A few months ago my mother had mentioned that my father’s sister had sent some writing she had found that my father had done. “I’ll make three copies of it,” my mother had said, “and send each of you girls a copy.”
“Where’s that writing of Dad’s?” I ask when I am there. My mother goes into her bedroom and returns with a large white padded envelope, and I start to go through it, about 50 pages of onionskin, typed.
I have seen these pages before I realize. I come across two passages I thought I had lost forever. I had first read them decades ago when I found these and similar pages in my father’s filing cabinet. Most of the writing, I surmised at the time, was about politics and economics and I breezed over it. But I had always remembered two short pieces – one a few lines long about a child identified as “M,” pointing from a window, and another description of being in a New York City coffee shop, ordering coffee, the cream congealed and disgusting.
I had never thought I’d see those pages again, but they have traveled back and forth across the globe and are back in my lap again.
This time I read the other parts a little more closely and see things I did not see before. They are dated 1959. “Gosh, Dad’s English was good,” I say to my mother after reading for while – because the writing is fluent and sophisticated and I know he’d only been speaking English then for less than 10 years.
“Yes,” says my other. “He was smart then.”
I read. I hear a man writing in a tradition I identify with the thirties and forties, not personal, but lyrical. The lack of his being willing to really reveal himself on the page pains me – everything expressed in grandiose terms like “democracy” and “the common good” – I recognize that that’s how I used to write when I seriously started as a teenager, how my writing then was similar to his, how his writing and outlook were my model – and how still it is those two poignant real moments he captures – a description in a few words of what must be me, a two-year-old pointing from our Yonkers home down to a ship passing on the Hudson, and a more detailed description of ordering coffee, the congealed cream and pancakes that the menu described as being “made in Heaven.”
And through this short period of time with my father’s pages, I feel again for the first time in a long, long time that thin thread that connected us, that made us very different from the others in the family.
“I’m going to go out and make my copy,” I say to my mother, wishing I could keep these crinkly originals, but they don’t belong to me.
“Oh, just take them,” my mother says. “The girls won’t care. They’re not interested.”