Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Do things signify love? Part IV

By Bob Litton

¶But I need to return to my early childhood—a very strange time. Whatever time my parents’ divorce was—when I was two or when I was seven—I was living with Mama and my two brothers in that shotgun apartment. Mama and I slept in the front room; my brothers shared a bed in the middle room.
¶Papa came over every once in a while to pitch a softball back and forth. One day he brought me a fielder’s glove. I was both happy and disappointed because the fingers were not connected with leather tongs like a first baseman’s glove is and, to my way of thinking, there wasn’t enough padding in it: the ball hurt whenever I caught it with that glove. But, in tune with my usual behavioral pattern, I did not complain.
¶Another event of that time now makes me wonder just how complete the divorce was. One afternoon, I came home after playing with some neighborhood friends to find the door locked. This was very odd: crime was at such a low level in those days that we never locked the door. The door opened about nine inches, the room was dim, Papa was there bare-chested, he handed me a quarter and told me to go to the neighborhood movie theater. I was too young to be aware of what was transpiring inside the apartment then, but of course I have reasoned it out since. O blessed reasoning! At least occasionally you work in my favor!
¶My parents early on noted my adoration of Gene Autry and cowboy things in general. Pappy accompanied Mama and me to attend an appearance of Autry at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas. Instead of rushing to the dressing rooms afterward, as I’m sure many fans did, we went outside to wait near the exit door. My parents stood a few yards out on the sidewalk but urged me to wait nearer the door. A bunch of performers and stagehands came out gradually in twos and threes. I was about to give up, but suddenly there he was, with some woman. I said “Hi” shyly. He said “Hi” nonchalantly and kept on walking toward a black limousine. But my mother called out to him, “Mister Autry, won’t you speak with my son? He idolizes you.” So, Gene squatted down, shook my hand, and chatted with me a few minutes.
¶What Pappy taught me, one could write on a fingernail. Once, when I was barely in school, he phoned and, during our conversation, asked what time it was. The table clock was nearby, but I didn’t know how to read it. He coached me about the import of the big hand and the little hand. Another time, while we were eating supper, he instructed me in a bit of table manners: he told me not to push food onto the fork with my fingers but to use a knife or a piece of bread. I never have figured out why one finger touching a pea was less sanitary than several fingers holding a slice of bread.
¶No, Pappy never taught me anything very useful, like how to build something or repair it, nor anything about ethics and morality, nor how to respond well to questions in job interviews. Of course, some of that information he was ignorant of, having gotten through the second grade. It now makes me wonder about how he was raised, or wasn’t raised.
¶Pappy was very proud of his English ancestry, peppered with gentry and nobility. His genealogical line goes back to the late 14th century when tracing it with any reliability as to accuracy. One of his ancestors was Sir Robert Litton/Lytton, who in 1499 was “Keeper of the King’s Grand Wardrobe”. (Robert was a very favorite name back in the days of chivalry, which is one reason I gave up trying to research beyond the 15th century.) Here’s a document, signed by Henry VII, that will confirm what I have written; however, it might not be viewable very long because the document is for sale: (£27,500)

