My dad died today

us
The two of us in Atlanta around 1989.

NOT TODAY exactly, but at this point in his life, which is to say, as of tomorrow, I will have lived longer than he did. He died in 1991 at the age I am on this day.

Outliving a parent feels strange. I doubt I will live longer than my mother, however, because she made it to 90. I’m feeling quite creaky already, so another decade and a half doesn’t present much appeal.

I never called him Dad or Father or anything like that. I called him Charlie because that was his name, Charles. His middle name was Born. He was a Junior. I was almost a Third, my paternal grandparents’ wish, but my mother put her foot down on that. My father wanted to name me after Confederate Cavalry Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, but that’s when my mother’s other foot came down.

forrestSince Forrest went on to be a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, that name might have been problematic now were I living above the border. But my father, being a lifelong leftist and advocate of “civil rights,” did not admire Forrest for the Klan connection. He admired him for his generalship. Charlie was a Civil War buff, and Forrest was the best general in the Confederacy.

I guess my father just ignored that Klan crap. People rationalize.

Why I never called him Dad I do not know. And I never called my mother Mom or Mother or anything like that. I called her Dee, a nickname my sister invented.

We were a very odd family and remain so today, those of us still breathing. That would be just three — me, my sister and my daughter. No grandkids, no nieces, no nephews, no aunts, no uncles, nada. My mother often called us peculiar. She was referring to Charlie and his family plus my sister and me, her own kids.

She wasn’t referring to her side, the Powells. They were peanut and cotton farmers in the red clay of southwest Georgia, and not peculiar at all, just country folks, but I loved them more than the peculiar clan on my father’s side.

Charlie’s parents were devout Christians, one Baptist, one Methodist, and his one sibling was a lesbian, and so is mine, which explains the absence of nieces and nephews. The peculiarities go uphill from there. Or downhill.

My father and I were clones. We looked alike, sounded alike, had very similar personalities, were both career newspapermen, a field he entered purposefully, and I entered by necessity. He retired early, and I did too. He was a lousy father and, apparently, I am too.

In retirement he became famous in the small world of Haiku poetry. After I retired, I amused and irritated millions here on The Unseen Moon.

Perhaps that count is a tad high.

There were differences too. He lived through the Great Depression, and it affected him mightily. He detested travel, which I love. He married just once, and I married thrice. There was not an adventuresome bone in his body, and I am the opposite.

He was in the U.S. Army in the waning days of World War II, drafted late due to being almost 30 and having a wife and kids. He was sent to Korea on a troop ship. Yes, Korea, and he had a desk job. I never asked him about that experience. Wish I had.

We didn’t talk much.

On discharge, he returned to Georgia, never wanting to leave again. He had been an Atlanta newspaper editor when drafted, but he returned to start a rural life of chicken farming and writing short stories for pulp magazines. That didn’t pan out, and in about five years he was back in the newspaper business, this time in Florida.

Similarly, I left the newspaper business for a spell when I was in my early 30s in New Orleans, and it too did not pan out. I returned to newspapering in Texas.

We were both boozers, and we each stopped in our mid-50s. Life improved immensely for both when we took that smart step decades apart.

But I was never the drinker he was. I was an amateur in comparison.

I did not much like him, and now I’ve outlived him. Well, hold off on that because he died in the evening of his last day, so I won’t have outlived him till tomorrow.

He died in a hospital in Atlanta where he was overnighting for a colon cancer checkup. His cancer was in remission, they learned on the day he died from a massive heart attack right there in his hospital bed. We didn’t even know he had a heart issue.

I was in the Houston Chronicle newsroom that evening. I phoned him, and we spoke briefly before he brushed me off as he was wont to do. We hung up.

Within minutes, my sister called and said he was dead.

And tomorrow morning, I’ll wake to a day he never reached.

The Goddess willing.

Thoughts in the night

TWO DECADES AGO when my mother was about 80, I asked her what entered her mind at night during those moments when she was awake, those intervals we all have.

I was curious about what old people with lots of history thought in the dark night.

New ImageIf we’re worrying about something before going to bed, that’s what we’ll be focusing on, of course, but at times we awake when there’s nothing worrisome in our lives. Usually, we slip back into our dreams easily, but not always.

