taken by my mother circa 1978
I always liked this photo precisely b/c I never liked my father much.
The magic of photography is that it can capture rare moments.
Below, is something I blogged over on myspace…and thought I’d share.
An Open Letter To My Father
It is Friday night and I’ve just come home from a wonderful dinner at a friends’ house close by. Good conversation was had. I told them them about a great photography gig I have coming up in August. A 50’s New Yorker; 12 in existence, and only 2 that have been completely restored. Twenty two feet of metal and chrome American made goodness! And I will be hired to take photos of it. My friends asked me how I got interested in classic cars. And I tell them it is because I grew up with a father more passionate about Mustangs than most people are about life. I tell them how we would pull over anytime we would see a vehicle on the side of the road for sale that was made before 1970.
I tell people,
"My Dad handed down to me his appreciation of classic cars."
And I feel so proud to say it.
My drive home from dinner was pleasant. Seven miles of back country roads, the sun setting over the Blue Ridge, the sky a color of tangerine and faded denim, the ground cooling off from a steamy Virginia day in July.
A nice evening.
I open the gate at the bottom of the driveway, retrieve the day’s mail, and smile as I watch my pack of dogs chase my car up to the house. Especially the 14 year old pit/lab, the one I call "Old lady" now. Her legs are stiff and only work as pairs, but she sure still is plucky.
I love the smell of my house when I first walk in through the back kitchen door. Like pleasant meals gone by gently cooked with love.
I throw my keys and bag on the dining room table, turn on the lights, pat all the dogs’ heads hello and switch on the radio.
It’s always on NPR. That’s all I listen to. And after spending many Friday nights alone with no television, I know that there’s a great jazz program on that just started a few minutes ago. I instantly recognize the tune. Basin Street Blues. I know it because Ella did a cover of it. That’s how I know almost all the jazz standards that I now sing in my jazz band. After a few bars the singer starts in and by this time I’m upstairs in the bedroom, changing out of my jeans and t shirt and into my pajamas. There’s no air conditioning here like there is at work. At first I don’t recognize the singer. It’s a male voice, which is rare for this program to showcase, and it does not sound like an old recording. I switch on all the fans upstairs and wind my way down the wooden spiral staircase, and it is when I’m at the last stair that I recognize the voice.
Really? Yes really, Willie Nelson.
And I am slightly disappointed to realize that I missed most of the song. And I stand still in the kitchen and lean back against the counter and take in the next tune: Georgia On My Mind. Wow, what a treat and how strange that I happened to be talking about you this evening, which is something I don’t do very often with people. And I like that there is this thing in my life now, taking pictures of classic cars, and it is a way to honor something you really loved.
In the years when you walked this earth, I could have never imagined that there would come a time when I would have a healthy relationship with my father.
Two weeks ago I went to visit your mother, my grandmother, and at 93 she lives unassisted, she’s sharp as a tack, and has me pretty near convinced that she holds the secrets to the universe. I’ve never really talked to her about any of my artistic endeavors. She’s never heard me sing. She doesn’t need to. And I don’t need the validation. She knows I am wonderful at whatever I do and I know she knows this. And that is enough for the two of us. But on this recent trip, I tell her about the classic car photography. And she looks at me and smiles.
"Boy I wish your father was alive to see you do that."
And when she says this, I look at her and see a mother who misses her child. Her son was 63 when he ended his battle with cancer but a child is still a child, grown up or not. I make a mental note to send her flowers more often, in hopes that it will remind her of when you used to bring her fresh ones every other weekend.
Georgia is still playing on the radio and I think about the day you died. I think about the actual moment you passed, when life left your body and the pain did too. Willie, again, was part of my life’s soundtrack- a tune called Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground. Those last few days of your life we played nothing but Willie Nelson cds because he was your favorite. After an 8 hour shift at the hospice, I would get in my car, shake off the cold Pennsylvania January air, and strangely, I would pop in a Willie Nelson tape. Some people have candle vigils. My siblings and I had a Willie Nelson vigil. Go figure.
*If you had not have fallen then I would not have found you*
These lyrics were the perfect parting gift to give to your singer/songwriter daughter.
And I think about all this every time I hear Mr. Nelson.
And I am happy to think of it.
And as I stand in my kitchen, spacing out on the fireflies on the other side of the sliding glass doors, I wonder who this band is that Willie is singing with. I’ve never heard him in a jazzy setting and I am really curious now. And the sentimental child in me snaps out of it and the musician in me takes over and it occurs to me how badass the trumpet player sounds.
Who’s playing trumpet??
The song ends and I learn that the two tracks I just walked in on are off a newly released cd titled Two Men With The Blues:
Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis.
I smile, and feel very emotional but not in a sad way.
It is impossible to miss you, Pop.
You’re obviously closer to me now than ever before.