27 April is both #tellastory day and my Pop’s birthday.
Pop would have been 73 today, pretty close to the same age as James Taylor (a current favourite of mine). I don’t know that Pop was a fan, but his other favourites – Gordon Lightfoot and Harry Chapin – share the same sad, confessional, troubadour style – singer/songwriter, acoustic guitar, and heartache. Pop was definitely a fan of The Beatles, who gave Taylor his big break, and I think would have known about (and enjoyed) the link between their Something songs.
In this recent article about Taylor, he says, “…you can construct a father out of a few good episodes.” The truth of that struck me – how I reconstruct my own out of the pieces of memories I have, both good and bad. I admit that the balance is pretty even, but unlike for Taylor I think the better stories to tell come from the good side.
Like the time Pop moved from Saskatoon back to Winnipeg. He’d only been in Saskatoon for a few months, for the start of a quickly-aborted post-doc position there. But part of his must-have’s while there were his records – dozens if not hundreds of LPs dating back to the early- to mid-Sixties. This included an original “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles (Canadian edition, in mono) as well as “Rubber Soul”. He piled his records together in stacks of ~30, and tied them together with string. He repeated this for the trip back to Winnipeg, but had not counted on the effect of hot prairie sun on the items in the back of the car (it had been winter when he left). When he lifted the stacks out of the car at home, some of the top ones had melted into their cases, with bends and indentations from their string carriers. Tragic. Thankfully, The Beatles’ were saved.
I remember especially the “Twist and Shout” record, the heavy cardboard cover, the even heavier almost glass-like album, and the strangely spliced photo of the lads leaping in crazy ways (perhaps an inspiration for The Sound of Music and “Step in Time“). “Rubber Soul” had a freaky hippy-inspired cover to go with the the name.
Many years later, when downsizing before starting what would be a long (and ultimately final) period of transience, he held a garage sale, getting rid of everything, including the record collection. I was a bit miffed at not getting the opportunity to have the Beatles’ albums, or his even more beloved The Eagles’ “Greatest Hits” or Harry “Chapin Best Stories Live” (who he maintained died when his Ford Pinto was hit from behind on the freeway – he didn’t). All of these and the songs they included bring back wonderful memories of Pop – singing along (untunefully), picking along on the banjo (which went well with none of the above), and of course repeating his favourites over and over.
I know many people (myself included) who have/had difficult relationships with their parents (actually, I don’t know many who don’t), and I know within that group a few who use/make/allow that difficulty to define them, in whole or in part, perhaps allowing that difficult past to be an excuse for behaviour or decisions – for not trying to be somehow better. I think that’s tragic. I think a better path is to try to be better. Accept responsibility for yourself. No excuses.
Right or wrong, I take that lesson from my own pop. Overall, “no excuses” sums him up well (along with, “Take care of yourself first.”). Yes, he did some terrible things. He was selfish, deceitful, alcoholic, indiscrete, arrogant, and sometimes mean. But…but. Within all that, I can see some sides and remember some episodes that show a generous, thoughtful, loving man (not necessarily father), and those memories bring me a wistful joy. I know not everyone has those kinds of memories or opportunities, so I feel blessed that I do.
I previously told the story about his musical habits, and can’t help but come back to that, as it was a big part of our relationship. He could be picky about his music, but once he found something he liked, he listened to it on repeat for hours, soaking in it. Happily, that’s not a habit that I adopted. But his appreciation of a good, heart-wrenching lyric sung to single guitar accompaniment is an inheritance I treasure.