What follows requires a short explanation.
It was originally written in 2012 as I was preparing to head west. I had rented my condo so was packing up personal effects to squirrel away in various basements around town. In the course of doing so I found a notebook of stories that my daughter AnnaSummer had written several years earlier. And for whatever reason I felt compelled to write a review of sorts. Or something.
I’m packing again this year – for a very long trip – so I’ve pulled the stuff out of basements to take along. I’d forgotten this essay entirely.
It’s about a lot of things – but mostly about AnnaSummer. There are parts of it that bring tears to my eyes when I read it. But in the end it’s a positive story and one I thought worth sharing. I was tempted to edit as I typed it in from my long-hand version – but I didn’t. It’s as it was written 12 months ago.
It lacks structure. And I can think of a couple of folk who are not going to like what I’m saying. Whatever. Enjoy if you can.
13 September 2012 – In Ivystone Court
I just read this* again today for the first time since AnnaSummer presented it to me fourteen years ago. It’s a wonderful gift that I only today began to fully appreciate. I happened upon it while packing things up to leave on the longest road trip of my life.
Three stories: The first, “Blood-Stained Victory – A Story of Gettysburg”, about fear, courage, sacrifice and the soul-shattering devastation of war. The second – an illustration of its title: “A Guilty Soul”. And the last, entitled “A Painting of America”, about family, hope, and letting go of the past to build a better future.
It was easy to identify with each of these.
I know firsthand the feelings associated with actions and the human residue of war. I’ve dodged the bullets, been spattered with the dirt and debris of close-by explosions, flown through the valleys of the deadly and the dying and carried the body bags containing the remains of friend and foe. The dead, no matter the reasons that led to their demise, are very neutral. They are also very heavy. And the more you carry, the heavier they become.
The story of A Guilty Soul was more difficult to understand. The nature of the central character even more so. Why choose an Indian? Native Americans are known for many things but central among them is spirituality. Spirituality and guilt run counter to one another. So a guilt-ridden Indian is difficult – in my mind – to conjure. Perhaps not so much in the mind of a twelve year-old. Interestingly enough, if my newly discovered Louisiana relatives are correct, a twelve-year-old who carries at least a few drops of Choctaw blood in her veins. Hard to see however how AnnaSummer would fit the description of a squaw woman [Is that redundant?]. There was some fact (I’m not sure exactly what) that Anna did not include in her story of guilt. One day I might ask her if she remembers why and what it is. But I can imagine if she were sitting in a class and given a writing exercise and 30 minutes to illustrate some specified emotions, this could have been the result.
The last story is the longest and I think the best. Anna, the main character and narrator, is well-developed. We learn quite a bit about her through dialogue and narrative. The relationship between her and her husband, Johann, is of especial interest.
Anna: Young mother of one, housewife, painter and keeper of the family heirlooms. Artistic yet of conservative mind.
Johann: Railroad Laborer whose vision transcends the horizon over which the tracks he’s laid course. A man who harbors dreams and takes actions to fulfill them. He’s buried stakes that secure the rails but he has also buried a stake under the kitchen floor that he hopes will secure his and his family’s future. He is enthusiastic – sometimes giddy – “Such a child” Anna humorously observes – but unwavering in his optimism. He’s generous. He shares his dream, literally and figuratively, with his family.
Anna and Johann are both the sort of people you’d like to have over for coffee and Danish, or, perhaps in this case, beer and brats. They are also the sorts of people it took to build this country once they passed the entry gates at Ellis Island. They found no castles and built even fewer, but they became the backbone upon which we laid the foundation of our sovereign future. Their blood did not run at Lexington or Gettysburg but it covered the plains and the mountains coast to coast and nurtured the amber waves of grain of which we sing in all those patriotic events and football games we attend. Anna’s chosen title for this story, “A Painting of America”, is very apropos.
This story is also vaguely a story of Anna’s ancestry. Her great-grandmother was Hungarian and immigrated in the early 20th century. I can’t remember her name and I’m not sure I ever knew her husband’s name. Anna’s grandmother’s name was Ann, after whom she is named. Her grandfather was Frank, a Pole whose alcohol hazed personality was nowhere close to Johann’s – but then Anna never knew her grandfather – he died before she was born. He did contribute though. Grew up on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA. Served in the War. Worked in the mills. Literally built the house that he and Ann and their four girls grew up in. And then somewhere along the way the demons caught up with him. He tried fighting them with a bottle and got predictable results. I can identify with that. Anna’s story is one of hope and future. Frank’s was one of despair and past.
