Tuesday, June 23, 2020

PICTURE AT A RAILROAD STATION Jack Blanchard's Column June 21, 2020

Thousands of intelligent good-looking readers

For My Dad on Fathers Day


The cavernous old railroad station was dimly lit,
or seems that way in my memory.
My parents, my sisters, and I headed toward the big doors
that led to the platform where the trains chugged and waited.
It was the end of an era. One of us wasn't coming back... ever.

We had never been your average family.
My mother had been an artist and a model.
My father was a flamboyant jack-of-all-trades:
A stock broker at times, head of an oil company,
owner of a gambling ship that never sailed, a mortgage broker,
an aviator, and author of a course on aeronautics.

He was a party thrower and the life of every one,
and made every holiday a festival.
He was rich one year and broke the next.
As a young man he was a boxer and a daredevil.

During World War Two he was drafted
to be General Manager of the Bell Aircraft plant,
at the same time there were rumors
of his involvement with the black market.

I came home from school one afternoon
and couldn't get the front door open.
It was stuck against silver fox furs.
The whole house was knee deep in them.
I don't know where he got them, but I wasn't too surprised.
We all knew him and were ready for anything.
There was a distinguished couple in the living room,
browsing through the pelts,
a New York State Supreme Court justice and his wife.

He was brilliant in an off-beat way, and an adventure as a father.
Then he got sick.
His disease had symptoms similar to Alzheimer's,
and the smart, witty man of the world became like a child.
He couldn't work. He tried.

My mother submitted a resume for him,
and got him a job on his track record as a mechanical engineer.
She dressed him in a suit and tie and took him to the job.
He called a few hours later to be picked up.
He had ordered his crew to put way too much pressure
on a ship's drive shaft they were working on,
and blew it through the factory roof.

The family was broke and had to split up.
My father was to live with his sister in Ohio, "just until things get better".
The rest of us were to sell all the furniture and belongings,
and move in with my mother's parents in Florida.

Certain memories stick in my mind like clear snapshots
and never go away.
One of those is the night at the railroad station
when we kissed my father goodbye,
and lied to each other that it was just temporary.

I remember pushing through giant swinging doors
that led to the train platform.
The steam from the idling engine puffed out across my knees.
The ceiling was dark and high with sooty light bulbs in it.
And that's all I remember! The rest is gone.

I do recall seeing him one more time several years later.
I was hitchhiking from Florida or somewhere
and I stopped in Miamisburg to see how he was.
He opened the door, and after a minute he recognized me.
I didn't think he would.
He grabbed me in his strong arms and hugged tight.
One moment in time again... like a photo... and everything after is blank.

I don't have any memory of hearing of his death or a funeral.
I have a thing about funerals:
People tell me I was there, but I have no memories of them.

All in all, he was the tailor made father for me.
We had so many good times,
it's funny that this railroad station picture surfaces so often.

After he died, I kept seeing men who looked like him for several years.
A car would be ahead of me in traffic
and I'd see the back of the driver's head. It was him!
I'd hurry to catch up and it was just a stranger. Or was it, I wondered?
Maybe it was my dad for the minute before I caught up.

Jack Blanchard