When telling the story matters
In the bigger scheme of things, a hundred thousand years into the future, will it matter
that I listened to and jotted down my father’s experience fighting as a teenager back in
the 30s? I happen to think it will. Just like the event itself had an impact on the future
of the people whose life it touched, my ability to re-witness it will too as it will influence
how I interact with the world. Of course, if I don’t share the story, that too (as I see it)
will have an impact, however small. Still, how sad it would be to lose.
So I called my dad. “Tell me the story,” I asked, “about when you got called in for
“That must have been the time they sent me off to camp,” he starts. He didn’t
remember the school event I had been told by his mother some thirty years earlier. He
went on, “Not sure how it happened, but I was being disciplined for something. So, I
smacked the counselor, broke his nose.” My mind whirred as I pictured this event. All I
could imagine is a borscht belt version of the “bowery boys.” But my dad was no punk.
Wait, was he? He went on to tell me he then hitchhiked to the “adult” camp of a family
friend and hung out there the rest of the summer. He was about 14. Hitchhiking!
What a different life in the Catskills of the 1930s. It was difficult to imagine that my
father was that much of a rebel.
“I have a short temper, as you know,” he reminded me. Actually, I had forgotten. His
temper did not include abuse or violence. It was just frustration uttered at situations
gone awry. He walked out of restaurants with poor service. He made a scene
occasionally that probably embarrassed my mother. As his child, my view was seeing
him as taking charge, not necessarily losing his temper. As his adult child looking
back, that was what he did.
This brief story has given me much to think about. My dad was not meek and mild,
but stood up for himself, whether he was right or wrong. Now as a senior citizen he
struggles wanting that ability still. Compared to his peers, when he was 95 years of
age, he was agile and able. He lived and maneuvered around New York. He was less
likely to take that independence for granted. He is 98 now and physically, he has had
to compromise more and more. A product of a privileged childhood and a comfortable
adulthood, compromise does not come easily. Limitations by age and responsibilities
limit his individual choices. The inability to just “walk out” on the slow moving body, in a
man with a, “short temper,” must be incredibly frustrating.
I learned a lesson writing and reviewing this story. Maybe in the bigger scheme of
things, pursuing this story seems small; not necessary in the world. But, I believe it
makes a difference, a difference in my experience of my dad, and how his past is
reflected in his present. It makes a difference. It matters now because it mattered then.