IN MY OPINION
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20 January 2006
How many opportunities have we let slip through our fingers?
My father was the expert...the king...the czar...the god...of missed opportunities. He drove away his wife, both of his daughters and all of his friends and then cried big tears about the mistakes he'd made. But he never learned and he continued to alienate people. At the time of his death, he had disowned me for speaking my mind about something.
But there were.... "moments" that I relish. Crumbs. But it's all I have.
I found an old videotape in looking for ideas of videos to post on line (I've long said that I wanted to transfer a lot of these old videos to computer--the quality ain't great, but it's better than losing it to deteriorating videotape).
I came across a video I took in December of 1987. As it happened, it was the last Christmas before my father died. For the last several years of his life, our gift to him each Christmas was to make a stab at cleaning his house. I might be a horrible housekeeper, but I'm Martha Stewart in comparison. The man who spent his entire marriage telling my neat-as-a-pin Virgo mother how terrible she was at work around the house died in squallor, pots and pans piled so high in his kitchen and so drenched in grease that they were beyond cleaning. It pains me to think of the value of the cast iron ware that was so layered with grease I would rather throw it out than try to clean it up.
In December 1986, we cleaned the house and made his dinner, but it was the only time I ever saw him falling-down drunk. He couldn't remember his grandchildren's names and I found a giant tumbler full of bourbon sitting in a kitchen cupboard. I threw it out.
However, he was sober in 1987 and it was the best Christmas I ever remember having with him in my entire life.
My father didn't do things by halves. His passion was music. He was a decent, not wonderful piano player, but the piano, piano music, the sound of chords were his entire life. I can't tell you how often he tried to pass that passion along to me, but I just didn't have jazz in my soul. Throughout my life I never stopped hearing about the money he "wasted" on me because I didn't continue with piano lessons after 2 years of having my knuckles wrapped with a ruler by Sister Mary Victor.
He also had five grandchildren who worshipped him. When Jeri was born, there was no more beautiful, intelligent, or wonderful grandchild. But when Ned came along, this was the boy he had been waiting for all of his life. Ned adored him and he adored Ned. But when Ned began approaching one year, he started being a "person" and not a baby and apparently that was too threatening for Daddy. I still remember the day that the worship died, when Daddy angrily pushed him away because Ned wanted to climb into his lap, as he always did. I saw the hurt in Ned's eyes. What could have been a beautiful life-long relationship changed. Ned still loved him, but something died in him that day. I can still see watching the light go out of Ned's tiny face and how furious I was at my father for killing it, just like he killed everything else.
He never tried to get to know his grandchildren as "people." He was the funny guy who would make them laugh (or the angry guy who would swoop down on them for doing something he had not told them they should not do). He made assumptions that because "all teenagers" were like such-and-such and "all teenagers" liked such-and-such, that this was true for his grandkids and therefore he didn't have anything in common with them. I tried to tell him that his grandchildren weren't like "all teenagers," but he knew better. I don't remember his ever having a "getting to know you" talk with any of them (which is no surprise; he didn't with me either).
It just killed me that he had these talented (unlike me) children who loved music as much as he did and he never even knew because he assumed all they liked was rock and roll because they were teenagers. Until Christmas 1987, he never realized how much Jeri knew about jazz, and how she shared his passion. He never knew that Ned could play jazz guitar. He just never bothered to find out, and never bothered to listen when I tried to tell him.
That Christmas night, I don't know how it began but he started teaching Jeri about chord progression. A lot of what he was teaching her she already knew (and of course he was unaware of that), but this was grandpa-and-me interaction and she let him teach her. He started showing her on the piano how you could use those chord progressions.
At the time, his had lost a lot of use of his left arm and could no longer sit at the piano to play, so he stood up and started playing. Slowly Jeri began playing with him. You can see his excitement as he realizes that she knows what she's doing. He calls out cords to her..."F" ... "B-flat"... and Jeri follows him, note for note, chord for chord while Ned sits in a chair and accompanies them on the guitar.
My father totally wore himself out and had to call a halt, but he was positively glowing. "Who would have thought I would live long enough to have a jam session with my grandchildren!" he said, excitedly.
Well...I could have told him and any of the kids could have told him if he had bothered to ask...or even to listen. He never listened. And what JOY he missed for himself and for the kids, what a fabulous relationship he could have had with them. What he could have taught them. What fun they could have had.
But of course he always spoiled things. The jam session went on long after I ran out of videotape. He pulled out noisemakers for Paul, Tom and David and they all played for about half an hour, doing the kind of improvisation that he always loved.
But in the end, he was so worked up that he acted as if he had to pass along to Jeri everything he had ever learned and long after it ceased to be fun, he was still trying to teach her chords and progressions and all the things that he loved so much.
I stood there watching them, seeing how tolerant Jeri was being, and how tired she really was. And I remembered all the times when he would play with my sister long beyond the time when he should have and it always ended up with his being angry and then not speaking to us for days.
What a shame that he had all this talent to pass along, that he had all these kids ready to absorb it, and that he let the whole thing pass him by.
But we had one night. I treasure that
night. I hope the kids do too. Watch the video. See what he missed by
not talking to his grandchildren before this. After I ran out of film, Jeri got out
her clarinet, Paul played on a make-shift drum, Ned continued on guitar, my father on
piano, and Tom and David with noisemakers. It really was magical. It could
have started years before, if only he had listened.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
To quote Grandma Walton (not quite as lovingly),