When Dad died, there were 2 versions of his life written for his obituary. My brother’s and mine. My brother’s version won which was only right. Living in the same town, he had been there for the heartbreaking decline. I was only a visitor. But this was not the reason for the difference in our stories.
My brother saw my Dad as a builder. An engineer, he built entire infrastructures and helped develop the country’s nuclear and alternative energy sources. For me, he was a poet, an artist, a writer, a physicist, a wanderer. For my Mom, he was all these things and more. And then there was the part of him that he kept secret from all of us. Locked up tight, I knew there was a piece of him he wouldn’t share – couldn’t share.
Sometimes, you have to pick at a thing before you can really see it. Even then, you have to wonder if it’s the truth or your perception of the truth. But truth is complicated. Even when you hear it, you have to wonder if the person really meant it. And sometimes, you have to wonder if the things that aren’t said are more important than those that are.
But things weren’t so complicated in Phoenix. Dad’s Mom, the head of accounting for Senator Goldwater’s store, was a steadying force in his life. Loving and intelligent, she created a safe and stable space for Dad and his brother. My Grandfather liked to turn things upside down.
Once, they went hiking and camping in Oak Creek Canyon. The day hot, they decided to pitch their tent alongside the creek. Awoken by a commotion, Dad and his brother saw a cougar easing itself toward the tent and the food duffels stacked inside. Grandad, stretched out on a cot at the tent opening, reached back for a towel drying on the tent line behind his head. He rose, the towel stretched between his hands, and moved towards the great cat. Snap. The lion lowered its belly to the ground and Grandad snapped the towel again at its nose. The cougar snarled and Grandad snapped again. The cat hissed. Snap. Snap. The cougar turned and slinked into the shrubs.
Grandad was like that. An ace for the RAF and then the Americans when they joined the war in WWI, he was always up for adventure. Once he was holed up in a hunting cabin in Montana while a grizzly picked apart the house log by log. At the age of 16, he ran away from home and the expectation to follow in the footsteps of his wealthy stepfather who owned a manufacturing plant in Chicago. He rode with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and he hunted down spies in WWI and WWII. He was also a master storyteller. I loved my Grandfather, but he could build a mountain from a pebble and stitch a yarn a mile long. Worse, he could break your heart and make you love him for it.