“I have some interesting news for you, Mark.”
Darcy and I had been seeing each other for several months, and this night it was my choice to cook dinner. She opened a select bottle of wine that she had brought for the occasion, and poured me a glass. I was stirring risotto, and welcomed the vintage nectar. It was a chilly winter evening and the kitchen windows were steamed over. As she stood near the glass doors that opened to my balcony, she drew a happy face in the condensation, and then followed it with another. Art created in dew is delicate and kinetic, and must be appreciated for its occurrence. I wondered what was next.
“I’ve located your father.” She spoke with fortitude.
Now, the process of cooking risotto is not conducive to intense emotional changes. I immediately turned off the fire, took the bottle of wine, and sat at the table. The two happy faces on the glass door were dripping into arbitrary form, and the light from a street lamp twinkled through rather like a distant star. Darcy proceeded to open a second bottle of wine, although the first was yet half full. She sat at the table with me and poured a glass for herself.
“Please,” I was trying to regulate my pulse by breathing deeply and slowly. “Tell me.” But anxiety was bubbling inside me like hot lava.
Because she and I had become close, she had been privy to a couple of nights of my emotional reminiscences of Pappy; as I drank a bottle dry, then corked the stuporous frustrations of the years into the empty container and tossed it into a sea of time, confusion, blabber, tears, and hope. She was acutely aware of my desire to know more about my father, and had conferred with an acquaintance of hers who had access to a database that was unavailable to me. The records showed that Pappy was living in Tampa, Florida. He had married only a few years prior to this, and he and his wife had purchased a house. I was in awe!
“I talked to him briefly, a couple of days ago.” She informed me.
Darcy had contacted him and inquired if he was interested in talking to his boys. It was a wise move on her part, as situations of this nature can easily go awry. She told me that his response was exuberantly cautious. Yes, by all means, he wanted to talk to his boys. It had been so long. He thought that they might be living in Texas. It was very unexpected. He hoped that they were not angry. He didn’t know exactly what to say. She had arranged for Pappy to call my house at a particular time, only two days away. I was to contact Trevor and inform him, and presumably we would both be there at that time. Yes, by all means, he wanted to talk to his boys!
Trevor was equally taken aback when I told him. Over the years, Pappy had become a myth to Trevor and I. He had become an icon of Sir Uck Uck, charging forth to conquer evil forces in far away places. He was all the illusionary roles of the heroic figures of life. He was Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable, and Victor McLaglen, and Cary Grant, and Bustor Grarre. He was Robin Hood, King Arthur, Ivanhoe, Parnell, the western marshals, Ulysses, etc. . His evil nemesis, Buck Star, did not stand a chance, as Pappy defeated the likes of Lord Belascoe, or Guy of Gisbourne, and cleared the universe of wicked windmills that threatened the happiness of children everywhere! Buck Star was a motion picture actor conceived out of…imagination. Pappy was real; we could remember him. He had touched us, loved us, spanked us, fed us, changed our diapers, and left us for his great quest. He was the father figure personified,and in the depths of our psyche Trevor and I knew that someday he would return from his great endeavor. We knew it, but we had long ago ceased to expect it.
The next two days were perhaps the quietest two days of my life. Trevor and I were about to confront the myth, and face up to years of confusion between fact and fiction. As did he, I had no idea what to say. Many years had passed, and the chasm was wide and nearly void of common reality. This sudden bridge seemed so rickety and uncertain, but if Pappy was willing to take the steps across, Trevor and I were willing to step forward as well. We hovered in nervous suspense, as thirty-nine years became two days.
Pappy was supposed to have called at seven o clock, and it was already ten minutes after the hour. Trevor and I sat anxiously in my apartment as adrenalin rushed through us like bolts of electricity from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, and generated grunts and moans of awkward conversation; or sudden jerks and body movements as Trevor’s legs jittered and shook the sofa, or as I stood, paced, and sat repeatedly. The television was on, but it meant no more to us than an equivocal prop on a set. Only the telephone was real. Another five minutes passed and the wait became more and more monstrous to endure. Then, at twenty after, it rang. I rose and moved circumspectly to the phone. Trevor picked up the extension. The drama was tense and thick.
“Hello.” Trevor and I answered.
“Hello, Mark?” Pappy spoke.
“Yes.” I replied, as Trevor spoke up simultaneously. “And Trevor.”
“Hello Boys. This is your father.” He spoke.
Pappy’s voice was not the iconic echo of the father figure personified ringing out from great heights above. Rather, it was apprehensive, and accompanied by an insecure stammer. None of us knew what to say, but we talked for nearly thirty minutes. We collected data about how to contact each other in the future, and began the construction of a bridge. I don’t recall much of that conversation, except that I was quite startled by his speech impediment.
