I’m not getting any younger and an unintended consequence of aging is an ever-increasing trepidation about God, religion, and the after-life. I mean, is it true that after I die I will rejoin my mother and father on Elysian Fields? Will I once again be united with my dog(s) and relatives and everyone else who passed before me
Fact is, I’m not sure this is such a good idea. Not because I don’t want to spend some times with my loved ones (I would cut off my right arm with a butter knife to have one more hour with my Mom) but I have to say I’m not too thrilled about seeing my father again because of a slight … well, misunderstanding we had starting when I was about 15 and lasting right to his death bed … and I assume beyond.
It all has to do with a little fib – well outright lie really – I told him when we lived together after my mother and father parted ways after 25 years. I wondered then how you could live with someone for two and a half decades and then wake up and leave one day … but then it happened to me, but that’s another story.
Telling lies when I was growing up was not a very popular thing to do around our house. My father, who definitely did not graduate from sensitivity training or any parenting classes, classified lying as an unforgivable sin ranking somewhere above murder and below coveting thy neighbor’s ass.
It made him crazy. And, quite frankly, I’m not all sure he was that stable to begin with.
He was the strongest “average” man I have ever met. Broad shouldered with a tattoo on his left arm that was the United States Army Air Corps insignia. A little over six feet tall. Bicep muscles like iron from a lifetime of work -- from being a blacksmith’s helper as a kid, to a boxer, a pro tap dancer till 17 or 18, and welder for all of his life. Everything kept him in shape so that he could do one-armed push-ups on demand and, I’m told, was killer as an amateur arm wrestler.
In point of fact, one Memorial Day holiday when I was probably about eight or ten, we had an all-American start of summer picnic with friends, relatives, salads, cooking outside, and a great deal of beer drinking. Utica Club or Standard Ale. Ballantyne Beer for my Uncle Ed.
At the time, we lived in a 1910 Sears and Roebuck Catalogue home built on ten ½ acres in Upstate New York. The place looked like a gingerbread house and had rooms about the same size. But it had French doors, dark beamed ceilings and a massive field stone fireplace that dominated the living room and was right out of a Norman Rockwell illustration. The idea – my Mother’s – was that owning land was a big deal and we would be become “mini-farmers”. Vegetable gardens. A little orchard. A dog. A strawberry patch and geese to weed it.
To care for this they bought a (what else?) Sears mini-tractor with attachments that ranged from a red 45-inch platform lawn mower bed, a sickle bar, a plow and a rear-tined tiller. Add to this a sulky my father built (like I said, he was a welder and a good one) and a snowblade, a snow blower, and a wooden wagon that not only served as a utility truck for our mini-Ponderosa, but a neat little toy to ride around in at things like the Memorial Day picnic we were all enjoying.
This little red trailer had a black wood seat for the driver and someone next to him, and could fit four adults or about 6 kids of various shapes and sizes in back. And, we had a big winding trail around the gardens to the West of the house that circled around and through the wood lot.
Well, it happened that my Brother was driving and wouldn’t let me (not news) and so I decided to leave this merry band of cousins and neighbors and head back to the house. As I trudged across the field I had the misfortune to run into my Father and Mr. DeForest (his best friend from work) just at the moment when behind me the tractor became disconnected from the trailer and was itself trudging across the field, ass back on its handle bars but with no trailer … and consequently no driver – attached.
Without a moment’s warning, my father picked me up by my hair and screamed at me “What the hell is going on? Did you do that?” turning me around to see the affair, my feet dangling 6 inches off the ground. “No!” I screamed, holding back the tears and the forestalling the inevitable, “Quit your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Something to cry about? Geeze! He was holing m up by the roots of my hair!
My father was full of such sensitive parenting witticisms. It was if he had taken sensitivity classes from Attila the Hun. Things like shouting, “Don’t you put your pants on one leg at a time like everyone else?” or my personal favorite, “You think your shit doesn’t stink!” as a way to make me understand where he was coming from. (Mars?) This latter in fact is not something you want to tell someone who is five years old who is endowed with an over-active curiosity. It lead me to many an adventure of sneaking into the bathroom after other family members had visited to smell what they had left and compare it with my own.
Aberrant behavior brought on by my father’s strange parenting philosophy. And oh, by the way … “WHAT ABOUT FIREMEN, DAD?” I would think (never say), referring to the book I had just read that had them jumping out of bed into BOTH pants legs and boots to slid down the pole and go off to save the neighbor’s cat stuck in a tree, or rescue ducklings from the storm sewer or other death defying feats.
Anyway, on we went, still holding onto my hair, walking about six strides and cursing “Liar!” before letting me down and turning his wrath on my brother.
It hurt like hell.
And, even though I was telling the truth, it put the fear of God into me about the concept of lying.
If he could get that irate when I told the truth, what would he do if I actually told him a lie?
