Pappy part 24

The early morning was warm, humid, and fragrant.  I was first up and quietly made coffee, then sat on the porch steps outside.  The bougainvillea that grew along the fence were bright and cheery, and I watched several small birds darting in and out of their thick, clinging growth.  A large bumblebee passed by from blossom to blossom, diligent and early at work.  The elderly lady across the way was watering her abundance of potted flowers and wearing a gaudy colored robe that blended ironically with her pampered flora.  Her cat moved stealthy through the yard in search of unsuspecting prey, be it a beetle, a bee, or a bird.  The daily cycle was beginning, but I felt uncomfortable. 

At each point on the mandala where a life begins there is also a life that ends.  Suddenly I did not want to be here.  I did not want to go to memorial services.  I did not want to go to the funeral parlor.  I did not want to be in Florida.  I did not want to face the reason for which I had made this journey.  It was sure to be a hot, sticky day, and I had little doubt that I was going to be miserable.

“Refill on your coffee?”

Trevor had gotten up.  He filled my cup then joined me.  We chatted about the day.  That morning we would attend the memorial services that Bryn had arranged to be held at the University.  I expressed my reluctance, and Trevor became the older brother.  He spoke wisely about our reason for going and calmed my jitters somewhat.   That afternoon we would go to the funeral parlor to say our final good bye to Pappy.  I expressed that I did not require that visit; after all, the body is but a shell wherein a life dwells, and why view the shell when the man had vacated.  Trevor was adamant though.  It was important to him.  I conceded to go along, quite convinced that I was philosophically the older brother in this case.

“Have a peaceful day, y’all.”  Harley had dressed and was about to leave.  He was going to spend the day with his children.  “I’ll see you late tonight,” he announced as he left.

Trevor and I prepared for the day, quietly and slowly.

Services were to begin at 10:00.  It was already too hot by 9:30 when we left for the school.  I sometimes wonder if memorial services are not too formal.  Why couldn’t this have been at the beach with everyone wearing shorts, brightly colored Hawaiian shirts, and sandals, with dolphins jumping in the background, and the gulf sunset reflecting on the horizon?  We could drink daiquiris and release Pappy’s ashes to a Caribbean wind, I amused myself. 

As it was, Trevor and I looked more like the Ringo Kid and Marshal Wilcox, with our boots and buckles, my vest, and his hat.  (I had learned long ago that it is not easy to take a cowboy hat on an airplane; there is nowhere to put it, not even on your head).  Not much had really changed since the days that Pappy had wandered out of our lives many years ago while we were still playing Stagecoach and wearing cowboy hats, short pants, and boots.  We were just a couple of old cowboys now, going to a last roundup to say adios once more as Pappy faded out of our lives again.

The event was to occur in the Chandelier Room, a medium sized conference room.  There was no chandelier, and I mused that it had been taken down so that Pappy’s spirit would not come swinging into the services at a most awkward moment.  I don’t actually know why there was no chandelier in the Chandelier Room.  There were, however, many people there.  I guess I was rather surprised.  There must have been nearly a hundred folks gathered for the service.

It quickly became obvious that Bryn had put forth an extended effort in preparing and arranging everything.  There were two large flower arrangements, several photographs of Pappy placed strategically about, and a small exhibit of accolades that he had received while working at the university.  What was, however, unavoidably, and delightfully obvious was the impressive display of drawings that Pappy had done for so many of his fellow employees.  Bryn had collected an extensive collection of these drawings from, it appeared, nearly all the people with whom he had had contact while employed there.  For the most part they were and extension of the proliferation of his drawings, sketches, and cartoons that were abundant in his house, and they were mostly characterizations of himself in amusing or embarrassing situations that related to specific circumstances or persons around him daily.  These drawings were numerous, positioned throughout the area, and served to greatly lighten the mood of the moment.

There was something else that caught my eye as I perused the gallery of drawings.  It was a small presentation amid all else that showed a reference paper that Pappy had written about animation and lenticular viewing titled Viewing a 3-D Movie Without Glasses.  The presentation started with a memo, which began: 

“Congratulations!  It is my pleasure to inform you that your paper entitled Viewing a 3-D Movie Without Glasses has been accepted for presentation at the International Workshop on Digital and Computational Video (December 10, 1999) …” and went on to discuss registration and format for the event.  The paper, which was only seven or eight pages, was available for one to read.  I was enticed and I began to read it. 

… I have always been curious, but I was especially curious about 3-dimensional movies.  As a young child I would play with my grandparents’ stereopticon.  I learned that the brain combines both right and left images to give the illusion of 3-D.  At age seven, I obtained a book from the library and made a stereoscope.  Soon after, I obtained a 3-D viewer with an 8mm projector from the Jack Armstrong “all American Boy” radio program.