I had envisioned Pappy in so many chimeras: the mythological hero, the brave adventurer, the misunderstood artist, the wanton gypsy, and even as a disturbed visitor to the cuckoo’s nest – but never had I imagined a stammer. He perceptively addressed the subject without our asking, and assured us that he would elucidate upon that at a future time. We would eventually understand that it was probably due to a time of abusive behavior by his original father, which played a significant role in Mum Mum’s second marriage, and in his adoption. I quickly began to realize that most of my knowledge of my father was contrived out of ignorance and fantasy, or from a collection of vague and derelict memories.
Did he stammer when he told us the wonderful stories of Sir Uck Uck and Charlie Horse? Did he stammer when the Walkin’ Pokin’ divulged his vast wisdom? Did he stammer when he put on a puppet show with Snappy the dragon, or the Cross-eyed Carpenter? Did he stammer when he scolded us for being bad little boys? Did he stammer when he said good-bye, thirty-nine years ago? I couldn’t remember.
Trevor and I finally had the opportunity to get acquainted with the real man that would transform from a mysterious image of a father lost, into Pappy. Pappy would have the opportunity to finally get to know his little boys as men. We mutually agreed to let bygones be bygones, and to begin a new story. Not as in the tale of Doctor Frankenstein, who created a monster, and, like the movies, he never was really destroyed, but has come back to haunt him. Rather, it was like a joyful and misplaced chapter from the legend of Rip Van Winkle.
Life, these days, is replete with incidents like ours. People move to and fro at a forsaken pace, often leaving their seeds sown, only to grow without their nurturing presence. Families in this civilized world are beleaguered with separation, abandonment, divorce, trafficked adoption, and even the spiritually ill and egocentric choice of anonymous insemination void of the presence of a father figure. We are even at the dawn of pre-selected DNA children, and the clone, born out of emotional, neurotic desperation. Children can be conceived in a Petri Dish and a test tube, not conceived in a woman’s womb out of lust and passion. I sometimes wonder how the family survives as a functional unit at all, save the fact that there is a biological urge to perpetuate the presence of mother, father, and siblings as a component of nature that supersedes the robotic ambitions of intellect alone. It may all be part of the master plan, but that is of little comfort to one who is about to stand face to face with his blood mother or father, with whom they have had no contact for many years, often their entire life. There is the very real possibility that reunions of this type can go terribly awry.
That telephone conversation was, however, the momentous beginning of a marvelous reunion. During the next few weeks we communicated often. There was no bitterness about the past, or no great expectations of the future. Trevor and I arranged to visit Pappy in Florida. Pappy sent several drawings that he had completed, and a couple of photographs. He also prepared and sent personalized audiotapes for Trevor and I. We were little boys when last he saw us – little boys that would sit enthralled at his side as he told wonderful tales of adventure, humorous stories of great quests, or inadvertent anecdotes of his naked soul. This audiotape marvelously bridged the gap of time that had transpired, and I listened with childlike reverie. With your permission, I would like to share some excerpts from that cassette.
♫♪♪♫ Hello Boys,
Well, how ‘bout a bedtime story? Haven’t had a bedtime story for a long, long time. Of course, you recognize the opening theme… Warner Brothers Loony Tunes and Merry Melodies.
Remember how I used to sit down and just start telling you stories when you went to bed? Went something like this.
Once upon a time, in the land of imagination, with just the flicker of an eyelash, on the threshold of sleep, there lived an old man. Now he wasn’t ancient, but he wasn’t young. He lived on just the outskirts of the land of imagination, in a little house that he and his wife had acquired.
He had, long last, after a very tumultuous life – after all, he had gone on a great quest with Sir Uck Uck. He had helped build a house with the cross-eyed carpenter, which neither of them could straighten out. He had gone up into the mountains and talked with Snappy Dragon, until Snappy dragon fell asleep. And, you remember what happened when Snappy dragon fell asleep. He always breathed fire and brimstone, and it blew from the mountaintops. Of course the Walkin’ Pokin’ solved that, but that was another story. And then, of course, he would ride about the countryside on Charlie Horse. Then there were the times that he and Honey Bear would go into the woods and hunt for honey trees, and when they found them Honey Bear would always con the old man into getting up there to get the honey. Honey Bear ate the honey. The old man, well he got the bees, and that was that.
The old man spent much of his lifetime looking for lilly-lilly-boom-booms. He caught a few, or tried to catch a few, I should say, but it never really happened. He never gave up hope, however, that he could catch a lilly-lilly-boom-boom. But, he was content. As I said, he had gone on his quests, and built crooked houses, and he had many wonderful friends. Why, he and Don Quixote used to go out together – you remember Don Quixote the puppet? – They used to go out together and fight windmills. The old man was pretty good at fighting windmills. Almost as good as Don Quixote.