I forgot what my mother told me, but I recall it was nothing notable. I thought she’d be remembering the Great Depression or the time she eloped at midday with my father in Athens, but she didn’t mention anything like that. I would have remembered.

Well, now that I’m pretty old myself, I know what old people think, at least what I think. I have a few set skits for those moments. I think, for instance, of a photo of me standing on Cesery Boulevard in Arlington, Florida, posing with a baseball bat as if someone were pitching a hardball at me. I was about 9. I have lost that photo.

But it lives in my mind.

I sometimes think of my very small bedroom in that Cesery Boulevard home, the twin bed, and getting up mornings, stepping across the narrow hallway, and opening the folding canvas door into the kitchen where my mother would be smoking a cigarette. Maybe she’d just downed a Miltown to get her through another day.

What I have thought of more frequently than anything the past 25 years is the moment my last wife told me she was leaving. I was standing in her office door in our Houston home one evening, and she was sitting on the floor going through files.

She mentioned fairly casually that she had found an apartment in Montrose and was moving out. She was shockingly nonchalant. She didn’t even look at me.

Since we had never discussed the possibility of divorce, this was like a meteor. I remember the moment in detail a quarter of a century later. And here is the strange part. Conjuring up that memory during an insomniac spell almost instantly returns me to sleep.

You would think it would be precisely the opposite.

But I’ve just recently noticed that I’m not using that memory anymore as a substitute sleeping pill. The 25-year-old habit has died. I do still think of the kid with the baseball bat, and mornings walking from my small bedroom into the little kitchen and seeing my mother, but not the moment my wife announced she’d had her fill of me.

A single Tylenol will also send me to dreamland, but where’s the drama in that?

Running out of steam?

YESTERDAY, A READER from Tennessee emailed to ask if all was well on my end. The reason being that over a week has passed with nothing new under the Moon.

I rarely remain silent so long, but maybe I will in the future. Am I running out of steam? Perhaps. The older you get, the less steam you generate.

I began this writing effort 15 years ago come January. I started on the Blogger website with a different title. I believe the first post was about a lunch here at home with company, the guests being the inimitable Al Kinnison and his wife, Jean.

(Both of whom are now deceased. They were witnesses at our 2002 wedding. R.I.P.)

Al read it later and told me he liked it. That inspired me, so I soldiered on, mostly writing about my relatively new life in a startlingly different world. Often I waxed lyrical, and people praised it. The list of followers grew, and it was fun.

I permanently pasted some reader feedback on the side column of that blog. Here are just a few examples:

Infectiously personal.

You never cease to amuse and amaze me.

Pretentious dolt!

What a nice piece of heaven you share.

You’re like a drunk uncle.

You’re a right-wing wacko.

You are a treasure on the electron highway.

Dark introspection.

You are so funny. I was snorting in my atole reading this.

You disgust me. (a paraphrase)

Later, I abandoned Blogger and switched to WordPress, a far better platform, as it’s called. And by 2011, I had wearied of writing about “Life in Mexico,” which had become routine. The novelty was gone. Anyway, many Gringos here were writing about “Life in Mexico.”

They had that base covered well. One good example is Steve Cotton’s blog where he never seems to weary of writing about Mexico. I admire his stamina.

I tossed my first blog aside and started fresh with the intention of writing not about Mexico but other stuff. Enter The Unseen Moon, a title that came to me out of nowhere in the process of writing The Old Wolf. The phrase was in the final line.

Speaking of The Old Wolf, I began writing short fiction, which I’d never done before. Prior to 2005, with the birth of the first blog, in spite of being in the newspaper business for 30 years, I had never written anything but headlines and photo captions.

I was an editor, not a writer.

Most of the brief fiction is available hereabouts via links. I also jumped into politics, the good sort, the conservative kind. Leftists, being the rabid bunch they are, reacted as they do, and I had to block quite a few commenters due to rudeness and curses.

My WordPress list of blocked people is laughably long, all because of ill breeding. Sad.

So, here we are almost 15 years after the start. We’ve gone from the novelty of living in Mexico to fiction to politics, and at times it’s all combined. And I have aged. Fifteen years ago my hair was as much black as white. Now it’s all white, and I’m creaky, sometimes cranky.

Am I running out of steam? Perhaps. But not today, it seems.

See you down the line, but Lord knows when.

Do not go gentle into that good night. 

— Dylan Thomas

But why not, Dylan? One wonders.