¶Keeper of the Grand Wardrobe is not a very prestigious position, it seems to me, but perhaps there are reasons of which I have no knowledge (some moderate illness or old age) that made the job suitable. At any rate, I’ve seen no record of the clan distinguishing itself until Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton gloriously popped onto the literary scene contemporaneously with Charles Dickens. However, only scholars and grad students now read his works. I must say, I rather liked his Last Days of Pompeii and Pelham, which Pappy never handed me but instead left on a shelf in the kitchen/dining room of the very modest house Mama had recently bought.
¶He also bought me a pair of spurs, although I had no boots. The problem with the spurs was that they were cavalry spurs, which had no rowels as cowboy spurs do. But I did not complain.
¶It seems to me now that my parents spent a lot of money on my enthusiasms. In fact, one of my parents—I wish I could recall who—bought me a cowboy arrangement of leather chaps and vest. They were very nice. I wonder now if I hugged the giver and said “Thank you!” I wonder if the gifts were intended to express love.
¶Then there was the Gene Autry guitar. It probably would be considered an antique now, although I don’t know how many of those instruments still exist, a factor which would affect its price. I see on Ebay one for sale for $250 (needs some restoration) and another for $429. The first dates from the 1940’s (coequal with mine), while the latter dates from 1954, when I was fourteen and no longer interested in strumming it much. At first, my parents paid an old man to give me a couple of guitar lessons, but I quickly gave it up. I’m not sure now why, but I have some reasonable surmises: my teacher tried to talk me into learning to play the violin, the congenital extra volume of flesh on the little finger of my left hand made fingering the chords difficult, and/or I was just too lazy.
¶So, Pappy gave me stuff and once let me stay a couple of weeks in his shed during a penurious moment in my life, but he never taught me anything except perhaps how to survive on virtually nothing. There was one dramatic scene during my teen years. He and I were standing in the kitchen of Mama’s small cottage. I was looking through the door screen and crying while I accused him of being a no-father. He had never hit me like he did my brothers and Mama, but he had always been mostly absent and he had never taught me anything needful, especially about sex. He raised his voice and in a silly defensive tone said, “All I could have told you is that the penis in your pants causes babies!” I decided then that there was no sense in trying to discuss anything serious with that man, my father.







Do things signify love? Part III

By Bob Litton

¶I’m still not sure when my parents divorced. For most of my life I thought it was when I was seven years old, but when Pappy’s will was contested in the late ’80s, one of the documents indicated that I was two at the time.
¶Pappy’s girlfriend “Goldie” contested the will which my senior brother (I had two) had presented to the probate court. When the old woman presented a holographic will, we had a problem that reminded me of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. After about seven years of discussions and unpaid and rising legal fees, my brothers thrust the executorship onto my shoulders.
¶Mama showed me a photocopy of “Goldie’s” version of Pappy’s will. It was handwritten on a #10 envelope and dated later than ours. However, I immediately agreed with Mama when she pointed out that the body of the holographic will had been written by Pappy but the signature was clearly not in his hand-writing.
¶When the judge summoned all parties to his courtroom soon thereafter, I did not mention the signature discrepancy for I figured it would only extend the case even further. I didn’t care what we might gain or lose; I just wanted to eliminate the legal fees. Early on, our attorney— who suspected my brother of stealing eighty acres of East Texas farm land from ‘Goldie’ (which brother probably did since he told me he had been with Pappy when Pappy stole it)—stood up and petitioned for an increase in his billing.
¶I immediately stood up and loudly exclaimed, “No! May I say something here?” The judge smiled and said, “Go ahead.” I don’t recall my exact words, but basically I said that I was poor, that I had recently received a bill  from our lawyer for thirty-something thousand dollars, that this whole lingering show was beginning to look like a Charles Dickens novel, and that I just wanted it to be over.
¶The judge asked me a few questions and then instructed the two parties to go out in the hall and try to find a way to settle the issue amicably. My brother had sent another lawyer to listen to us but not enter into the negotiation. So, the three of us stood there out in the hallway while I and the lawyer agreed that I would pay him and he would accept $5,000 out of the anticipated $12,000-plus we would receive from the Dallas Independent School District, which had confiscated Pappy’s dilapidated building through the eminent domain law. My brother’s attorney leaned toward me and said I had hit on the appropriate amount. Brother had already paid our attorney $1,000 back when we had thought it would be simple probate.
¶We all returned to the courtroom, and, while I sat on an audience bench, the lawyers stood before the judge and told him they were willing to meet in “Goldie’s” lawyer’s offices and strain out a compromise. They did so the following week. When they came out of an office and met with me and my attorneys in an ornate conference room, I agreed that my family would accept the building and its contents, while “Goldie” could have the contents of his safe deposit box. I’m not sure but I think the total value of what was in the box was something like $20,000.
¶After the judge had approved our agreement and ordered the county to issue a single check to my brothers and me and to the attorney, I met with the attorney at a bank and told the teller to take out $5,000 in cash for the attorney and to divide the remainder into three equal checks for my brothers and me,
¶The next day I handed middle brother his check, a little over $2,000. He whisked himself off to Las Vegas to try for a big win in an effort to save his carpet business, which was under bankruptcy control. When he returned, I was sitting in the office talking to a bank teller on the phone about what was needed to cover a couple warm checks. He stood in the doorway with both arms spread out, his hands clasping the door jambs, a look of exhausted unbelief on his face. “I lost it all!” he uttered.
¶What our senior brother did with his “inheritance”, I don’t know.
¶As for me, I used mine to buy a roll of carpet for a customer who had selected the pattern out of a sample book. Since all of our suppliers were aware of the bankruptcy, they wouldn’t sell us any rolls on credit, and the large store was virtually empty except for remnants and half a dozen full roles. It was the time of the Reagan recession. Our bank closed its doors.
¶But my brother was sort of saved by a factory rep who sidelined in his own enterprises. The rep basically bought brother out but let him retain a part ownership so that my much overweight and sedentary brother would have a regular $500 a week income.
¶I did not participate any longer, but started working for three temp agencies, hoping to find my suitable niche.

