When my father died it was like a whole library
Had burned down. World without end remember me.
From “World Without End” by Laurie Anderson
This is a picture of my father and me at a block party in Brooklyn during the summer of 1971 or 1972. I was four or five. He was twenty-eight or twenty-nine. I think he looks a little like Cat Stevens and that I look a lot like a certain almost-five year old I know. I have a foggy memory of this party. I remember running around in the street with my friend, a neighbor boy whose father took the picture (and sent it to me last summer) and I remember thinking it was very funny that we were all in the middle of the street because under normal circumstances that’s exactly where your parents are always telling you not to be when you are a small child. It felt delightfully transgressive. I also remember drinking a can of grape soda and just being able to handle the full can by myself and feeling very grown up holding it. Undoubtedly if my father was alive and I could ask him what he remembered about this party, he would have an entirely different set of associations. I wish I knew what they were.
Our memories of the dead are how they live on, but those memories are so frustratingly partial and particular to our own point of view. I asked Noah what he remembered about Dad the other day and he said, “Going out to dinner.” It wasn’t a surprising response. Dad loved good food and he loved going out to eat. I asked Noah whether he remembered going out to eat in New York, when we were visiting Dad or in Maryland, when he was visiting us. He said in New York, which made sense because that was the last time Noah saw Dad, in New York when Noah was six and a half. The last time Dad came to see us was in May 2006, when Noah was five and Dad and my stepmother Ann had come to meet the new granddaughter.
The second picture is from that visit. It was taken in Downtown Silver Spring. I don’t remember precisely what we were doing there. It’s possible we went to get a picture of the silver turtle. There were turtle statues all over suburban Maryland that spring and summer as a public art project. (The terrapin is the mascot of the University of Maryland.) Noah loved them and we took his photograph with around twenty of them. So maybe we went to get the picture, but more likely we were going out to eat and we happened upon it.
I like these pictures together not only because Noah and I are close to the same age in them, but because they were taken in my father’s twenties and sixties, the bookends of his adult life. So much happened in between: most of my life and my sister’s, much of his first and second marriages, the births of his two grandchildren, his whole tenure at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Time and its associated magazines and the website Campaign Desk. That list of relationships and jobs is one way to fill in the middle. Another is to consider how even though he’s gone, in the year since his death there has been a lot in our everyday life that would be familiar to him:
He loved old houses.
And ice cream.
And vacationing at the beach.
And walking in the woods.
He was funny.
And well read.
For a while I was dreading today, the first anniversary of his death, and as it got closer I found I was impatient for it to come, so I could get past it. But a few days ago I decided I could try to make the day a testament to him. Beth joked we should go to the track because that was one of my father’s passions and I actually did some research and found that Laurel Park (http://www.laurelpark.com/) is open this time of year, but on thinking it over I decided an experience that would be new for the kids and possibly over-stimulating wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a quiet, reflexive day. I thought it should include reading, writing, some alone time for me, coffee,chocolate and a meal out. So that’s what we did.
In the morning I read to both kids (nothing unusual there) and I took a solitary walk by Long Branch creek. We’ve had an unusually cold week and the creek is covered in places with a layer of ice that looks a half-inch thick. The path was snowy and there were brown leaves on the ground. It was suitable locale for elegiac thoughts. It also reminded me of the landscape around the vacation cottage Dad and Ann had on French Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania when I was in my teens and twenties. From there I went to Starbucks and read the Washington Post magazine while I sipped my latte. (The barista wanted to know where my “little one” was. I am so seldom out and about without her.) We had lunch at Plato’s Diner (http://www.platosdiner.com/) and I got a big slice of chocolate cake for dessert. After lunch, I finished writing this.
I am going to give my sister Sara the last word in this post, or close to it. This is an excerpt from eulogy she gave at his memorial service in April. It was in the section about how he showed his love for us:
You could tell he loved us by his use of pet names. He called me princess. He called my sister angel. I don’t think he ever knew how special that made us feel.
You could tell by the ridiculous little jig he used to perform for Steph and me every other weekend after not having seen us for two weeks. As we descended from the train into the lobby of 30th Street Station, he’d do a funny little dance where he’d shuffle his feet and occasionally kick out his leg, maintaining a completely serious look on his face. When we’d cry “Dad!” in mock embarrassment, he’d look puzzled, and say “What? It’s my happy-to-see-you dance.”
You could tell by the masterful rainbow he painted on the wall of the bedroom that I shared with Steph. As any child knows, you don’t paint a rainbow on a wall for someone unless you love them very, very much.
We loved him, too. And we remember him, each in our own partial and particular way, but no less for that.