Whenever I sit down to write a story, I think of my late father.
Storytelling had always been a gift in my family, especially with the men, who had always been rather good at verbalizing even a short trip to the grocery store there was often humor and an elaborate demonstration re-enacted for the benefit of anyone willing to listen. My dad was one of those very colorful humans. He was funny, and told witty jokes, sometimes a bit raunchy but always made you laugh. I did not inherit his gift of oral storytelling.
I’m rather horrible at the verbal part, I talk with my hands, and my use of “like” is horrifying. I can’t think of what I want to say, and I tend to stumble over my words like that scene in Bridget Jones Diary when she was instructed on introducing a speaker. Growing up as a teenager in the mid-nineties provided me with a healthy dose of verbal assault to the English language. I try to keep it at bay and use my words carefully. When I’m around friends, I grew up with we still revert to being extras in the movie Clueless, as if!
With concentration and a bit of magic I can weave even the most fantastical stories with the written word to match my male counterparts and their verbal renditions.
All of my life, the cinematic storytelling served as an escape for me. It was the one time I’d get to spend time with my father, who worked as a third shift truck driver. I wasn’t particularly close to him until later. Those later years were what sealed the close relationship between my father and I. Something happened when the Simpsons aired on tv thirty years ago. Sundays became a thing in our house where after a day spent in a Baptist Church with my mom (not dad’s thing) evenings were spent enjoying all the things dad approved.
My father created a tradition on Sundays where he would cook, and we’d spend family quality time watching the Simpsons and Married With Children, but when those television shows were on hiatus, it meant a trip to the local video store for a movie night.
My father was all business Monday through Friday, and yet on the weekends he was fun, and I attribute that to the lack of stress. He worked hard and played hard. The older I get, the more like him I have become.
My dad had always loved being able to escape for a few hours to watch a movie and growing up relatively poor, in the shadows of the infamous rubber city, or Akron, Ohio neighborhood known as Firestone Park in the 1950s. At nine-Years- old, my dad defied all odds and survived a severe accident where he was hit by a car, and his left leg had been severed from the shin down. The only thing holding it together was a small quarter inch piece of skin. Amazingly the doctors were able to save his leg. He was in a body cast for more over a year. During that time he was able to spend time reading comics and watching a small black and white television in the family room in the basement of the old house on Rowe Street. He had the place to himself while his siblings were at school, that is how his appreciation for good cinema began.
My dad took viewing movies very seriously. You had to pay attention to the film, talking got you sent to bed. It wasn’t meant to be cruel; it was to enable all of us to be transported to another world together. Much like the way Dorthy was transported via vortex (a Tornado) to Oz. The way he had enjoyed as a kid growing up the eldest of six.
One of my father’s favorite movies of all time is the Wizard of Oz. I cannot tell you how many times I was forced to sit and watch that movie as a child. My dad loved it because growing up with my grandpa was often a challenge. Where beatings were a part of life to the eldest of the kids, save the spankings of the younger siblings, so they did not have to endure my grandfather’s outbursts.
One Sunday evening, my grandpa came home with a new color television. They had maybe two or three channels at the time and the only movie on that night was the Wizard of Oz. They all were permitted to stay up later than usual, and at first, they whined that the movie was in black and white. My dad said he recalled being disappointed until that moment Dorthy’s house lands in Oz. My father said when she opens the door to color, my dad recalls fondly everyone shutting up and mouths dropped open. It forever made my dad a lover of film. He always said, “You can be transported to another place and time without leaving.” When I got married as a tribute to my late father, I walked down the aisle to Somewhere Over the Rainbow; which was sang by close married friends who both perform on Broadway. One even learned to play the Ukulele so they could sing it in the way Israel Kamakawiwoʻole had.
So Sunday’s became movie night. My dad’s other love was making his famous “Slop,” which sounds disgusting but was just meat sauce with shell pasta and tons of cheese and garlic. I like to think the love of nurturing food to its fullest and most beautiful creation comes from my dad. My mother never had the patience my dad did for cooking.
There is one memory of my dad I cherish, and that was when he rented all three Godfather Movies when I was in the 7th grade. He and I watched them back to back, which took an entire weekend for me to get through. It made me fall in love with Al Pacino.
There was of course pasta, and at the end of the movies he gave me that question, he often would ask at the end of a movie “What did you think?” It gave me pause to stop and think about what I had viewed. What was the message? How did you feel at the end of it? Great storytelling will leave you feeling as though you had a genuine experience. Even a Romantic Comedy can exude a genuine feeling of love if you felt as though you had lived through something along with those characters.
He wasn’t just that way with movies but encouraged my love of reading. He didn’t care what it was as long as I read.
My blue-collar father often hid behind his bad boy persona he held with his friends, a locally known bad boy crew. Life was no picnic living under his roof at times. My father had his demons, and there were times I missed out on having things other kids had growing up, because of gambling debts bouts of depression and so escapism became a large part of my existence growing up as well. There was this feeling that at some point he’d slip away again and become more interested in his other life- the one that he hid until it came knocking on the door to collect, literally.
We watched Goodfellas together, and I recall him and my mom joking that one of the gangsters was very similar to a friend of my father’s. Perhaps my dad lived in his own Hollywood movie. I used to get mad at my dad for not being like other dads growing up. I’m not angry anymore. In some ways, I’m glad he wasn’t because he taught me more than I realized. For all his faults, he was a good man, and he loved us.
It was that car accident from when he was nine, that took his life at 57. Being struck by that car caused one of his legs to be slightly larger than the other, and in turn, a result of playing hard, both in sports and in life caused severe arthritis and at 39 a double hip replacement. The hard-playing part had gotten to him. Fast forward to 16 years later and four very painful hip replacements due to a recurring staph infection, he fell after throwing a blood clot, and my father passed away. I’ve been thinking a lot of him lately because next week would have been his 67th birthday.
He’s not gone. However, he is here whenever I sit down at my desk to write. His influence on me is evident whenever I write a story that requires the main character to go on an adventure. Whether it be horror or fantasy, I think of how my dad took me on many trips to other places by allowing me to join him on those adventures into Oz and beyond.