((More later. I’ve got to get back in bed. Adieu,))


Do things signify love?

©2017 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: Please don’t become expectant just because I am publishing this post. I am still having various physical problems that make daily living painful, particularly degenerative joint disease, sciatica, and general low energy. But at least now I can get out of bed without the excruciating pain I was experiencing since earlier this month; it still hurts, but I don’t have to grit my teeth.
¶No, I forced myself up and to the computer keyboard because it is Father’s Day here in the U.S.—albeit a bit late in the day (6:39 P.M. Central Time). I want to display for my readers some facts about Papa that might make you think about character both obvious and hidden. I have tried to figure my family out for many years without much satisfactory success. I didn’t ask many questions of them, and they are all dead now; so our lives together and apart will remain a strange mystery to me until I too am dead.
¶I hope I have explained enough to make the following post understandable.
* * * * * *
¶Father’s Day is not celebrated as fully as Mother’s Day and, I think, with good reason. The moment of conjugal embrace, from which conception and birth results, is usually a time of pleasure for the husband and for the wife. However, the wife has to endure all the physical and psychological pains of pregnancy for nine months and in some cases longer. She is the portal through which the baby joins the universe.
¶Yes, all the father experiences is pleasure and, usually, pride when he sees the delivery has been successful and the baby is of the gender he had hoped for. Pappy was devoted to pleasure. He was a philandering gallant. That plus his occasional brutal behavior is what led to their divorce a few years after I was born.
¶But Pappy had other problems which I think were due to his limited education. I was told that he got through the second grade. Now, it’s true that many a youth at the beginning of the 20th century did not finish the regular school course, and that did not hinder them from finding a suitable occupation and satisfactory livelihood. However, as the century moved on, education level became a more prominent component in job interviews.

((Excuse me. I’m going to have try and finish this tomorrow. I am just too sore and weary to proceed any further right now. Goodbye.))

Mama’s Medicine Cabinet

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.



Image Source:

