(Click on image to enlarge.)
Today marks the 30th anniversary of my father’s death at the age of 86. One week, he was working in his office, the next week, on life support due to a debilitating stroke. Given his poor prognosis and stated wishes, my mother, sister, and I agreed on letting go of the machinery that was keeping him alive.
This image is of him as a young boy combined with handwritten notes I had prepared for his eulogy. I found both in a box that I haven’t opened in years, along with the golden braids he probably wore in this photo that remain perfectly preserved.
I cannot look at this portrait without also seeing the path my father took in life, or the path that life took my father—a journey that began in the seemingly infinite possibility that is every child’s birthright, and gradually narrowed until ending in a lower Manhattan hospital. Along the way, he became a devoted husband and breadwinner, a caring and supportive father, and engaged citizen. Still, I sense that something deep inside the boy pictured here was lost in the process of taking on these roles he performed so dutifully and well.
I have my suspicions as to what that was but have no idea how he might have felt. It’s a conversation that unfortunately we never had.
Several years ago, I sent the submission below to the NY Times Metropolitan Diary, a weekly feature I highly recommend (even though my entry was rejected) as an antidote to the near constant drumbeat of depressing and discouraging news. I offer it here in loving homage to my father—this may, after all, be the only place that will ever publish it.
This happened to my elderly parents, who have since passed on, when they lived in Manhattan’s Southbridge Towers.
One morning, my father drove to a nearby butcher to pick up an order my mother had placed by phone. Unpacking it upon his return, she checked the receipt but couldn’t find the liver she was planning to cook that night. “I probably left it behind at the store,” my father said. Another call to the butcher failed to uncover the liver’s whereabouts, but the shopkeeper was willing to replace it for free as a goodwill gesture.
Fast-forward two months to the end of summer—my parents’ car is parked on a lower level of their building’s garage, exactly where my father left it after the liver run. Unbeknownst to them, it had acquired an occupant—the original pound of liver, which had slipped unnoticed from its bag into a hidden well in the trunk. Decomposing ever since in the garage’s stale, hot, subterranean air, it stank of rotting meat and car exhaust. It’s a wonder the police weren’t called to investigate either a possible bioterrorist attack or corpse in the trunk of Mr. and Mrs. Goldsmith’s Plymouth.
Postscript: Without a gas mask, the car was barely drivable. The only hope for salvaging it, we decided, was to air it out at my house in northwest Connecticut. Parked in the driveway after a good shampooing, doors and windows open 24/7 (no worries about theft obviously), what could be more restorative than weeks of exposure to country air?
Months later, even filling the trunk with freshly mowed grass failed to produce the desired outcome. We put the car up for sale with an ad that acknowledged its malodorous state. An older neighbor who had lost her sense of smell was all too happy to buy it.