the boss shrugged and said okay and when my father asked why he just didn't fire him the boss replied cuz your old man does this better drunk than i could teach somebody to do sober, my mother claimed he tried to burn my big sis's hand when he was drunk to teach her that the stove was hot, my dad disputed this a bit but understood his old man was drunk and didn't use it as an excuse... my grandmother (dad's mom) always said i was the spittin' image of Dale, a statement that pissed my mom off to no end and when i got older my grandmother used to say i was like his second coming, an acid tongue with and easy smile, didn't know whether you wanted to scold me or hug me, she also used to worry about how much i drank...

i've always been a bit starved for information on the man and i remember my dad telling me not to romanticize him when i was younger, he was a good guy he said, when he wasn't drunk but he was drunk alot, he never raised a hand but he had a way with words that cut right to the bone and i often wonder if my dad was trying his damnedest not to be like his old man, my dad once told me that his dad saw him play baseball once and that he showed up drunk and embarrassed himself, i can only compare that to the fact that my dad never missed a game when i was some hot shit basketball player growing up, in fact the only one he missed was the one when he drove back to Tennessee with his wife and siblings to bury his dad, a trip i wanted to make but was told i wouldn't be...

it was on that trip in the summer that i figured out that grandpa wasn't in the hospital but in rehab and one night as we left my dad could tell it was working me over, so he sat me down and talked about his dad more than he ever had, my dad knew that most likely it would be the last time he saw his dad alive and i know this now, then i was just confused, confused by all the conflicting stories when all i saw was a nice old man, i didn't understand what it meant to be an alcoholic, we sat on cement steps and my mom walked to the car and i remember the sound of bugs and traffic and the floodlights that lit up the parking lot in the humid air of an early Tennessee summer, my dad explained that the doctors had told him to come see his dad and he wanted me to meet him, that grandpa liked to drink and that if he drank any more it would kill him but he knew his dad and once he got out he'd be good for a few weeks but he'd get back to it, always did, there wasn't much anyone could do about it and that it was his life and he'd been at it a long time and that sometimes no matter how much you love somebody or how hard you try they're gonna do what they're gonna do and when we finished talking we stood up and i remember my dad hugging me for a long time and putting his arm around my shoulder and walking me back to the car...

the next day we bought a watch cuz grand-dad had lost his and my old man had it inscribed and the next day i gave it to him and he smiled at me and put it on... the one thing that sticks is how my grand-dad just kept smiling at me, like he couldn't believe it, this big shaggy haired kid was his grandson, his first grandson, bigger than anyone in the family, the only thing i ever saw my grandfather wear was a hospital gown. Less than a year later he was dead.

I came home one friday and my dad was sitting at the kitchen table, the same table that would be the bearer of bad news some six years later and calmly stated that his dad had died, i asked how and he said he started drinking and i could tell that part of my dad was angry, angry at his old man for not being able to give up the bottle and the other part was sad because it's never easy for a son to bury his father even if that's what our job is...

Years later i asked for the watch, my dad had told me he had it but at the time my mother didn't want me to have it for some reason, after the divorce i asked him again and he said he'd find it and i kept badgering him and he kept making excuses until one day when i was old enough i realized that maybe my old man wanted it, sometimes it takes time for light to dawn on this marble head and i can remember me and my father in the store picking it out and having Dale's name inscribed on it and we were smiling and laughing and enjoying ourselves, i can see my dad smiling as i handed it to my grandfather and i now know that it was the only time my father ever had his father and his son in the room at the same time, i know why he keeps it, i know cuz i've been in the same room with my father and my sons... and it makes me love the old man that much more...

10 comments:

twin said...

wow.....

alljoedirt said...

Death is a selfish thing. We are always left wishing for things missed out on. Things we should, would or could have said or not said. I think that this post ties nicely to the previous one. We battle our own demons everyday and have a fear that these demons could one day become our children’s.

daisyfae said...

yeah. wow. i got nothin'... other than another reminder why you absolutely need to keep writing young man!

JMH said...

Something in your tone is so beautifully American. Freedom? I don't know. I can't articulate what.

nursemyra said...

Very moving Kono

Nine-uh said...

My uncle died in much the same way. I can still hear his voice calling from the other end of the phone line after a long night drinking. Calling just to say he loved me in his southern Kentucky drawl.

I miss him, but I know my dad, who was too upset to even attend the funeral, misses him more than I can even imagine.

It's beautiful that your father has something to tie him to the memory of your grandpa. We should all be so lucky...

Gulfboot Johnson said...

I can't wait for my liver to give out. More work to do.

Sonny Amou said...

Wow, Kono, it's been a while since I've checked in but this story really got to me. My paternal father was also a severe alcoholic who died in 1987. We always called him a burnout drunk, and to a degree it was always implied my own father was embarrassed by that. I think I saw him mainly once or twice in my teenaged years, and after that he was gone.

Really like the Kerouackian free form of describing this whole story. I feel like I'm listening to someone at the bar here. Maybe that's intentional. Anyhow, I'll have to check your stuff out more often.

Peace, SA

Kono said...

Twin - thanks, hope the surf is treatin' you well.

alljoedirt - i think my greatest fear is for my sons to turn out like me and though i didn't plan the two posts to be tie together originally it worked out well.

Ms. Daisy - thanks and yeah i might just keep playing with this typing thing, helps to keep me out of trouble.

JMH- when it hits home and leaves one grasping for descriptions i know i must be doing something right.

Nursie- Gracias.

Nine-uh - have you ever read A River Runs Through It, the end of that book sums up perfectly what we're talking about, maybe you should give it to your Dad. Maybe, hopefully it will help.

Gulfboot - didn't i tell you this story while standing in my underwear with a bottle of single malt in one hand? you can have my liver when i'm done with it brother.

Sonny - thanks for stopping by, i've been toying with this style for awhile now, Gulfboot once told me to quit writing like an academic (not that i am one) in my stories, said my emails were much more entertaining, hence i've stolen a bit from my heroes, Celine, Henry Miller and Nelson Algren, and you're spot on, i want it to feel like you're at the bar and listening to some lush tell a story, i talk a lot more entertaingly than i write so i'm trying to incorporate that in, damn i'm long winded. thanks again though.

Gaz said...

Channeling yourself...... more difficult than it would appear at first glance.
Good stuff.