At age 10, I became very interested in a toy advertising the 1937 movie, “Snow White”.  It was a very cheap magnifying glass in a cardboard, barrel-like mount.  Remember the old Nickelodeon arcades?  (It was rather like mounting a flipbook inside a box.)  Using a standard light bulb for projection and a hand-crank for a motor, it would project actual movies!  At this time I was also drawing profusely…

“Quite an array of drawings.” Trevor said.

It took me a second to return from the 1930s.  He was there with Bryn, and she wanted to introduce us to some of the folks that had gathered there.  I would have to continue reading Pappy’s paper later, and Bryn assured me that she would supply both Trevor and I with a copy.

The congregation of people were of all ranks from around the campus; janitors thru professors, and the Dean was expected soon.

I sneaked back for another paragraph or two.

I began to do animations.  I put my flip drawings onto a core of cardboard to fit into the opaque projector and cranked away.  I did discover that W had to write backwards because it was a direct throw light, no mirrors.  By age twelve I was attempting to project 3-D motion pictures using a parabolic mirror and the battery-powered 8mm projector.

Essentially, I graduated from the school of Wheaties box-top premiums, Johnson Smith & Company, and Edmund Salvage.  They were grand sources of trinkets and novelties.  I was able to supply myself with lenses, prisms, projectors, gun cameras, 3-D glasses, and much more.  Those early experiences led me toward a career in the arts, music, motion pictures, and that which I find the most fascinating—animation.

The paper began to get more technical, and gradually more contemporary, from that point on and would take some deeper concentration.  I’ll not bore you further, or myself, with those technicalities, besides, the Dean had made his appearance.

He was a slim, handsome man of calm eloquence.  Trevor and I were introduced, and he reflected a genuine remorse for the passing of a man that these people mostly knew as Papa Donn.  The occasion began with the Dean speaking first, and then leading the proceedings in what he referred to as a Quaker style memorial.  Others from the gathering were free to speak of Pappy (Papa Donn), to address his memory however they felt appropriate.  And, they did.

They all had something wonderful to say.  The consensus among the ladies was in reference to Papa Donn’s flirtatious nature. It seemed that he made each one of them feel unique, special, desirable, and they were amused that he had been able to contain these flirtations on an individual level.

“And I thought that I was his true one and only,” they declared in good humor through teary eyes.

In accordance the fellows expressed that Papa Donn had always treated everyone with genuine, equitable respect, at any rung of the ladder, of any hue in the spectrum.

All these people loved pappy and they did not hesitate to say so.  In the monthly newsletter published shortly afterwards the service was described somewhat as follows:

“A memorial service for Donn Fought was held on Friday.  Donn’s two sons, Trevor, and Mark … were in attendance as well as over 100 (others) from the faculty and staff.  At the service, several pictures, cartoons, books, and projects were on display to showcase Donn’s ongoing interest in animation.

Many (of the) faculty and staff spoke about Donn’s contributions not only to (the school), but to the film and animation field as well.  Donn’s love for and experience in animation brought him into contact with some of the best Disney animation experts in the country.  And we learned that Donn had (several) patents related to animation.

In addition to animation, Donn was an accomplished singer and stage performer.  At the service, Bryn shared some of Donn’s singing that she had previously audiotaped.  Donn also worked in the film industry in his early years, and worked with many famous actors such as Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and Mary Martin.  He also won several contests for his unbelievable film trivia knowledge.

More recently (in the Tampa area) he designed parade floats and painted holiday window signs for area shopping centers and businesses.  At (this university) Donn was one of our most dedicated employees.  He could always be counted on to set-up audio-visual equipment each morning before sunrise.  And he frequently worked on retirement and holiday videos capturing the history of (the university).  He was a friend to many of us and he will be remembered for the wisdom he shared.

As you can see, Donn certainly lived a full life.  We were privileged to have him touch and influence our lives over the past 10 years.  He will be greatly missed (here).  In his honor a plaque with his picture will be placed in the Westside Conference Center.

Thanks to everyone who attended the event and shared stories and memories of Donn… Donn would be pleased!”

Trevor and I were greatly surprised and uplifted by the outpouring of love and appreciation that these people had for Pappy.  But there was one person who deserves a very special recognition at this point—Bryn.

 Bryn spoke last, and her love for Papa Donn was powerfully evident.  Through tears of love and sorrow she spoke:

“I can’t remember how many years I have known Donn.  I met him when he came through the AYUDA program.  I saw a hard-working, cart-pushing, cable-toting, video-copying, movie-making, funny old man.  He dressed for comfort.  Even the nice Dockers that (he wore) were worn with his (unique) style.  He told me that one of his three wives had called him ‘old slobber pants’, but we won’t go there.