While packing I was also reading through Ruth’s early compositions – her high school and college years – the ones she thought important enough or well done enough to save. But the first of all these is a ‘newspaper’’ she had written, edited and published when she was 10 years old. It’s entitled “Down the Scottsville Road”. It heralds life at the Crawford homestead as uniquely viewed through the eyes of its youngest resident. It’s also laid out like a newspaper. Inventive, to say the least. I’ve shared this with a number of people and I’ve now begun to share some of the later essays with Anna. Works that were produced in Ruth’s early 20’s. I’m so grateful to have both these talented women in my life. And for the writings they’ve created that I now have the opportunity to enjoy.
In process I’ve discovered that my very own all-time favorite daughter is also a wonderful writer. I’ve probably known this; I’ve read her stories and poems before. But I’ve been so focused on Ruth and what I perceived to have lost in her passing that I’ve overlooked the future and what I (and the world) have gained through our children.
I’m sitting here marveling at what I’ve just read. Just as Ruth’s stories stirred my heart I’m now near dumbstruck by the depth of emotion that flowed from Anna’s pen at the age of twelve. My wonder-girl. Now a wonder-woman.
There’s a lot of talk these days – there always is – about whether the current generation is better or worse off than the one that produced it. These debates always center on economics – and maybe a smattering of morals. There’s nothing wrong with that and certainly it seems the economic challenges my children face are more dire than those faced by my generation. Having said that I have no fear that both Charles and AnnaSummer will do well with their lives economically – that they will always have everything they need and, to the extent it differs, a good deal of what they want. But I also think there are other measures of both success and progress.
I was the first person in the family in which I grew up to attend college. It was not part of the plan I can assure you. (I have lately discovered that my Uncle Otho was the first in my ancestral family to have achieved this status.) But it was a foregone conclusion that both my children would attend university. Money was set-aside for this from the day they entered the world. By comparison my entry into this world was in doubt up to the second I emerged. When I was twelve I was well known by the local police and juvenile authorities. At that age my children were well known by their teachers and coaches and classmates – and well regarded.
I entered the Army and went off to Vietnam at the age of 19 to escape the economic and intellectual poverty I had grown up with. Charles worked his way through one of this country’s finest academic institutions by among other things participating in Army ROTC and then going off to war as a matter of service to kin and country. Assisted by the GI Bill, I eventually took a degree in the liberal arts. My children took degrees in science (Nursing and engineering). I was married and divorced by age 25. My kids, now age 27 and 29, have yet to marry. Anna will however, exactly one year from today (next week in fact).
Were it not for sheer luck and a lot of help from Ruth, who rescued me at age 49. I would be bankrupt today, wondering where my next meal would come from.
Actually, that’s not true – I’d be dead.
My children are conscious of their future, preparing for it now and living lives they are quite happy with. They are both contributing. The only imperative I have ever directed toward either of them is, no matter what, always be of service. They are.
Like the Franks, real and fictional, the demons caught up with me and I fought them with bottles of every size, shape, color and content imaginable. I was losing badly until I was able to enlist Ruth’s assistance.
Luck? Coincidence? God’s Will?
But 17 years later (18 now) I’m writing this.
Both my children had their dance with the demons early on. Especially AnnaSummer. I think (I know) Ruth played a seminal role in saving her too. I’m confident that Anna will never return to that dance. Charles never spent a lot of time there. But he concerns me. I’m not sure he’s completely escaped the impact of the dysfunctional family his mother and I created or that of the two wars he participated in. Anna dove right into her profession. Charles is still searching. He seems to possess a passion for our natural heritage. I envy him sometimes. But I also wonder where this passion will take him. I wonder – but I do not worry.
Long story short: There is a lot more to growth between the generations than the hubris-ridden robber barons ever had a clue about. I think my children – and a lot of my peer’s children – are onto that. They know things we don’t and perhaps never will.
Anna’s early skills in creative writing and community service and Chaz’s in science and math and scouting have transformed them into the type of citizens this country dearly needs. They are not self-absorbed materialists. They are other oriented and I think upward bound. The challenges faced by each generation are different. Ours are not theirs. We have no right to judge them. We are blessed to observe their progress.
But I still marvel at the words my daughter put on paper at age twelve and was kind and generous and thoughtful enough to package up and present to me on Father’s Day 1998 and on the occasion of her thirteenth birthday.
A delightful girl – most of the time.
An admirable woman all the time.
And my favorite daughter – forever.
*A yarn-bound notebook entitled “A Special Day for two special people. My birthday, your day. Happy Father’s Day, June 21, 1998. Love always, Anna”
So I sit here weeping into my coffee…x