I am the daughter of a man who died fighting for his country except he did not die in the World War in which he fought. He died 32 years later having finally done himself in with Pepsi and cigarettes. His struggle was against the demons of war who snatched his soul, wadded it up like so much garbage and threw it in the gutter. It was not easy to live with him but he so desperately needed a friend.
My father never advanced any further in school than 3rd grade but met Jesse Owens when Jesse came home to Cleveland to plant the trees Hitler gave the 1939 Olympic gold medalists. My father was only 13 years old at the time and Jesse told him to learn to read and he’d be alright. My father took this amazing man’s words to heart and when he got his job as a Union plumber ten years later he bought himself the Reader’s Digest collection of World Classics which he read cover to cover. He also took a dictionary to work with him and read it on his lunch hour. The Plumber’s Union, Olympic Gold medalist Jesse Owens and books saved my fatherʼs life. They were, I suppose, also the reasons I became a librarian and a writer.
On the day my father met me he told my mother “There’s one child who will never see me drunk.” And I didn’t but I did see the DTs and, because kids weren’t allowed to visit, I did see him on Sundays from the parking lot as he sat waving from the balcony of his Cleveland Psychiatric Institute room. I am someone who, having survived the ravages of my own fatherʼs war-induced mental illness grew up to be someone who, like Mother Jones herself, comforts the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. I do it with words, those precious little commodities my crazy father taught me to love.
I write to honor my father. I write because he gave me words and I love them as much as I loved him.