We worked together on a couple conferences.  He was awesome.  He knew how to set up the equipment, he hustled and—most importantly—his memory was ten times better than mine.  That’s when I started to learn about his film, video and performing arts background.  And, I learned that he could sing.  More, however, on that later.

I have to thank Bill… for challenging Donn to write about an invention he had built having to do with 3-D movies.  When Donn mentioned it to me, I offered to play typist because I was interested in the device and I enjoy playing with words.  So, we spent the next dozen lunch hours drafting and editing.  It took a lot to convince him that Bill wasn’t looking for a minstrel.  But, he ended up being really proud of the finished product and enjoyed the attention it received from a group of Koreans at the International Conference of Digital and Computational Video.

I learned a lot about Donn during those weeks, but it wasn’t until after a car accident that I really had the privilege of knowing him well.  He got very sick and finally consented to accepting some help around the house right before he went in for prostrate surgery.  If not for that, I might have missed the opportunity to get to really know him.  (Several of us from the school) pitched in after we realized how much help he really needed.  He had been putting on a good front at work after his last wife died, but at home he was struggling.

A little TLC and he bounced back better than ever.  He started sharing his artwork with many.  He let a group of school children perform community service by cleaning up his yard—then the made them a musical video as a thank you.  That video, called ‘The House on Bougainvillea’ will be playing (at the end of this service) for those who would like to see how Donn (animated) a bunch of pre-teenagers with “Ragtime” music.

Donn started leaving daily ditties on my voice mail—from Broadway hits to “World War Second” (as he put it) love songs.  He also played the role of Papa Donn to my daughter Ruthie and several of her friends.  There’s nothing like unconditional love from a caring and encouraging grandfather.  That gift to my daughter was priceless.

One of my fondest memories of Donn is of him leaning over the rail of our box seats at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.  I had taken him to hear the Florida Orchestra play “Broadway Hits A—Z”.  By the second note of each song, he knew what was coming, who originally starred in it, whether or not he had ever performed it, and then went back to his very demonstrative conducting.

Back to the songs… It was through those songs that I checked up on Donn.  Each morning, around 4:30 am, he would leave a song on my office voicemail.  I would check my voicemail before I left for work.  I could tell if he was up or down, strong or weak, tired or healthy.  It was a simple and fun way to know that he was okay—after all, he lived alone.  But, I also enjoyed sharing the songs with Rachel, and even audiotaped several from the voicemail.  Boy, could he project!

He didn’t miss a day—until Monday.  That is when I knew something was terribly wrong.

Donn made it a habit of telling me that he had already lived a wonderful, exciting life and wasn’t afraid to die.  Before he went in for surgery last year, he stressed how happy he was and said that if he didn’t make it, that it was okay.  Don’t misunderstand that to mean that he was ready to give up, he just didn’t have any fear of death.  For him, I think it was just another adventure. 

He told me often about his sons, stepdaughters, and grandchildren—and how they brightened his life.   And, his home is full of cards, letters, printed e-mails, and photographs illustrating how much they loved him…”

Bryn’s voice was cracking with emotion.  She finished her dialogue with a poem that she had selected, then by playing several songs that she had taped of Pappy singing.  Trevor and I cannot thank her enough for the effort she expended in coordinating the memorial service, and for her love of our father that meant so much to him during his last couple of years.

The memorial service was full of happiness and sorrow.  It was obvious that Pappy had touched many lives in a very different way than he had over forty years earlier when he was young and impulsive, and disdained by Mother’s side of the family. 

I had only fragments of data about what Pappy was like as a young man; vague reflections of him as our father, a few passionate writings, and a photo or two.  I had much more information of what he had become later in life.  If I were going to “… end up just like my father,” then I Would certainly choose the Pappy that I had gotten to know in the last several years.  Actually, that wouldn’t be so bad, I thought.

The service ended and Trevor and I slipped quietly away from those milling around.  We had to go to St. Petersburg to the funeral parlor where they were expecting us.  Although the arrangements of his final rites were complete, we had yet to look at our father’s face for the last time.  I did not require that, I continued to inform Trevor.  I was going along to offer him emotional support.  I need not look at the shell to know that the man had departed.  I did not require that, I continued to inform Trevor.

Trevor went into the parlor.  I waited in the lobby for an attendant to fetch Pappy’s belongings.  Several minutes went by and the Ringo Kid came out, placing his hat low over his brow, perhaps to conceal a lone tear running down the cowboy’s cheek. 

“How’d he look?”  I asked.

“Guess you’d better look for yourself.”

Guess I should, I thought to myself.  I told the Ringo Kid that the attendant had not returned with Pappy’s effects, asked him to wait there, and entered the parlor.

Continue to part 25
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Mark T.K. Fought