Thursday, March 17, 2011
Typing into the night
When I reached adulthood, my dad would continue to repeat his mantra. "I am not the best Dad around." Suddenly I reached the age where I knew he didn't have to be the best dad around - he just had to be my dad. I knew Dad tried hard at everything he did. He was competitive that way. He was driven - not just in his work, but in his golf game, in his evening of game of basketball HORSE down in the driveway, in his way he cared for his family.
And then when Dad retired, he decided he needed to write. By then, he and my mom had moved to a summer home in the mountains. A couple weekends a month, I would drive up to their retreat and deliver their mail, the latest local news, and endless reams of typing paper for Dad's project. Every six weeks I included a new typewriter ribbon and more "White-out" for his mistakes.
And every day, Dad would type. He'd put his typewriter on the breakfast bar; he'd sit at the barstool for hours, pecking away at the keyboard. He'd chew his pipe. He'd drink endless mugs of coffee. He wouldn't talk - he'd type.
Mom and I used to wonder to each other "What can he be writing?". When we'd ask him, he wouldn't answer. He'd frown over his glasses, he'd clamp harder down on his pipe stem. And he type with a newer fury.
So Mom and I decided he was writing his memoirs. Pages and pages of his history. Each finished page was removed from the typewriter and put in a manila folder. Page after page filled the folder. Pages of words, of whiteout stripes, of coffee stains. Pages we never had a chance to read.
Today, I think of Dad as I read Billy Collins' poem Royal Aristocrat
My old typewriter used to make so much noise
I had to put a cushion of newspaper
beneath it late at night
so as not to wake the whole house.
...one burst after another
as my wife turned in her sleep.
I was a single monkey
trying to type the opening lines of my Hamlet,
often doing nothing more
than ironing pieces of paper in the platen
then wrinkling them into balls
to flick into the wicker basket....
... Such deep silence on those nights —
just the sound of my typing
and a few stars singing a song their mother
sang when they were mere babies in the sky.
We never found Dad's memorior. I have no idea where he put it, if he finished it, what it said.
But he was still the best Dad in the world.