At this point in writing my father’s story, I am deeply immersed in the years 1910 – 1912. Before my father went off to college supported by the money he had saved working for two years on a job he didn’t like. Before the first World War that killed his first – and maybe only—best friend and Best Man at my parent’s wedding (June 6, 1917.)
Some few people in Forestville/Bristol Connecticut were buying cars, enough so there were six automobile dealers and retailers listed in the city business directory. He walked to work past private homes whose green lawns were enhanced by gardens of asters and chrysanthemums. On Sundays he walked to Bethesda Lutheran Church to participate in the Swedish service, singing in the choir, having practiced there on Wednesday evenings.
I imagine peace, quiet, and hope when I spend time there. But on 9/30/1910, three days after my father arrived in the United states, the newspapers reported a terrorist bombing of the Los Angeles Times. Twenty people were killed. The source I read didn’t give any details about the bomber or motivation for the carnage. But it awakens me to the fact that we have never been without terrorism.
So what would my father have to say today if he were here about the most recent terrorist attack? Maybe that’s when he’d say of his life, “I’m glad I’m on my way out.” I know he’d feel sadness, dismay, and probably disgust that people or groups choose killing as a way of solving problems. I’m quite sure we would be discussing it at the dinner table, searching for possible answers.
I know he wouldn’t jump to conclusions about motive, while he would relate it to the spate of killings to which we have, sadly, become accustomed. I know he wouldn’t scapegoat.
Was the Orlando attack part of an organized plan by an organized enemy? Apparently not, according to FBI reports. Was it hatred of the LGBT community? Was it the perpetrator’s personal illness – bipolar disorder? Was it the killers confused battle with his own sexuality? Was it a combination of some or all of the above?
Whatever lay behind the horror, he’d know it can’t be explained by simplistic assumptions. He’d worry that some might not understand how complex the situation is and would choose to rush into inappropriate reactions. My father wasn’t opposed to emotions, but he did favor rational consideration when it comes to understanding and responding.
Looking over all the terrorist attacks, domestic or externally motivated, from Columbine to now, he’d see, as we can’t help but see, that the one common denominator is not only the use of guns, but more basically the choice of violence.
On today’s news I heard that investigators are suggesting a psychological factor uniting them all – that the killer(s) were trying to gain control. My father’s youngest daughter (me) finds that highly reasonable. Having control over one’s own life is basic to being fully human. To oversimplify, it comes from expressing one’s own individual abilities and strengths and feeling rewarded and respected for them. When one doesn’t receive that gift through life situations or genetic givens, then shame may encourage debilitating depression, or, with more energy, blaming and gaining control over others. Demagoguery is one control route, but not for all. Enslavement is another, as is killing, whether organized or individual.
I think my father would say we’d better be careful before rushing to violent conclusions of our own, and take a look at the complexity of life under any circumstances, but certainly in a democracy. It may not be immediately satisfying, but solutions that stick in the long run usually aren’t quick and easy.
Writing is a tough job, but even tougher when my topic is so personal. I’m working on “My Father’s House,” wanting from the bottom of my heart to convey the character of the man so many admired. To me he was my father – aren’t all father’s like that? But to my High School boyfriends, as they confessed to me later in life, he was the reason why they wanted to date me. “I wanted to take you out because I admired your father.” One of them who became an architect, added his admiration for our house.
I suppose I should wonder what that says about me. But I do know what it says about my father. He was a special man in the eyes of some who saw him from an outside-the-family perspective.
So why do I get discouraged? Because I want to convey his character and I’m having trouble doing that. Right now I want to help the potential reader know the hurt and challenge he felt when people laughed at him for his Swedish accent and ways. I want them to appreciate his determination to overcome that while improving his career position by saving income from less-than-desirable work to pay for college. I want them to understand his ultimate pride in his perfect English. Except for the Swedish lilt, his accent became perfectly American. I want people to rejoice with him in the small victory when he used the word “nuance,” and was laughed at for using a foreign word. Picture the satisfaction when he opened Webster’s Dictionary to point out the English word.
I want people to recognize and feel the presence of specific folks in their own lives as they read this phase of my father’s story. (My Italian father-in law’s story was of the same kind of courage – the kind of courage so many immigrants brought with them.)
There’s a whole lifetime I want to convey as the writing goes on, but this is what my heart and head are working on right now.
I get discouraged, but I’ll be digging in today to work on it. I guess I’ll have to invoke my father’s spirit and know that the thing to do with a problem is to do something about the problem.
So now, in my imagination, I’ve pulled in encouragement from many of you. Thank you.
Sorry, I’ve been away from here too long.
The cough hit again when I got home, and this time whatever the bug was hit my back too, so there were a few moan and groan days, such as drain one’s energy. These little nasties tend to seek out our most vulnerable parts.
Besides that, I found I can’t do anything with my travel photos until I get the new external drive I’ve ordered. Seems I’ve overwhelmed my little MacBook Air. I want to say I’ll have some photos for my blog after I get the chance to go through them to delete and edit. But I do hesitate, knowing that I never did deliver my Iceland photos as I had promised. (Have you noticed how time goes by faster every year?)
I do want to tell you, though, about our last day in Amsterdam. As I’m remembering the day, one thing that stands out is bicycles. Not only the fact that bicycles are a major mode of transportation, with their own broad lanes, but also that for some reason lots of them end up in the canals. We came by one boat dredging the waters, already loaded with recovered bicycles, and pulling up another whole bunch. I was too slow with the camera to catch them in the grasp of the claws, but I did get a shot of the piles already recovered. How it does inspire the imagination to make up a pretend backstory.
There are times in my travels when I arrive at a place where I’d like to stay a while. That’s how I felt at the Beguinage, a beautiful inner court of town homes rentable only to single women. Founded in the middle ages, it was once home, in the form of single rooms, to women who were one step away from being nuns, but never did take vows and were free to leave to get married. Now, in my daydreams, I could imagine spending the day working – teaching or whatever – and returning at night to the calm and beauty of the area. Maybe a quick pause in the lovely chapel would be in order.
At the other extreme of experience was the visit to the Anne Frank house. Doug – the world’s best personal travel agent – had discovered the option to buy a ticket on line for a half-hour lecture at 6:00 p.m. (as I recall) followed by a tour. Without that, we would have been in a huge line that stretched way around the block.
Anne’s father had certainly done his best to protect his family. For the situation, the structure was relatively roomy, like a small house, really. But imagine living there in silent darkness, with the windows covered. And ultimately being betrayed just a short time before the end of the war.
So here’s my true confession. I never could make myself read Anne’s diary. We assigned it in Developmental Psych classes; friends told me it was inspiring; but I was sure I would think only of the horror that Anne eventually suffered, and the senseless killing of her dreams. Having visited the spot, however, I think, for some reason I can’t really explain, that I can now read the book.
And I am more than happy to have experienced her hiding place. I like knowing that her thoughts and life have not only survived, but influenced people in many different languages and many parts of the world.
That was the end of our trip. The next day we flew from Amsterdam to Minneapolis/St. Paul. The process of making it through security and the subsequent check points was amazingly efficient. And it’s always good to get home.