¶Yeah, I know “Mothers’ Day” is still more than three months away, but I might abandon this blog before May 14 and there are still a few things about my mother that I want to record.
¶Mama was in some ways acutely alert to health matters and in other ways indifferent to them. I remember when I was hardly more than a toddler she took me to be examined by Dr. Fred S. Brooksaler (1901-73), a Dallas pediatrician who later became a professor of pediatrics at Southwestern Medical School in that city and who is still remembered there by an endowed professorship in his name .
¶Once, Dr. Brooksaler performed an in-office operation on my neck just below one ear, but what he removed I do not recall, if indeed I ever heard him say. I liked him a lot because he gave me a little toy every time I visited him.
¶One of the medicines Dr. Brooksaler prescribed for some forgotten ailment was a roll of flat, circular, chewable lozenges that tasted like candy. I liked the flavor, naturally, but Mama said I could take one only after a meal. I had a very broad concept of “meal” in those days, so one day while Mama was away I ate a couple of saltine crackers and then chewed one of the “medicinal candies”. Then I repeated the process from saltines to medicine two or three more times. Later, as I was walking down a sidewalk a few blocks from our apartment, I became violently ill. Fortunately, a lady sitting on her porch across the street noticed me and came over to take me to her porch, where she provided whatever aid she could, not knowing what was wrong. Obviously, I survived.
¶Mama also had me examined and fitted for eyeglasses, although she probably did so at the elementary school’s bidding. They were wire-rimmed glasses, which I hated. (That was back in the days before the Beatles, when “granny glasses” weren’t yet “cool”.)  I refused to wear them one spring while I was staying with an uncle down in the Rio Grande Valley. After I got sick at school one day, the nurse concluded it was because I hadn’t been wearing my lenses, so I had to dig them out of the sandy loam of the grapefruit orchard where I had buried them and don them from then on.
¶I don’t recall Mama ever taking me to a dentist’s office, and now I don’t understand that. Dentists are, in my experience, the least expensive of health care providers. How my teeth managed to stay in good condition until age thirty-five (when I underwent a periodontal operation)  I’ll never understand. I sure miss those three gold-crowned molars I gave up last year because of all the suckers I used to poke into my mouth.
¶Now to the medicines I started out to discuss.
¶First, there was the Campho-Phenique which was a regular staple in Mama’s medicine cabinet. I often enough required its application because I spent hours on end running around barefoot in the neighborhood lawns, which were the chiggers’ habitat. I haven’t had a chigger bite since I was little, yet, in my earlier adult years, I used to stroll or sit on friends’ lawns or in area parks where the grass was plentiful enough. Nary a bite! Are chiggers extinct? I just can’t believe that!
¶Also in Mama’s cabinet one could find a jar of Mentholatum or VaporRub. These salves were developed in the 1890s and are still used today to aid breathing while a person has a cold or cough. Recent research has indicated that the salve doesn’t actually improve breathing but that its camphor aroma fools the brain into thinking that it does. (What’s the difference?) It ordinarily is applied to the chest and the back. The ill person inhales the cool camphor smell, which has an odor that I like. However, since the positive effect is supposed to be derived from breathing, I fail to understand how applying the salve to one’s back is going to be effective. Anyway, when I was a child Mama applied it to my chest many a time.
¶Another antique medicine was Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin. Many benefits from its intake were claimed back in late 19th century when it was developed, as can be seen from this quote from a 1904 ad in the “St. Louis Republic”: “The manufacturers claim that the remedy will relieve any case of Indigestion; cure any case of Constipation; remove the cause of Headache, Biliousness, Dizziness, Foul Breath, Sour Stomach and Flatulency; and dispel Colds, Fevers, and Ills caused by bad digestion, torpid liver, and sluggish bowels.”
¶In 1906, Congress created the Food and Drug Administration to investigate exaggerated and fraudulent claims by patent medicine makers, including Caldwell’s company. Digger Odell’s website, reports that, despite the federal government’s actions, Dr. Caldwell’s Medicine was still misleading the public about the worthiness of its product. This no doubt was accomplished by well-placed donations and lobbying.  With the owners making millions each year they would have been a formidable opponent for the government lawyers. So much so that the product was made continuously from 1889 until 1985.” So, about all that is left of Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin are collectible antique bottles and ads. Oh well, I sure did like the taste of that stuff, containing as it did pepsin, one of the ingredients that now goes into Pepsi-Ćola.
¶That pretty much concludes my inventory of Mama’s medicine cabinet. She remained a devotee of patent nostrums, although she used doctors and hospitals whenever she figured they were needed. She even enrolled in a night course once to become a licensed vocational nurse but never completed it. However, she did occasionally tend to bed-ridden folks. When her final days came she complained about spending them away from home — in a hospital. “Bobby,” she said to me then, “why are they doing this to me? They’re going against nature.”


Solitaire and Christmas films


©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶You have my permission to skip this post. Just realize all the while that you probably will have missed something that someday might have helped you significantly.

