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.

Crackers, peanut butter & Coke

peanut

NOW THAT I do not have a family anymore, the original one, the one I was born into, I think about them fairly often. I miss them a lot.

Downstairs yesterday evening, alone and sitting on the scarlet sofa, reading the Kindle, I got hungry, so I stood up, and walked into the kitchen for a handful of unsalted peanuts, which I brought back to the sofa where it was comfortable.

Incense was burning, and the light was low.

My mind traveled from the peanuts to peanut butter and then onto crackers and Coke. That’s what my paternal grandparents, who were born in the 19th century, packed for road trips in the 1950s in their Chevrolet. They were in their 60s at that point.

When they arrived from Atlanta to our North Florida home, they’d still have some of those snacks in the Chevrolet, and then later, when they packed to head home, Grandmother would make more and bag them. They’d buy Cokes along the way.

My paternal grandfather owned a small general store during the Great Depression, and they survived fairly well, much better than many folks. My mother’s people who were farmers also weathered the Depression better than most due to growing their own food.

My mother’s parents owned Fords, but they never made trips, ever, which was different from my father’s people who were quite fond of driving about. Since my mother’s parents did not travel, I don’t know what they might have favored for road snacks.

It was not until last night that the fact that my maternal grandparents did not travel at all dawned on me. Maybe farming keeps one close to home, feeding the cows, plowing the fields, but I think it was more a matter of personality.

My mother’s father died when I was 12, and even then Grandmother tended to stay put. We visited her, not the other way around. Maybe she intuited something.

During a rare visit to our home in New Orleans a decade after she was widowed, she tripped and fell one night, was hospitalized, went downhill and slipped into death.

Her last trip. Hundreds of miles from home. She was 81. My favorite grandparent.

Funny where a handful of peanuts on a cool evening will transport your mind.

Memories of days gone by

Eronga
Town of Erongaricuaro.

NINETEEN YEARS ago, I received the first and last visit from family members above the Rio Bravo. My mother and sister. I picked them up one evening at the Guadalajara airport and, as we drove to a downtown hotel, my sister asked:

Are most of the people who live here Mexican?

She was 59 at the time and had never been to a foreign country. It was her first and last trip outside the United States. She’s 78 now and, I imagine, will never leave her homeland again. She prefers the craziness of California.

After one night in the Guadalajara hotel, we took a bus to the neighboring state’s capital where I was renting a house. A couple of days later, we boarded another bus to the mountaintop town where I live now and stayed in a hotel for four nights.

We were tourists.

And during that time on the mountaintop — before I moved here, mind you — we took a taxi to a small town on the edge of our large lake, a town with the mouthful of a name Erongaricuaro, also known simply as Eronga because it’s easier to say.

We walked around a bit, but it began to rain, so we returned to the main plaza to catch another cab, but no cab was to be found. We sat on a bench and waited … and waited … and waited. No cab appeared. It was about to get dark.

A chicken bus pulled up, one of those ancient, smoke-belching, retired school buses that were common in these parts back then. They have since disappeared, replaced by smaller, nicer, more modern forms of local transportation.

We climbed aboard the chicken bus and returned to our hotel on the mountaintop.

Two days later, we went back to the state capital for another night, and then we bused to Guadalajara again for their flight back to Atlanta. Neither ever returned, but they did come that once. My daughter has yet to visit.

Yesterday afternoon, we drove to Eronga, parked the Honda on the small plaza, bought ice cream and sat on a plaza bench, the same steel bench on which I sat with my sister and mother 19 years ago. Facing across the street, I snapped the above photo.

I think about the visit of my mother and sister every time I sit on the plaza of Erongaricuaro, which I do now and then because it’s not that far from the Hacienda. But on that late, rainy afternoon 19 years ago, it seemed to the three of us that we were in the middle of nowhere. And then there was that ride on the chicken bus.

My mother is long dead. My sister lives, I think, in Arcata, California, and my daughter lives in Athens, Georgia. I have no other Gringo relatives.

But I’ll always have Eronga.

Photographic memories

I’VE LABORED the last few days switching photos from one internet provider (SlickPic) to another (Flickr). There were over 500 shots, so it took quite a while, especially since I passed some of them through a service that gussied them up.

I reduced the 500+ to 425 but only 248 are visible to the public. You can see them here.

When my second wife kicked me to the curb in 1995, I left behind almost all photos taken during the 19 years I spent with her. And when I moved to Mexico in 2000, I culled even further. Most photos I have now were shot since I moved south.

But not all.

There are lots, and almost all are digital, i.e. online, nowhere else. One reason I moved to Flickr, which is far better than it used to be, is that it’s free (up to a point), and the photos will not vanish one year when I fail to pay. That could happen when I’m dead, and I want my child bride to have access to them.

During this process I came across some photos I’d not noticed in years, and I’m going to show a few to you. The first was taken in Mexico City in the 1970s. I was sitting with a French friend I’ve known since we met in the Air Force in 1963. He is a legal immigrant.

Torre
Atop the Torre Latinoamericana in Mexico City.

That’s me on the left, of course. I weighed about 225 pounds. Nowadays, I weigh about 165, making me rather skinny at 6′-3″ tall. I prefer the adjectives svelte, lean or trim. Skinny doesn’t sound good. I trimmed down around 1980 with a bit of effort.

48114901483_5ae98d1cef_o
Felipe in drag.

And here I am beardless, a bit earlier than the above photo. I’m in the French Quarter of New Orleans, an extra in a movie titled Octoroon. The movie won no Oscars. Quite the contrary. It went straight to drive-ins. I was only in the first scene, walking down a sidewalk.

Oddly, I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and would have done theater work in New Orleans or Houston except for the fact that my newspaper career always had me working evenings, and that’s when theaters present plays. I never had a chance.

Thwarted by fate. I coulda been somebody!

And here is a photo of me and my mother that was taken during a visit to Georgia shortly after I relocated to Mexico. She died in 2009 at the age of 90.

48114563592_6ab630793a_o

Now let’s look way back to 1956. Here I am in, I think, the 7th Grade. I’m the kid in the middle. The boy on the right is Larry. A few years later, he lost a leg in a grisly highway accident during a nighttime hayride.

Are you old enough to remember hayrides?

Another boy, a friend of mine, was killed in that same accident. I had been invited to go, but I didn’t, and I don’t remember why. Luck, I guess.

New Image
Look at those multicolored loafers I’m sporting.

It’s been a fun few days looking at the past.