There are definitely times it is right to look back and be grateful for what you were given, to focus on the good and not the negative things. I have hinted that my dad and I had a rocky relationship from my early teens on and that is definitely true. However, when I look at the influences that caused me to become a writer, I have to put his name at the top of the list. He wrote for as long as I could remember and he did encourage me, often seeking to direct me into certain themes, genres or styles but at least constant encouragement. He might be proud of some of my work and very much distressed by other things I've created but that is not the point.
Monday would have been his 103rd birthday since he came into the world on May 11, 1912, just weeks after New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th states. I wrote a short essay on Monday in commemoration. Here it is.
Today, May 11, 2015, would have been my Dad’s one hundred third birthday. Of course he has been gone a long time since he passed away in a freakish traffic accident in March 1989, a few weeks short of seventy seven. Do I miss him? Yes and no.
This morning, I was sitting on the patio around ten o’clock enjoying a bit of sunshine and quiet. Then a big black bird flew by, squawking loudly. It was followed by two more and than yet another. They flew on south for a short while but then circled back and began to soar and spiral over my back yard for several minutes, perhaps a hundred feet in the air or bit more. They ‘talked’ as they do –they have quite a range of sounds, if one listens--and finally all flew away.
I remembered then how I learned to count crows. Of course these, like the ones I used to watch in
are actually ravens. The two species are related but ravens are considerably
larger. Still we called them all crows. I think most folks do.
Dad was Irish, perhaps not one hundred percent by blood but completely in his personality. He had all the stereotypical traits: volatile, voluble, charming when he chose to be, fiercely loyal, moody, superstitious and given to drama. About the only one he missed was in not being a drunkard. For the first twelve or so years of my life, he was my hero. Driving, riding or working with him, as I did a great deal since I was the eldest child, we often saw crows.
I was very young when I learned from him the little fortune-telling rhyme which I expect came down from old Celtic folklore. “One is unlucky, two is lucky, three is health, four is wealth, five is sickness and six is quickness.” I guess you were not supposed to see more than that at once!
Of course you did not want to admit to seeing five or only one. I can remember Dad looking away for a few seconds and then back again to alter the count. Decades later, I still count crows and always try to get a fortunate number. But to see two, three and then four? Well, there was one at first, but still, what a collection of favorable omens!
But perhaps more important, I was given a chance to reconnect with my Dad in this odd way. We did not always get along and he could be difficult and sometimes downright mean, but I never doubt that he loved me, even on the very worst days. So, on this anniversary of his birth, did he send those birds to remind me and offer a positive oracle for me, or was it just happenstance?
There is no way to know. Still, I can believe what I wish and I can go on counting crows until the end of my days. I do not doubt that I will. And just maybe, luck, health and wealth are on the way to me soon.
This is a shot of Dad in Kansas City at the family home (his parents') in the mid 1940s when I was either not yet born or quite small. He always loved the outdoors and worked off and on in free lance writing and as a photojournalist in his younger years. In all of these traits, he certainly did influence me a great deal. Not only genetics but nurture and environment shapes what we become and who we are.