Saturday, September 26, 2009

"The Unfinished Symphony"

With the exception of my mom, everyone in my family loves to read. Me, Mikey, Ratchlet, Little Sis, her kids, T.A., Maddie the Great, and my dad -- we all spend as much time as physically possible reading a book, newspaper, or magazine (or in a real pinch, the milk carton or cereal box on the kitchen table!) Its been that way for as long as I can remember. If Mom needed my dad, Little Sis, or me, she didn't even usually try calling us more than once. She would just stand in the doorway of the room we were in and sort of stare at us....even though we would inevitably be reading and oblivious, particularly my dad. Eventually she would get frustrated enough to walk over to where we were and rattle the newspaper or tap the book to get our attention. Then, depending on whether or not she was really mad, she would either roll her eyes and grumble angrily, or she would just walk away shaking her head as if to say, "Hopeless!" I don't know if she ever understood it, but she did come to accept it. Her family was full of readers.

Little Sis and I, of course, inherited this from Dad. He loved to read. Most children never really know their parents very well, but this was the one thing about him of which I was absolutely certain. He never had enough time to read as much as he would have liked.

He was a pretty eclectic reader too. He read what ever was handy. For most of the time I was growing up, there wasn't a lot of extra money for dad to buy things for himself, like books! No such thing as Half-Priced Books and going to the Library never seemed to be an option. (I don't know why. It would have been heaven-sent for my dad.) When LS and I got old enough to pick out books for him as gifts for his birthday and Christmas, I think he was thrilled. It was the only way he got books of his own.

Looking back I finally see how hard this must have been for him. I cannot imagine not having books available to read whenever I want. He didn't have that availability. It was a running joke in our family that, anytime dad would take us into the city to go shopping (we lived in a very small town and Mom didn't drive), he would disappear within about a minute and a half of our entering the store or mall. Mom, LS, and I would spend the bulk of the day, getting what we needed and when we were done, there was no question that we find Dad in the nearest Book Section. There he would always be. Standing by the shelves, holding a half-finished hard cover book in his hands, which he immediately returned to the shelf. Never once do I remember him actually buying the book he had spent the afternoon with. He left unfinished books all over town. I don't know how he could bear it.

He picked up all sorts of random knowledge about a wide range of things. He would never admit to being smart (even though he was), he would just say he was like a Jack-of-all-trades -- he knew a little bit about a lot of things, but not a lot about any one thing. In some ways that sort of summed up Dad's life.

I always felt he never quite figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up. Mainly, I suppose, because of lack of opportunity due to the Depression, no college, WWII, and right into marriage and family responsibilities. He never had the chance or the choice to find out what he wanted to do, where his own gifts would lead him. He was always too busy working to support himself, his mother, or his family. His life, like the books he left on the shelves, had that unfinished quality....the pieces never quite came together, never tied up all the loose ends, never fully explored the possibilities.

So he took his refuge in reading. I am glad that he had that love of reading. It was the one thing that always made him happy.

My dad died much too soon and somewhat unexpectedly 3 months before his 60th birthday. He died of a heart attack at 2:00 a.m. on December 26th, after a lovely holiday celebrated with the whole family. The last photograph we have of him was taken that Christmas evening just a few hours before he died. That photo caught the essence of my dad as we knew him best. In it, he is reading the book that we had just given him for Christmas, oblivious to having his picture taken. He was doing the one thing he loved -- reading a book. I'll never know, of course, but I've always hoped he had time to finish it.

1 comment:

  1. BEAUTIFUL post!! I come from a family of readers too. I love that reading is such excellent protection from boredom!


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