Friday, September 23, 2011

"Go on, get out. Last words are for fools who haven't said enough."

"Either this wallpaper goes, or I do!"
Wilde, Oscar (1854-1900), famous last words

Because I am somewhat morbid, I’ve decided that my guest posts to The Famous Last Word should include, well, a few famous last words. Needless to say, except for transitions’ sake, death is the ultimate downer—but if you can face even that with a bit of humor your outlook on life is one I respect…or maybe I’ve just attended too many Irish wakes.

My dad, with his brother and friends, causing trouble at his brother-in-law's funeral home.

"That is indeed very good. I shall have to repeat that on the Golden Floor!" (To his doctor, who told him a joke just before he died.)
~Housman, A. E. (1859-1936), famous last words

The point is, if you’ve been to the other side of your breaking point, and find hysterical sobs turned into hysterical laughter, you’ve either morphed into a psychopath or you’ll probably be okay.

The jury is still out on me.

"I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis."
~Bogart, Humphrey (1899-1957), famous last words

According to Katie, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall should have played my parents on the silver screen. My mom is a pretty blond with big blue eyes—a sixties child with a fiery attitude and a Boston accent—who fell in love with a much older silver fox, who drank martinis, sang Irish songs, and was a poster child of the American Dream. It was pretty entertaining to watch them dance.

He was 48 when he finally settled down. She was 29. My grandmother gave a huge sigh of relief, or so I’m told. I am 28. If he were alive today, my father would be 85.

There was an article in the New York Times a while ago about the risks associated with having an older father. My brother and I exhibit no physical abnormalities (hey, Hemmingway’s cats had six toes too), other than being adorable freckly messes who can’t venture into sunlight (::hisssss::).

(j.patrick duffy, age 5)

However, having an older father certainly affected our development as people—a flair for retro, a taste for gin, and a thirst for thrift among other things.

As many of the people reading this blog know (because I talk about him all the time), I pretty much had the best dad in the world. I’m not wasting time at work to gush, however—though gush I shall—the goal of this post is to illuminate the experience of growing up with an older father. There’s too much to say, so let me break down a few points for you.

Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.
~Barrymore, John (1882-1942), famous last words

My father grew up in the Great depression—THE Great Depression—in a suburb of Boston. He was the oldest boy of eight kids, born to two transplanted Irish farmers from Prince Edward Island, Canada (read: really poor). My grandfather worked in a rubber factory and built houses when the weather was good. My grandmother made wedding dresses and, I’m told, could reconstruct any garment through a single glance.

Aren’t they handsome?

Even though my father did quite well for himself, he remained incredibly thrifty. He saved EVERYTHING and purchased sparsely. Growing up in the 30s makes a man creative and resourceful. As a child, I was far more content to play with cardboard boxes than new dolls. My closet, as well as my brother’s, is filled with our parents’ old clothes. However, my father also adhered to the farmer’s philosophy: kids=free labor. We painted entire houses, resurfaced refrigerators from the 70s, moved large rocks for no apparent reason...but as we should!

Before my Dad was 21, he almost died twice. As a boy the doctors removed part of his lung to drain excess fluid from a bad case of pneumonia. When he was in the air force (what was then called the Army Air Corps)—in WORLD WAR 2— rheumatic fever weakened his heart . . . because there was no penicillin. There was no penicillin! Anyway, all of this made my father a bit of a hypochondriac— but really only in regards to retro diseases. My family’s rare hereditary disease is hemochromatosis: too much Iron in the blood. My father was convinced for a few years I was going to die from it because I loved raisins.

It was probably just TB, polio or the plague. I only needed a few humors removed. No biggie.

Guess which one I had removed.

When my dad was a kid, one could buy colored chicks during the Easter holiday. He brought home 12 chicks, built a chicken coop and kept them as pets… until my grandmother needed to feed her 8 kids. Hey, it was the depression.

Don't look at us, we're hideous.