Where’s the queen of hearts?

¶I have a confession to make in my cyberspatial confessional. I’m addicted to the Internet game “Yukon Solitaire”. It could be worse, I guess, if I had a smartphone. I saw on the Internet today that many Americans are addicted to that device, which I don’t have; just have a cheap old flip-phone. I tried a smartphone a year ago, but it didn’t respond to my fingers accurately enough, had a bunch of apps that I couldn’t afford to use, and ran out of juice too quickly.
¶But back to the solitaire. I know what many well-meaning folks will say: “Be happy! Playing solitaire can keep your brain rejuvenated! Keep you from becoming senile.”
¶That well may be, but I view playing the stupid game a major waste of time. I could be writing the “Great American Novel” or drawing masterpieces. Instead, I gaze at my monitor’s screen and try to determine if there is some magic strategy for attaining the “perfect win”. And that’s what I actually call it: “the perfect win”. It’s when I can get all the cards in their proper columns and complete down to at least the number “3” cards. Of course it is quite possible (and usual) to win when I’ve had to move several lower cards up to the top, but that’s just a “win”, not a “perfect win”.
¶I must admit that, besides the supposed benefit of keeping my brain active, playing “Yukon Solitaire” has revealed to me some interesting facts of life and facets of my personality. Probably the profoundest fact is that losing is as important an element of playing Yukon Solitaire — or, for that matter, any game — as winning. If I won every game or even several games in a row, boredom would quickly descend upon me. Of course, the opposite is also true: whenever I lose too many games sequentially I become frustrated and irritated and I resolve (for a day) to give up the game. But then that old lust to play returns and there I am before the computer again.
¶A year or so ago, I heard on one of the NPR talk shows a woman who had written a book (or maybe it was just an article) about how people can learn much about their own psyches from playing “Scrabble®”. I played that game only once, many years ago, and it bored me so much I never ventured into it again, so I didn’t listen very long to the radio conversation. However, I did attend enough to gather that it must be possible, indeed, to discover a lot about one’s personality and perhaps even improve it by playing Scrabble® and other such games.
¶Another thing I learned about the Yukon Solitaire game is that the outcome is not as much a matter of chance as in the original solitaire game. The player can calculate odds of moving certain cards as opposed to moving others at times when mutually excludable options exist. Also, one can begin to gauge which rows demand more attention because, if too neglected, they contain too many uncovered cards near the game’s end. Naturally, those rows tend to be the last three. Yet another insight is noticing that one’s odds of winning are proportional to the balance of red and black cards at the opening.
¶I could go on with my insights, but I don’t want to tempt my readers to try the game; for it truly is addictive, and I don’t want to be responsible for your fall.