It set the stage for my life for the foreseeable future. Not only did I avoid lying, I avoided him in general for the next half dozen years or so.
When you’re ten and you live on ten and a half acres, there are lots of places to hide, and my general rule was simple. STAY OUT OF HIS WAY.
I built a hidden campsite in the woods along the stream where I pitched my green army surplus pup tent. Later when I decided I needed a permanent camp, I built a lean-to using instructions I found in some boy’s adventure book. That’s where my dog, King and I spent most of our spring, summers and autumns to keep away from my father. There, along the creek, in the woods, and seemingly a million miles from him, I shot and cooked squirrels and rabbits. I fought imaginary wars, explored the Northwest Territories, forded raging waters and dug for gold.
My brother wasn’t as smart and spent most of his young life trying to please the son-of-a-bitch which, I imagine, was unpleasant for him, though I’ve never talked to him about it.
Which brings me to when I was 15.
I had learned to drive a standard shift in our lot car … on old 1948 Dodge that we raced around a dirt farm track in the side field of our 10 ½ acres.
After the divorce, I was living with my father who, for as long as I could remember, alternated driving to work each day with Mr. DeForest, who lived on the next road over. As we lived in the country, it was really several miles of fields, woodlands orchards, a canal and a railroad crossing.
My father had a 3-speed javelin; green with a white vinyl interior. All looks but no bang. I had yet to get a license, or even a Learner’s permit. But it seemed to me in my teenage logic that since no-one was using the car, if I “borrowed” it for a day, “Who would know?”
A girl who lived around the corner, that’s who. And I intended to impress her with a ride. So I managed to find the extra key to the car, had a copy made and waited for just the right day.
When it finally arrived, I called her up and went for a bit of tour. We walked through an orchard. Stopped for a soda. And, she kissed me when we parted. It wasn’t the first kiss I ever got from a girl. Mary Ann Caves had planted one on me in the school Library behind the books back in the third grade. But I can tell you it was the first time anyone stuck their tongue into my mouth and you could have knocked me over with a feather.
At the end of my romantic interlude, I carefully parked the car in the exact same spot as my Father had left it the night before, and called my friend, Kyle Sodoma to tell him the story (who in fact had a real drivers license and his own car). We went off for a meandering ride so I cold brag about my adventure.
When we arrived back at my house, we were shocked --- no, MORTIFIED, to discover that -- though I had taken pains to put the car back in the exact spot on the gently sloping driveway, I had – in my inexperience, failed to either leave it in gear, or put on the parking brake. Gravity being what it is, the car rolled down the hill and stopped going all the way down to the woods and creek by hitting a conveniently placed telephone pole, stopping its forward progress, but putting a rather inconvenient and large dent in the front grill.
Scared beyond belief, we did what any self-respecting young men would do in the same situation. We ran. We hid. We made up a story.
And when I called my father to tell him I was staying over at Sodoma’s for dinner that night, and he asked me what happened to car … I lied.
I told him I knew nothing about it. How would I know? I hadn’t been home all day. How terrible.
Which seemed like a good idea at the time. But when you’re 15, you really lack the omniscience to realize that a lie told once … a big one … must be carried on into eternity.
After that, about once every three or four years, out of the blue, my father would ask me about the accident again.
He asked me when we were in a bar having my “first” legal drink. And he asked me from out of no-where, “Something I always have wondered, did you take my car that day?”
“No Dad, of curse not,” I replied emphatically.
This same question popped up again at my Wedding at the bar after the ceremony. It surfaced once more at the Elks club when I was about 30 or so. It raised its ugly head when I bought my own first new car, and then countless other times over the remainder of my father’s life.
Each time, I emphatically and forcefully answered, “No! It must have slipped out of gear”.
All of this brings me to my current problem: that of the truth or falsity of the after-life.
I live in exile on Little Sodus Bay off Lake Ontario in Fair Haven. And, my daughter and close friends know that my last wishes are to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the waters, along with my mother’s who I have, incidentally been carting around in her funeral urn for almost 30 years.
What’s scary is that I have learned that my father had HIS ashes scattered off the point in Oak Orchard on Lake Ontario about 75 miles away where he spent his last years, so I will inevitably spend eternity inter-twined with my Mother’s ashes and his too.
Since he has been looking down on me all these years (am I presuming incorrectly and he is looking up?) will he have found out that I lied to him not just once, but countless times through all those years.
It is, to say the least, a rather uncomfortable thought.
I’m at a loss what to do knowing that despite my best efforts, I can’t live forever. I have a pretty full head of hair and also assume that my body will be intact while I walk around like a ghost in one of those odd movies where the long deceased grand-pa walks around among the living.
In this state, I am sure to meet my father.
I really am not sure what I should do.
Alas, as one friend suggested to me when I presented this dilemma to her:
“Perhaps you should shave your head”.
She might be right.