WAR: When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my father was 15 and skating on the Charles River. The main point is, the river that inspired such hits as “Dirty Water”, was clean enough to freeze. 41 years later to the day, I was born. My mom picked the date. At least it makes for decent birthday cards.

Thanks, Caitlin.

After his discharge from the Air Corps, my dad hitchhiked all the way from Texas to Massachusetts. There weren’t as many axe-murderers back then, apparently.

RELIGION: Catholic guilt, your child’s best babysitter.

Tracy Jordan:
Hey, did you hear the good news, J.D.? I'm Irish Catholic now, like you, Regis, and the Pope.
Jack Donaghy: Oh, ho ho, no you're not. The church already has enough lawsuits.
Tracy Jordan: See, I can screw up now, and then just go to confession. No longer do I have to throw my parties in international waters.
Jack Donaghy: That's not how it works, Tracy. Even though there is the whole confession thing, that's no free pass, because there is a crushing guilt that comes with being a Catholic. Whether things are good or bad or you're simply... eating tacos in the park, there is always the crushing guilt.
Tracy Jordan: I don't think I want that. I'm out.
[Jack turns to leave]
Jack Donaghy: [to himself] Somehow, I feel oddly guilty about that.

The creativity of

SEX: ?

I could order a beefeater martini, straight-up, rocks on the side; with a twist by the time I was 8. Not that I drank it—no really. My parents were strict about a lot of things, but drinking was never one of them.

My father told a lot of stories, usually involving misadventures with his motley crew of friends named such things as Red Laughy—who probably looked something like this:

Before I was born my dad owned a ski lounge in North Conway NH with a few of these characters. One of whom was his best friend, my godfather, who married a Canadian Inuit princess…Though, I’m never quite sure exactly what he did:

My father loved to tell the story of the night a fight broke out at the bar. His friend rushed to the piano and started an accompaniment:

"You can't get a motorcycle because then you'll attract the wrong kind of girlfriend who will accidentally puncture your waterbed when she tries to stab you and all the water will cause such damage you will go broke. Also, you will die. You can not get a motorcycle." (death happened years later and was not motorcycle related).

Having an older parent leads to an abnormal awareness of death at a young age. Party!

When all my classmates had to hunt down grandparents to interview for our section on the McCarthy trials, I just asked my dad.

I’m not sure whether it is a result of the great depression or living through multiple wars, but my father was prepared for anything. The house I grew up in had a well in case the water was contaminated, a generator in case the power went out, and a wine cellar in case of prohibition. Since cell terrorism is a fairly new phenomenon (thanks IRA!) I’m not sure that my dad’s plan had reached full realization, but part of the escape involved jumping on vespas and weaving through traffic.

America wins!

If your elderly parent’s favorite joke involves inviting people to his coming out party, don’t forget to explain that it can mean something else these days.

I once brought home a fairly serious boyfriend. My dad spent the cocktail hour speaking to him in an Irish accent. Later, the boy asked me if my Dad actually had an Irish accent. Right. I’m also fairly certain my father was prepared to offer a dowry of 3 chickens, 2 goats and a cow on my marriage day.

My father had years and years to practice parenting with his many nieces and nephews. Usually this involved picking them up by the pants and threatening to throw them in the oven. When my brother was born no one was to “ breath on him!!”

I’m quite certain this post got away from me and turned into a rambling mess a few paragraphs back. The point is, if you can avoid being born with a birth defect, having an older parent is pretty great and offers a unique perspective on life. Time to make a martini.

Happy Friday!

"This is no time to make new enemies." (When asked on his deathbed to forswear Satan.)

(1694-1778), Famous Last Words

1 comment:

  1. 1. "Catholic guilt, your child's best babysitter," hahahahah
    2. I can't help but wonder if the colored chicks made more interesting stew. I do recall once eating M&M (as opposed to the more standard chocolate chip) pancakes, and being super grossed out by the colors. (Yes, yes, I know the feathers aren't actually part of a stew. But still!)