* * * * * *

O Merry…Merry…something or other

¶While I’m still in the confessional, I guess I might as well admit to having spent a bunch of hours over several weeks in November and December watching Hallmark Channel’s massive array of Christmas romance movies. Even beyond the twelve days of Christmas.
¶It was all part of my attempt — only slightly successful — to escape the pall of gloom that fell over me and millions of my fellow citizens following the November 8 election. I was trying to avoid the news programs, which, in my case, is very difficult because I am something of a news and political junkie. I’m only a nominal Christian: a fellow who no longer attends a church and does not adhere to the Apostle’s Creed. Nor have I paid much attention to Christmas in decades. But this time I wanted to escape into some kind of cheery mythical world. And I found a bunch of that in several of those movies. Of course some were rather saccharine, but others were worth the viewing.
¶When one watches a series of films all pretty much about the same motif, one picks up on common elements. Two of the most common themes in the Hallmark Christmas movies are (1) the Scrooge theme, and (2) the real Santa theme. If you have seen the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”, you might recall that it contained both themes.
¶I am using “the Scrooge theme” rather broadly here, meaning that the storyline presents a case of a person who loved Christmas as a child but, due to some unfortunate experience in the past, now either denigrates or ignores it. The protagonist is not a “Scrooge” in the sense of being selfish or inhumane, although some might be business executives more intent on making money than on sharing cheerful hours with others. One, for instance, was the story of a developer who wanted to convert a building that, on one floor, had housed a music therapy center. In another, rather preposterous story — even by fictional standards — the reindeer Dancer is too ill to fly on Christmas Eve — so Mrs. Claus sends the North Pole’s handler in cognito to buy a replacement at a reindeer farm; when the farm’s owner declines to sell, she orders the handler to steal a reindeer. (Don’t be concerned: Mrs. Claus finally recognizes her fault and the whole situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.) In yet another, a Christmas tree farmer is about to lose his place because, due to bad weather, his crops have not sold well during the past two years, and the banker is set to foreclose on him; but he is saved by the story’s heroine, a marketing executive from New York who creates a “brand” campaign for his trees and drafts the farmer’s daughter and his friends to promote them countywide.
¶By far the most fascinating of the stories, however, is the fantasy tale of a nurse in 1945 who has not heard from her soldier husband. She worries that he is possibly a war fatality. After a few early scenes in which she reveals her charitable good nature, the nurse drives home during a blizzard and runs off the road into a ditch. After she crawls out of the ditch she stumbles through the snow to storage building, climbs through a window, and falls asleep. In the morning she goes to a local police station for help, but on the way she doesn’t recognize any of the vehicles on the road. During her interview with the police, they suspect that she has suffered some brain damage. Eventually, she comes to realize that she is in the 21st century, not the 20th. The police chief takes her home to spend Christmas with him and his family, and to further examine her to see is she is mentally off or perhaps is playing a confidence game. Through some ingenious detective work, the policeman concludes that she really has time-traveled; and the problem now is how to get her back to 1945.
¶I won’t take up the necessary time or space to explain it all, but the nurse’s situation involves a comet that passed by Earth in December 1945 and is scheduled to also pass it this December. So that policeman and the community — which has come to appreciate her because she has reminded them of their long forgotten customs of caroling and hanging Christmas lights on the town gazebo — accompany her to the storage building. She goes inside; and, after the crowd watches the comet pass overhead, they open the door to find she is no longer there. The last scene in the movie is of her shoveling the packed snow from in front of her car and her husband, in uniform and a duffel bag over his shoulder, showing up to help her.
¶Yeah, pretty far out but still heart-warming.
¶And now I, too, am back in the real world. Alas!


Idle Thoughts

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
Recently, I told a friend I would try to compose a “cheerful” blog post, since the last few have been just a step or two above depressing. But it is difficult to write such a piece if one doesn’t feel cheery. Nevertheless, I’ve got to put something down, else people will think I’ve done myself in, and call out the police and the ambulance. So, even though the first few paragraphs are perhaps bland if not comforting, the last will invite you to see my favorite Christmas ecard, which I posted last year.

* * * * * *
¶Well, fall has come in and blown away rather quickly around here. Two weeks ago, the leaves on the non-bearing pear trees had just begun to change from green to red, yellow and brown, when a cold front blew in…and I mean blew in…and whirled many of those beauties to the ground. Why some remained on their twigs, I’ll never understand; but there hadn’t been enough anyway to compare favorably to last year’s crop. Did you see my blog post last year with the photo of the leaves I collected on my desk and had Chris photograph?  O, it was a beautiful scene outside for at least a week last year! I knew it wasn’t going to be as grand this season, because the apartment complex’s manager had a crew come over last summer to cut away a bunch of the trees’ limbs.
¶Still, I say, that wind was very unkind; and it was the same today, with gusts up to 60 mph rattling around my residence. I stayed in my apartment all day-long, watching old TV shows on the Internet, escaping into a fictional world. It wasn’t an escape into cheeriness, though, because one of the shows was ABC’s  “Body of Proof”, starring Dana Delaney as a brilliant medical examiner who solves many murder mysteries by examining rather horrifically beat-up, shot up, or burned up bodies, the sights of which viewers are not spared. Very gruesome show…but engrossing! That series lasted only three seasons (2011-213). The other show was “Commander-in-Chief”, also on ABC, starring Geena Davis as the first woman to become President, after her predecessor dies of an aneurysm. Donald Sutherland, as Speaker of the House, plays her nemesis; not a “villain” in the classic sense of the term, but a political ideologue whose own conception of the Constitution is so extremely opposed to this female upstart that he attempts to undermine her with some dirty tricks. That show lasted one season (2005-2006) but it is worth watching, especially at this time, because it resonates with our current real-life experience. I invite you to view it yourselves, and to help you do that I am including here the URL for reaching “Commander-in-Chief” on your computer:

