Friday, July 23, 2010

My 1963

To many, 1963 was the seminal year starting the decade of the 60s with the assassination of JFK in November.

If you don’t like personal stories or are worried about TMI – stop now. But if you’d be interested into some insight into the person writing this – read on.

My 1963 started earlier and had a profound impact on me then and likely on who I still am today.

For a goodly portion of the last few weeks I was on a great vacation with my family (minus two people) and during that time watched a lot of the great American west pass by my car window. Facing the vastness and beauty of the wide-open spaces, it gave me a great deal of time to think.

In an outdoor café in Cody Wyoming (a bar really, maybe even a biker-bar based on the number of Harleys and Gold Wings that came and went), on our last night, somehow the talk came around to the biological mother of one of our three adopted children.
This got me thinking about my own mother; hence this lengthy and personal blog.

Growing up in the 50s our family was pretty traditional, normal – working father, stay at home mother, PTA, church, card games with neighbor families. But in early 1963 I got a shock.

One morning my dad drove me to school (which right away should have been a clue to something). As we pulled up to school he dropped a bombshell on me. His timing may not have been the best but maybe he knew I’d have to get into school and he to work so the discussion would have to be short. Unlike me he is a man of few words, but like me, he prefers to avoid emotional confrontations and situations.

He told me he’d be moving out and into our little travel trailer. He planned on moving just a couple of miles away to a small trailer park. Not many other details other than he and my mother had some things to work out.

You can imagine my day at school. I don’t recall it. I think I walked home that afternoon in a daze.

When I got home I expected the world to be turned upside down. But it wasn’t. That evening proceeded like so many others had for years. Neither of my parents said a word about the morning’s revelation. Next morning, got up, went to school – nothing happened, nothing changed.

I was 10 years old and pretty naïve about such worldly domestic things but somehow figured things were going to be OK.

And they were for a few months. My dad went to work every morning and came home every night. My mother kept doing what she had always been doing. I should note I never heard them fight or argue. My mother had a quick temper, a real one, but I never saw or heard her unleash it on my father. In my 57 years with my now 88 year old father, I’ve not found his temper yet. OK, I do remember once (directed at a co-worker) but that is a story for another time.

A couple of months later my dad and I took a weekend trip to visit his family in NE Texas and Arkansas. We did this several times a year; usually as a three-some with my mother, but this time she did not go. I recall being told she was doing her own weekend trip somewhere.

We spent a couple of days fishing, visiting etc. and drove back home. When we arrived, my mother was home but my dad told me we needed to take a walk before we even went inside. We started walking behind our house when he dropped bombshell #2 – my mother was inside packing and she was leaving. Again short on details but she was going away.

I’m sure I cried a lot. To this day I honestly don’t remember much else about that evening. I don’t think I saw my mother to say goodbye.

This was a Sunday night. On Monday morning I went back to school.

The next few months are a jumble of sorts. I started getting letters from my mother but they were always forwarded to me through someone else. We spoke on the phone. After awhile she came back to town and we visited, once. Dumbfounded again, my recollections of this meeting are slim.

That first summer was hard and interesting. Spent some time at camps; week-long camp, day-camps – whatever my dad could find as he sorted out how to take care of me when school was out. I spent a few weeks with an aunt in Houston. He tried housekeepers. Nothing worked – probably because I was really confused and likely not a pleasant kid to be around.

Somewhere in the midst of all this I do remember one conversation with my dad. He said I might have to go to court and tell a judge who I wanted to live with. At no time during all this do I ever recall my dad saying a bad word about my mother.

I never got called before a judge. There was some sort of court day but I never got close to it. Life just sort of picked up and moved on. Unless you lived in the 50s and early 60s you have no idea how unusual it was for a couple to get divorced and the father to get sole custody but that’s how it worked out for us; for me.

The next few years were unusual. I didn't see my mother again until I was maybe 12 or 13. Some of that time it was fun; I’d get to fly to California where she lived with her 2nd husband (more on him later) and stay for a week or two or even longer. Those trips involved the beach, Disneyland, Dodger games.