Well, it came to pass that one day, Hoppity Crane, the mailman, delivered a letter. In the letter was a wonderful series of pictures and writings from his sons, which for oh so many years – almost forty to be exact – he hadn’t seen. They wanted to come down the road and visit with him. Well… that scared the old man, to be perfectly honest. He felt very guilty about what had happened. Every day of his life he had thought about them, and he wasn’t happy with that. He wasn’t happy with himself about that. He desperately wanted to see those boys, but equally, he was a little bit afraid. After all, he hadn’t been what he should have been to them. The guilt was building up, and he didn’t know what to say.
So he sat alongside the road and wondered what to do about it. The cross-eyed carpenter came along, and the old man told him about the letter. The Cross-eyed Carpenter said, “Oh, I think that you should see them.”
Now, the Cross-eyed Carpenter was a very nice person, but as usual, he offered crooked logic.
“At their age, they don’t need a father, you need your sons.”
Well, that wasn’t altogether accurate. Yes, the old man needed his sons, but really, he hoped that his sons needed a father.
Then along came Sir Uck Uck, and said, “Well, they sound like good men to me, and I think they ought to join my great quest.”
The old man said, “No, no I don’t think they should join your quest, because your quests never lead to anything.”
“I know,” Sir Uck Uck said, “but I have a wonderful time having the quest.”
Then Honey Bear showed up on his way in search of honey. The old man told him the story, and Honey Bear said, “But if they come down here, we won’t be going into the woods to get honey.”
The old man looked at Honey Bear and said “That might be so, but maybe they will go into the woods with us and help us get honey.”
“Think so?” said Honey Bear.
“I think so.” Said the old man.
Honey Bear was very happy. “That would mean more honey!”
Soon Charlie Horse meandered along. He was always so happy go lucky and carefree, and he thought it would be a wonderful idea if he went up the road and brought the boys to see the old man.
The old man could not make up his mind. He wanted so desperately to see his boys, but he was so afraid. He was frightened of so many things that people can fear when they have nothing to be afraid of. Woe is me, and me is woe, he would say. Certainly, he was going to let the boys come because he wanted so much to see them. But, he was afraid that perhaps he shouldn’t let them visit because maybe they wouldn’t like him. They might remember all the things that he hadn’t done, things that weren’t quite right. He was in a real quandary.
Suddenly he saw the Walkin’ Pokin’ walking along, with his umbrella under his wing, and a lazy expression on his face. You remember the Walkin’ Pokin’. As the Walkin’ Pokin’ walked around, and poked around, people came to him for advice. He was a very wise bird. He seemed to have the answer to just about everything. He had the answers to the Cross-eyed Carpenter’s problems. He always had solutions to Honey Bear’s problems. He certainly knew the answers to Sir Uck Uck’s great quests. But, those are old stories.
So, the Walkin’ Pokin’ walked up to the old man and said, “Hello, old man. How have you been?”
Well, woe is me, and me is woe said the old man. I just got a wonderful letter from my boys who I haven’t seen for many, many years, and they want to come and see me. I want them to come visit, so very much, but I’m frightened. I’m afraid that after all that has happened that they might not like me.
The Walkin’ Pokin’ looked at him for a long time, and then said, “Well, they made the effort to find you didn’t they?”
The old man said yes.
“They took the trouble to contact you, didn’t they?”
The old man said yes.
“ They certainly are taking the trouble to come down and see you?”
The old man had to agree, that was true.
“Well,” the Walkin’ Pokin’ scratched his ear – where an ear would be – and he looked at the sky and said,
“It seems to me that you don’t have any problems. No woe is you, and no you is woe, not in my mind. You is happy, and should be deliriously happy. I don’t think that the past means that much. The past is what one has done. The past is what your boys have done. It is the present now. And with the present, there is a new world out there. This is like going on a great quest with Sir Uck Uck. This is a quest to reclaim a portion of your life that has been completely missing. It is a chance to reconstruct your relationship and make friends, make friends with the most important people in your life. It should be celebration and jubilation. And, the way I see it, you need only wait happily to see them.”
With that the Walkin’ Pokin’ turned and walked away, just a pokin’ and walking along the road. The old man sat quietly for a long time. Then, without further adieu, he wrote a small letter, in which he said – Come boys, come. I want to see you so very much. I want to be with you. I want to know you. I want to try to be something of a father, which I haven’t been for a long time – at least not to you boys. And with that, the old man mailed the letter off with Hoppity Crane, and the old man is now waiting at the end of that road. Waiting, with happiness in his heart. With love, waiting, for that long past to become the present. I love you boys. It’s going to be wonderful, and I must thank the Walkin’ Pokin’. See you soon!
Continue to part 17
Mark T.K. Fought