* * * * * *
¶Now we can get to light stuff. Those of you who were reading my posts regularly for a good while might recall the ecard I posted last December 22: “A Christmas Tree”. Well, I’ve decided to send it again. Although I have drifted (or grown) far from Christian theological dogma, I still retain a strong fondness for its mythology and especially the older Christmas music; you know, the particular songs that make up the usual repertoire of carolers.
¶Note that this particular ecard requires that you click on the angel to get it started. I should also point out that sound is very integral to it, so activate your speaker or put your ear phones on first.


A Final Father’s Day

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Well, today it is raining. How appropriate and welcome! For it is Father’s Day, too.

Among the Ten Commandments recorded in the Old Testament, is the directive “Honor your father and mother…”. Half the sources list this commandment as the fourth, and half include it as the fifth. Whatever.

In the past, I have pondered the question: What if your parents are not honorable? Surely the sons and daughters of historical tyrants and criminals must scratch their heads over that. As for me, I feel that Mama was worthy of honoring despite her social lapses and strong prejudices. Pappy, on the other hand, has been a puzzle for me; he was always rooting for me from a distance; but he was hot-headed, and he was morally and ethically weak. After he died, Mama, in a fit of anger, informed me that he was “a coward”, citing as her justification for this allegation that he had asked her to support his request for exemption from the draft during World War II on the basis that he had three sons to care for. (They had divorced in 1942.)

There is no way I can confirm the truth of Mama’s claim: it is a conundrum for me. Pappy was big, his attitude was often belligerent, and he had worked all his life among rough men. My sister-in-law informed me recently that, according to my brother Vernon, Pappy had left the Rio Grande Valley for Dallas “because he had almost killed a man down there”. When I pressed her for more details, she said that was all she had heard from Vernon, “just bits and pieces”. Then there was Mama’s judgment.

That cowardice business is just one interesting piece of information I have happened on since I wrote my first blog post about Pappy. Another came to me indirectly from a “book” by and about one of my uncles, Carl Lee Tanberg, who remained in the Valley all his life. One of his three daughters sent it to me. She had given him the blank book with a request that he write down all the memories that he thought would be interesting to his family and others. (I had given Mama a blank book also, but she never wrote anything in it.)  Carl Lee was a fairly gifted raconteur and writer. One sentence in that book jumped off the page at me: “Maurine ran off with Bill Litton.” They eloped?! Mama, of course,  being a bit strait-laced in her maturer years, never mentioned that episode; in fact, she never confided anything about their courtship to me other than, in answer to my idle question of how they had met, she replied, “O, everybody in a small town like that knows everybody.” The sentence in my cousin’s book indicated to me that my grandfather, and probably my grandmother as well, did not approve of Pappy. Since Mama was born in 1910 and my brother Vernon was born in 1928, Mama could not have been older than eighteen when she and Pappy ran off to get married.

Many people, including most of my own family, would hide anecdotes such as these; but, like my uncle Carl Lee, I don’t believe in white-washing family history, primarily because it is just such “bits and pieces” which make a family history engrossing, and usually entertaining, reading. Contrasted with the images of Mama and Pappy I have had all my life, I think the elopement story is hilarious.

This will probably be my last Father’s Day blog post…at least about my own father. I don’t know anything else about him that I haven’t already related. Although he won’t rate  highly on any sensible scale of fatherhood, he was a fascinatingly colorful figure. He is a most suitable subject for moral and ethical reflection.




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