Tale of two births

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Crawford W. Long Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

MY WIFE AND I entered the world in very different times, places and circumstances.

The top shot is where I debuted on the morning of 30 August 1944 at 4:23 a.m. I reportedly kept my mother sweating and hollering for hours, but she finally pushed me out.

World War II was still in progress. Hitler and Mussolini were still alive. Napoleon was not.

The hospital’s name was Crawford W. Long Memorial. It’s still in Atlanta, but it’s now Emory University Hospital.

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A street in Uruapan, Michoacán.

This is where my child bride entered the world on 22 September 1960. The Hippie Era had not begun, but it would not be long in coming. Hitler and Mussolini were dust.

This is not a hospital, as you can plainly see. It is where her family lived. I took the photo about two years ago, but I imagine it didn’t look much different in 1960.

She was born at home, delivered by her father who was a surgeon and family practice physician.

This house in Uruapan, Michoacán, was both home to the family, and it housed Dad’s medical office too.

Yes, the two of us entered the world in very different times, places and circumstances, but we ended up together.

The Goddess works in mysterious ways.

Southern Roots

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Florida, 1961. Father on left, me in middle, friend on right.*

MY FATHER was born in North Georgia on the edge of Atlanta during the First World War.

I was born in Atlanta during the Second World War. My father’s parents were born around 1890, which means I am just two family generations south of the Victorian Age.

My father’s parents’ parents were born shortly after the end of the Civil War. I’m not sure where, probably North Georgia. If they were not born there, they moved there.

My father was an arrowhead collector, a newspaperman, an excellent writer and poet, a boozer who shunned coffee and tobacco, and he wasn’t much of a father either.

For a while, he was a chicken farmer. He was drafted into the U.S. Army late in the Second World War and sent to Korea on a troop ship. He didn’t like that one little bit.

Yes, he was in Korea during the Second World War, not the Korean War, which came later. He never fired a shot at anyone, and nobody ever shot at him. He was a typist.

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1987

The war ended, and Uncle Sam shipped him back to Georgia. He never traveled anywhere again if he had anything to say about it.

He was not an adventurer.

As I said, he wasn’t much of a father. He had no interest, and it showed. About the only things that interested him were my mother, booze, writing and arrowheads.

He died in Atlanta of a heart attack in 1991. Coincidentally, he was lying in a hospital bed due to some unrelated issue, and was on the verge of being discharged.

He died just moments after brusquely hanging up the phone. He was talking to me. I had called.

He had not called me, of course. He never wrote me a letter in his entire life. He never wrote my sister either.

Those were pre-email days.

Minutes later, my sister phoned to say he was dead.  Age 75, three years older than I am now.

It was Mother’s Day.

I didn’t much like him, but I am just like him. I look like him. I think like him. I sound like him. I think I was a better father, but my daughter might tell you otherwise.

I did make an effort. He never made an effort.

He and I both stopped drinking in our early 50s, but for both of us the damage had already been done, irreparably.

My father was a lifelong leftist. He had witnessed Pinkertons shooting at strikers during the 1930s. For most of my life, I was a leftist too, as was all our family.

Unlike him and the others, I wised up late in life.

Will our many similarities include dying at 75? I hope not because I’m having way too much fun.

* * * *

(Note:  The inimitable Jennifer Rose recently noted the 20th anniversary of her mother’s death. This got me to thinking about my father, which led to the above. I wrote about my mother after she died at 90 in 2009.)

* The lad on the right in the photo is John Zimmerman. We were good friends. He went on to become a pilot in the Vietnam War and later a captain for a major airline. He sent me this photo a few years ago when we reconnected on Facebook.

Train times

WE MAY HAVE iPods and iPads and iTunes and even flaming Samsungs today, but we do not have trains. Freight trains are nice, but passenger trains are lovely.

One advantage of being vintage is that you had trains in your life, and now you have trains in your mind.

A railroad track passes directly behind the house across our street. Freights thunder by day and night. My favorite is the 5:45 a.m. Who needs an alarm clock?

Most passenger trains are gone, and we’re left with the occasional line that transports tourists. Alas.

As a child I boarded trains at the huge station in Jacksonville, Florida, and rode 200-plus miles northwest to Sylvester, Georgia, where I stepped down onto dirt.

Grandparents picked me up in an old Ford, and we drove to the farm on rutted, red-clay roads.

new-imageOne evening in 1962 a staff sergeant deposited me at the station in San Antonio, Texas, handing me a ticket and ordering me aboard.

The Air Force paid for a solo sleeper to Rantoul, Illinois. I woke the next morning and watched a forest of white-barked birch trees passing. I’d never seen birches.

Also courtesy of the Air Force, a few months later, I railed from Rantoul to the San Joaquin Valley of California, via Chicago. All the way across much of America.

From New Orleans I would ride the elegant Southern Railway to Atlanta to visit my parents. “Southern Railway Serves the South.” It surely did. But not anymore.

Traveling solo with two bottles of tequila, I rode in a sleeper from Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez. I stood outside on the bucking platform between cars and watched the desert mountains in the distance, which was romantic.

With the woman who’s now my second ex-wife, I took a train from the English Channel to Paris, and a few days later an overnight sleeper to Barcelona.

The following year found me on a train alone from Edinburgh to Inverness and a few days later, with a new traveling companion in the form of a lovely American anthropologist, aboard a train from Inverness to the craggy coast of Scotland.

From there we ferried to the Isle of Skye.

I stood outside, six days later, as my traveling companion, leaned out the train window (just like in the movies) as it pulled from the station in Chester, England, taking her to Wales. My ride, an hour later, went to London.

I never saw her again.

Again with my second ex-wife, I took a train from Los Mochis, Mexico, to Chihuahua with an overnight at the Copper Canyon. After a following night in a Chihuahua hotel, we took a jammed, third-class train to Ciudad Juárez.

That was in the 1980s, and it was my last train ride.

Birthday boys

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TODAY IS MY father’s birthday. Flag Day in the United States. That’s how I remember it.

I think about my father a lot even though I did not like him. In spite of that, we were very similar. About the only difference between us was that I like to travel. He loathed it.

Other than that, we were clones. That’s him in the photo, which was taken in an Atlanta farmers’ market in the late 1980s.

I never called him Dad or Father or anything like that. I called him Charles because that was his name. I don’t know why I did that. I never called my mother Mom or anything of that sort either. I called her Dee, a nickname.

My sister did call him Daddy.

Charles was a newspaper editor, as was I. He retired from full-time newspapering when he was just 49, having fallen into some money when his mother-in-law died.

He became a haiku poet, and became quite famous in the small world of haiku poetry. He died in 1991 of a heart attack at 75, just three years older than I will soon be.

He would have been 101 years old today.

He had his good points. He was a lifelong liberal of the classical variety, as am I.* One wonders what he would have thought of Donald Trump. Today is Trump’s birthday too. He’s 70.

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Florida beach, 1960. Charles on left, me in the middle.

(The bottom photo was sent to me about three years ago by the fellow on the right, John Zimmerman, a good boyhood friend who went on to fly tankers over Vietnam and later became an airline captain. He’s retired now.)

* Classic liberals are very different from today’s “progressive liberal”  collectivists of the Democrat Party.