In elementary school we all have best friends. I had one in particular. I’d go to his house often after school and on Saturdays to play. Our families played cards and dominoes together once or twice a month. We did the same with another family not too far away. But after my parents were divorced, this of course stopped. And the distance between me and my friend started to grow. I heard his mother started having problems.

Was I ever surprised to find that my mother’s 2nd husband was my best friend’s father! It still took me another year or two to connect the dots and to what had happened previously.

I was a smart kid but not that smart yet.

The next few years – basically through Junior high and on into college were as normal as they can be without a mother in the home.

I know a lot of who I am and what I am like comes from this absence.

But so much more comes from who my father was and still is. He did everything he could to help a rather difficult only-child. He suffered through the typical teenage years. He helped me get through college. He put up with a lot and I will always appreciate him for that.

I think my strengths come from him – patience that runs very long. A work ethic that says you stick with a job until it is done well and you don’t shirk from hard work to start with. A temper that simmers rather than boils.

There is more I could say about my father, my dad, but this is not about him so I’ll leave that too, for another post or time.

Whatever creativity or artistic tendencies I have (or am trying still to develop) I probably owe to my mother. She was a singer and piano player among other things.
I missed a big chunk of her life between her first leaving and our getting back together years later. I heard stories about her being a dealer in Las Vegas – working the tables in some casino. She always was a pretty good card player. Guess good enough to work for the house.

Our contact was spotty at best – the occasional letter, phone calls and the annual visit most years.

Somewhere in my early 20s we lost touch. I saw her in 1977 along with her father, my grandfather, for a short visit in Dallas. I didn’t hear from her again until an odd phone call from Florida or Jamaica in 1983 or 4. Her voice and accent were different; she had another new last name.

And that was it – some 25+ years ago. We’ve not seen each other or spoken since then.
Somewhere along in the 80s, I had a bout of forgiveness. You know that “If you have ought against your neighbor” pre-communion speech? I thought long and hard about it and figured I needed to forgive her. Not exactly sure for what. Leaving? Being unfaithful? I really don’t know.

Since that sort of cathartic exercise, I still feel my own sense of guilt at times. For not making an effort to find her, to speak with her or even meet up with her somewhere.

I mentioned phone calls earlier. One uncomfortable aspect of those was always this line spoken by her: “I miss you and I love you.” I never could square what she had done with that statement. And I do remember clearly the awkward silence on my end of the phone whenever she would say that. I could not bring myself then (as a teenager and older) to respond and repeat that sentiment.

I don’t know where to go with this. Armchair psychologists can have a field day.
There is no immediate conclusion here, just my desire to sort of purge this in some way, to deal with it (Grief? Loss?) and move on. Most days, heck most months and years I don’t even think about it. But our vacation discussion (and the added element that we were back in the part of the country where we used to take family vacations as a child) brought it all back to me again.

If this bothers anyone, I’m sorry. But this has been my life as I’ve tried to cope with a portion of it. Maybe getting this out will help somebody understand (me?).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Memphis Beat

Found a new show. Memphis Beat on TNT. At first I thought OK, then I was less impressed but with more viewings I’m finding I like it.

Quirky – sort of a cross between Twin Peaks but set in the south (OK not that quirky but …) and a little bit of Life (a short-lived but interesting show once on NBC). The sets and style are a little Hill St. Blues-ish, but at a slower pace to match what the humidity does to you.

It is not flashy but I find myself smiling at certain things so it must be touching something somewhere. I normally don’t react much to TV – just a passive experience.

Even if you don’t get into the show, I’ll bet it has the best soundtrack going on TV (OK my daughter would argue Dr. Who (PLEASE!) but I’m not going there!) Chock full of little bits of blues and Memphis tinged R&B and whatever else fits that Mississippi River/Beale St. vibe.

Here's a playlist just for the pilot:

Green Onions - Booker T & the MG's
Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell
Walking the Dog - Rufus Thomas
Bootleg - Booker T & the MG's
Son of a preacher man by Dusty Springfield
What It Is - Little Milton
That's Alright Mama - Elvis Presley
Drop Down Mama - Sleepy John Estes
Born Under a Bad Sign - Albert King
Time is Tight - Booker T & the MG's
I See a Darkness - Keb Mo
Change Gonna Come - Otis Redding

So check it out if you get TNT.