Somewhere along the way, I put my umbrella in the sand and said: these are the things I like to do, these are the things that I have to do, these are the long-term projects that I'm going to sustain in an effort to stave off the cosmic loneliness of inhabiting a doomed planet (puzzles, yarn-work, Ironman, creativity, food).
So...well of comfort. I hold, in my very hand, a book that I've been anxious to read. It's about the secret conversations of Ava Gardner and author Peter Evans. Ava, ever iconic, beautiful, witty, ribauld, tragic, leads us through a delicious tale of her life, her loves, her Hollywood, and more. But here I am, on my perfect day on my porch with the light just right and as I read her story my own father jumps into my head. For instance, when I read the following passage:
"I might have worn hand-me-down frocks, and had dirty knees, maybe I didn't always scrub them as often as polite little girls should--but we were never dirt poor. I was the goddamnedest tomboy you ever met. In the summertime, I went barefoot, that was what farm kids did. Of course, we were poor. It was the Great Depression, everybody was poor. It cost you just to create. But being hard-up didn't make us dirt poor, fahcrissake." -Ava Gardner
Any conversation about the Depression reminds me of my parents, and my Dad, in particular. He was born only two years after Ava Gardner, in 1924. My Mom, four years younger, was of a more middle class family, and was young enough to escape the total experience of the Depression. Dad's stories were a bit more robust...especially his most heart-wrenching, which involved a fire at their general store when Dad and his family were on a weekend fishing trip. This story, one of the few terrifying tales told to me during my idyllic childhood, clung to me for years and years. Finally, I have a print of a photo of the General Store in Wimer, Oregon, which was unearthed by an old friend of Dad's not ten years ago. It hangs in our dining room here in Oak Park.
Imagine the small jolt when I read Ava's words:
"No running water, no electricity, the privy at the bottom of the backyard--yeah. I probably had a suspicion of how horse-and-buggy life was for us...But you don't care about those things when you are a small child and your Daddy's the best lemonade maker in the whole world. And daddy had plans. He always had plans. He built a tobacco barn, and he opened a little country store across the way--Grabtown was just a crossroad in the middle of nowhere, really; God knows where the customers came from, there can't have been too many of them; I hope to God they were loyal--but the buildings caught fire and burned to the ground one night and that was the end of that little enterprise. Rumor had it that my brother Melvin Jonas, everybody called him Jack, started the blaze when he slipped into the barn to roll a ciggy and dropped the match...
I remember that night--I must have been about three...I remember the flames...I remember Daddy crying. You don't forget things like that. ...We were broke, really and truly broke, not just poor, out on the sidewalk broke, honey."
And there it was, that silent inquiry. A story that mirrors my own Dad's in remarkable fashion, yet I don't remember, ever, in all of the times that we went through different tellings of the story...I don't remember, ever, that simple question of expression of the reaction of my Nana (Dorothy) or her husband, also, Jack Steward. What did your parents do or say when you all saw the cinders and smoke? Did they cry?
And that's the rub, right? The rub of loss is that despite my many attempts to cherish time with Dad in the end, honor his memory by thinking of all that we shared, reflect on the many times together, especially in the last twenty years or so...we can never have those quiet times at the dinner table, over a fresh meal or pie or coffee in the morning. All the times that Peter and I sat with Dad and asked questions and kept it close as possible, there's no going back. So many lost stories. So that's another of my life-long passions. Tell stories, listen to stories, read stories. Our history made us. History is our greatest gift.