M is coming home tonight, so after a morning of knitting on the couch watching Firefly (which is good!), when the rain let up and when I had messed up a round, I pulled myself off the couch and went down to the grocery store . . .
. . . where I felt like I had wandered into Stars’ Hollow. The parking lot was packed, and there were people all over, including yawning parents watching their children in some kind of bouncy castle. A band of mild-aged people played Janice Joplin songs outside the door. Inside, everwhere you turned was another person offering you a slice of ham, or a piece of a cookie, or a spoonful of soup. I picked up a wreath at the door and had to wrestle it through the crowded aisles. I expected Taylor Doose to accost me around every corner.
It feels like the holidays, and M is coming in tonight and N later in the week, and the grey skies and rain, oddly, I know, make everything seem more festive.
I paid for my groceries — the checker I like the most flashed me a peace sign when I raised my eyebrows at him, in a WTF sort of sign — and got back to the car to see that a fancy car, a Lincoln, I think, was parked next to me, so I pulled out very carefully. It’s not the kind of fancy car you usually see around here, and it made me think of my dad.
My actual father died when I was four, so the father-figure for most of my childhood was my first stepfather, the man my mother married on my 5th birthday. He was a funny guy — a business man with 5 children before he acquired my mother and me and then had two more. He was not a great dad. He worked in the city and was gone long hours and was fairly absent even when he was around. I think he didn’t have much of an example to follow, since his own father, a musician, had disappeared when he was pretty young. It was only much later, when I was already an adult, that he became aware that his father had not abandoned him, but gone off to Arizona to die of Huntington’s disease. His mother, and his mother’s family with whom he grew up, did not seem like very warm or kind people.
I was never very close to him. The five older kids seemed to me to have much more of a claim on him, so I made myself scarce. I think I may also have not wanted him to feel like he had to like me. When I grew older I could imagine nothing worse than being a business man in any case. He didn’t read much. He was a Republican. I was kind of embarrassed by his hearty good nature, which felt put-on to me.
However, there were a few things he taught me that have stuck with me to this day, and make me think that there may have been more to him than I ever gave him credit for. One, when I was about 6, he explained to me the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans, he explained, wanted to figure out what was not working in government and fix those things. Democrats just wanted to throw the whole thing over and change everything. I’ve always been a fairly conservative person, so I told him that I was a Republican. He laughed, and told me that that was because a Republican had explained the difference to me. Two, when I idly asked one time why poor people so often bought such expensive cars. Wouldn’t it be better, I thought, to save that money and instead buy something more useful, like a better house? He explained that if you’re very poor, you don’t have the money to buy a nice house, but you want something nice and you do have the money to buy a fancy car. It’s the one thing you can buy to make yourself look rich. The way he explained it seemed very sensible — you’d never be able to buy a house in the expensive suburbs, but you could have a damn fine car. Third, when he had fallen on hard times and was working for himself in an office building in our small city, and not the big city, he told me that the lottery was a terrible case of regressive taxation. Connecticut had just voted in the lottery, and my feeling was that if people were stupid enough to play the lottery it was their own fault. He told me, “I see who’s buying the lottery tickets, and it’s not the people who can afford to buy them.” And for my 18th birthday, he bought me the Norton anthology of poetry, which made me cry. I was about to go off to college to be an English major, and it was probably the first and maybe only present I received which acknowledge my aspirations.
He really was not a great dad — he was not supportive to his children, generally, and was pretty self-absorbed. Most of his actual children remember him with some degree of anger. I never felt close enough to him to actually be disappointed in him. I never actually expected much from him to begin with. But he was right about some things.
Happy beginning of the holiday season!