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I Remember My Dad...The Piano Man
Is love eternal? A father's love? A mother's love? The mystical ghost orchid wraps around this question as the reader searches for answers.
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Powell's Books Powell's Books
Neev searches for her roots, her unknown father.

I remember my dad. I remember that hot, summer day when I prayed at his grave with tears streaming down my face, "Oh, my God, may he find the peace and joy he lost on this earth."

As a reviewer said about my recent novel, my memories of my dad are a mixed bag. I don't remember a distinguished or handsome executive barely at home for dinner. I remember a broken man, balding, slight build, sitting in a worn out recliner chair watching television in a little house not much bigger than a trailer, squished between two other similar houses on the poor side of town. When he discussed anything, it was generally with anger and gloom, but he would "vote for a dog as long as it was a democrat."

In contrast, I remember a top hat and sleeve garters dancing up an down as he pounded out "Beer Barrel Polka" on a piano on the Holiday Inn circuit. His gravely voice came of age in his late 50's, crooning "Ace In the Hole" and old 40's hits or the newest songs that he could pick up and play with just a few notes hummed by a patron.

I remember when I was a child of nine, how he cried on Christmas Day as he was served divorce papers and left my house. I had never seen my daddy cry. I had heard my parents' shouts and screams on occasion, but not often. I didn't understand that Christmas day at all. That day and the following years changed my life too.

I remember his old beat up jalopy with the pavement showing through the rusted out floor. He drove with a cigarette in one hand, lighting one off the other. The divorce broke his heart, his health and his wallet. He had nothing but a little motel room in a cabin on a lake. I would paddle his flat-bottomed fishing boat in circles as he fished, seldom catching anything, on our madatory Sunday visits.

I remember being ashamed. I was ashamed of his poverty of spirit, his depression, his angry view of life, his broken old car. The only joy I saw in his eyes was when he played piano. Then, he was a changed person, a man of the world, a thrill a minute to sit beside on the piano bench as his worshippers gathered around and belted out the old songs or spun around on the dance floor.

He was failing by the time my son was born. My little boy would sit next to him on the piano and pound on the keys, a broad grin on my dad's face. I often hoped my son would inherit the musical skill of my dad. It missed me. So far, it missed my son as well.

I was in Asia when my dad needed a leg amputation to save his life. He said he'd rather die. I flew home, my little boy in tow, and convinced him to have the surgery. As he recovered, I listened in awe as the four year old boy and the 59 year old man had a deep and philosophical discussion about the missing leg and its artificial replacement. The conversation was detailed as my son examined my father's remaining stump and tried to get an understanding of how he was going to use the artificial leg.

As the only gift he had, my dad wrote little stories about chipmunks and squirrels and birds for my son. I'm sure he doesn't remember his grampa reading those stories, but I do. I still have them in some remote file box somewhere in the memory bins. I gave my son my dad's ring, his flag from service in the U.S. Army during World War II, and his bible. My son was too young at the time I gave them to him; I doubt he still has them. It's okay; he remembers his grampa a little.

My dad was raised by his father and aunts. His mother died when he was just a baby. He served his country; he lived a life of hard work as a union man installing steam heat in high rise buildings, a dangerous job. His talent with the piano was magnificent, but never fully exploited as a weekend entertainer. He drank too much on the weekends; he smoked too much. He gave up both of those at 39, after the divorce and his first heart attack.

The last couple years of his life as his body was ravaged by diabetes and arthritis, a relative drove him to the various hospitals, assisted living and nursing homes where the occasional notes that his arthritic hands missed went unnoticed by the singing and clapping audiences with their wheelchairs and walkers and the memories he brought to them.

My dad was an unassuming man; he always helped friends in need when he had no resources for himself; he was honest. I always felt he was proud of my accomplishments in his own quiet way. He tried to be considerate of others. On his last night on this earth, he asked the ambulance driver to go slowly and not use the siren; he didn't want to upset the neighbors.

Today is Father's Day. I'm in the middle of a major spring cleaning in preparation for hurricane season. It's been thirty years since my father's last song. In the box of "protect from hurricane" stuff is a picture of The Piano Man, top hat and sleeve garters, at the piano, the one place where joy filled his face.







6 Comment count
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A Beautiful Remembrance!

Dear DK, What a beautiful and heartwarming memory of your Father. Your creative and talented expression brings to mind one of my favorite novels, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. One of the main characters is a Father who is a crooner who never quite manages to balance his talent, love of his family, and alcohol to provide adequately for his family. Yet his challenges spark a sensitivity in his beloved daugher. You, too, demonstrate that "attitude of gratitude" for the lessons of life from your Father. I know that he is smiling down from heaven today.

Have a great day!

Mary Walsh

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Thank you for knowing...

There's always more between the lines. Thank you for your insight.

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Tears for Daddy

I was doing real well today until I read your post. That was my dad. Stell hunky, union man. His job was to works and take care of the family. We had a piano, he played by ear - and especially the Beer Barrel Polka. He was the star on family holidays. But that was also the time the cops would come out - because of the fights.

Dad mellowed before he passed. And as an old man he would walk to the Senior Center in Yucaipa, and play the old out-of-tune piano so the old folks could sing-along.

I did get my dad's musical ability, and his singing talent.

The men in those years had a different attitude - and were never told they could have their dreams. They just did what was expected.

The last thing I did with my dad before he passed was sing a duet with him at the piano, with him playing..."Hero Mine" from the Chocolate Soldier.

Thank you for a lovely tribute, a post that truly honors the man your father was.

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Final word

Though our dads may not have realized their dreams, I believe they always held them out for us, hoping we would live ours.

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Thank you, Sharon

I'm so glad you have your father's talent! Sharing tears is a good thing. We need to remember they are tears of sadness and joy; sadness for unfulfilled dreams and joy for the dreams we carry forward with the gifts we have in our heart. My father also wrote music and lyrics. My love for words is likely one of his gifts to me.

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The words and music

Oh my goodness. My dad ws a story teller; he loved words, and loved little theater. He also wrote music.

The piece that I have. Hand-written sheet music, dated 1943, is titled, "Sometimes I Dream Too Much."

Thank you again for your transparent tribute.