Friday, October 4, 2013

My Father myself

This one is hard.  I have always had a love/hate relationship with my father.  Dad was an outdoors man and used to love to hunt, fish, camp out and chase women.
He built his own canoe, and it was a real beauty.  He and his friends also built a hunting camp out of logs from trees they downed on their hunting property in upstate N.Y. in the foothills of the Adirondacks. They cut down the trees, measured them to length, cut notches in the ends so they would fit together, and then put up the camp.  Women and children gathered moss.  The gaps between the logs were chinked with the moss until there were no openings.  It ended up a large square building with a wood stove just off center, and built in full size bunk beds.  There was also a built in table and benches along one wall and another bed along the side facing the bunk beds.  There was a small kitchen area at the foot of the bunks.  There was a little stove that worked off propane gas which they carried in, in large tanks, each season.  There was no fridge but it was cold enough to keep things fresh outside or wedged in the small pond made from the spring 100' below the camp.  We carried drinking water from the spring and heated water to wash dishes in the small sink.  Of course the bathroom facilities were in a two hole shed at the rear of the camp.  There was a quarter moon cut in the door.
My father was a master carpenter but as I remember it he earned money for the family working at Alcoa, and later at a lumber yard called Putnam and Hawley.  He worked on the St Lawrence Seaway, and had no fear of the awesome heights he was called to work on.  One day he was on a high scaffold when his buddy slipped.  Dad reached out with his left hand and grabbed the guy's hoody as he fell past .Daddy held on and his arm was wrenched out of his shoulder as he caught the guy and swung him back onto the scaffold.  His friend was unhurt but Dad's arm had to be popped back into his shoulder  and he was out of work for weeks with his arm in a sling. 
Dad always seemed to attract accidents.  They were never it seemed, his fault, but he was always laid up with something for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  When he worked at Putnam Hawley we lived right across the road and at the time I was 7, and recovering from Rheumatic Fever.  I had been in bed for a year and was just beginning to ride my tricycle in the front yard.  I heard the terrible sound of breaks squealing loudly from a long distance and then watched in wonder as a car crashed into the plate windows and building showroom across the road.  My dad appeared from nowhere and scooped me up, and ran into the house telling my mother to call for an ambulance. As I watched from the window he fought his way through the collapsed masonry and glass and managed to open the cars door.  In a minute he was puking on the grass outside the building.  The driver was the only one in the car and his head had been severed from his body by the plate glass. The activity continued with firetrucks, ambulances and police cars but in my little heart all I understood was my dad was my hero.
Dad had a series of incidents in my early adolescence involving angina and subsequently 2 or 3 hospitalizations for heart problems.  On the last one he was confined to a hospital bed, rigged up in the dining room of our house.  By this time I was well into my I hate my father phase and having him around all the time was too close for comfort.  Nonetheless, we were now living at the 4 corners of Slab City just west of, and a little up from the bridge which crossed the creek.  Our barn which was at the bottom of our acre was feet from the creek.  One night there was again a terrible screeching of breaks and a loud crash right next, (it seemed), to our house.   Daddy jumped up from his hospital bed and pulled on his trousers.  He ran from the house with mama and me running after him.  Mama was yelling " Kenny, you should stay in bed". 
When we reached the creek we found a small truck had gone over the embankment and was hanging by it's rear wheel, in a very precarious position.   I watched as my dad managed to wedge himself between a tree and the truck, near the door, and he carefully opened the door on the passenger side.  Several other men, including my uncle Jerry had gathered, as well as other women and children.  Dad somehow reached in the truck and pulled a very drunk and scared man out of the truck and handed him up the chain of neighbors to safety on the bridge. He then reached in and dragged out the other man.  As soon as the drunk man was exited from the truck, it plunged into the creek bed, head first.
Everyone stood and slapped daddy on the back and hooted with pleasure.  Uncle Jerry grabbed his arm and he and mama escorted daddy back to his hospital bed.  Again, at least for a night and day, dad was my hero. 
When I was about 14 daddy became a partner with Bill Kobel and they bought/leased a Marina on the St Lawrence river.  Cap't Bill put up the money for the lease and the boats they had in inventory and was the managing partner.  Cap't Ken did most of the work and maintained and leased and sold boats.  He also knew the St Lawrence and was able to guide tenants to good fishing.  Dad found his "duties" kept him later and later at work and it was necessary to carouse and party with the other boat people; both on their boats and in the nearby clubs and bars.  Mama always seemed to believe him and told me he worked so hard and that was why he needed some company and a drink or two at night to relax.  Until I left for college I remember my mom sitting alone or with me, night after night, watching TV and eating maple walnut ice cream.  It used to break my heart to see her and I used to beg her to leave my father and come to me to NYC.  She could get a job there and I could finish school.  She would just chuckle and say" but I can't leave him, I love your father".  During this time dad had two boats that he loved.  The Jet boat and the Baltic.  The Baltic was a lovely  craftman formed small cruiser which had shiny brass fixtures and beautiful wood everywhere.  The Jet boat was the first in the north country and was hell on wheels. Dad ended up crashing the Jet boat one evening at dusk as he piled into some rocks hidden by the twilight.  Said crash again ended with him hospitalized and out of work for some weeks. 
Sometime again and I just can't remember the years, but dad again crashed his car, very close to home.  I think it was into a tree but this time his lungs were collapsed and his color bone broken.  I understand he was under the influence.  This is I think the last time he was hospitalized for an accident and it was before I finished high school.  I do not know if dad had a death wish or not, but there were many times I wished him dead.  This is not to my credit, but there were several times I just wished he would die in the hospital and never come home to harass me and my mother.  I just hated him, and yet I loved him.  This duality continued for years after I was supposedly mature. 
I have learned now, with wisdom and years, and God,  and observation of myself and others, that you can hate the actions and words and yet love the man.  My father had many excellent qualities and I will show them off in future pieces.  He could be loving and kind and caring but he was also a "Man's Man" with all that entails.  He was crude, selfish, driven, genius in many ways, funny, considerate, and lovable.  He held charisma for both men and women and was totally unpredictable. He was brutal and frank and unafraid of consequences
What he was, is deep inside me and I carry almost all of his traits.  Beware those of you who think you know me.  I am indeed my father's daughter and I will not deny who I came from and who I am. I honor my father's essence and try to overcome his existential  defects.
I am also my mother, more about that later.