Title blurb

"From one LIGHT come many colors." ~GJ Dürrschmidt

Saturday, January 14, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons, Tell a Moron Joke!

My growing up out on the eastern end of Long Island had been accomplished, for the most part, in the absence of a father. Oh, I had one alright; and he lived at the same address as the rest of our family, but for reasons unknown to me, he remained emotionally, and more often than not, physically disassociated. I now believe that he never really mentally returned from the Second World War. He chose to spend most of his free time at the local VFW in the company of former soldier buddies, drinking away many a long day, and oftentimes far into the night. Yes, dad had his friends, but never seemed capable, or willing, to make room in his life for, what was to me, an important one more.

Dad never took me places, or taught me about things that fathers traditionally teach their sons, like fishing and sports. The only time I went fishing was when he picked me up at my grandparent’s place, and then would stop at the Chum Inn before heading home. While waiting for, what usually turned into hours, for him to finish his drinking inside, I would pass the time trying my hand at catching sun fish out back, along the Peconic River. I baited the hook with bread balls I made from a sandwich I had along, or slice I would go inside and ask of the barmaid.

As well, I managed to participate in sports all four years of high school without his involvement - well, this is not entirely true. He never attended, but did give me rides home from games and practices. When he did, he often kept me waiting, sometimes for hours. On the days he never showed up at all, I would walk the railroad tracks home, providing plenty of time to think and reflect upon life.

Truth be known, I was relieved whenever he was late, or didn’t show. The later he was, the less likely it would be that any of my friends might still be around to see the trashed out clunker he drove, or witness how trashed he himself was. My worse fear was the off chance of a teammate sticking around, requesting a ride from us. Dad’s car was his tool shed, always densely packed with saw horses, scrap lumber, extension chords, and tons of tools, leaving scarce room for anyone else.

Oh, but there was always room for a six pack, or two, and for the many “dead soldiers” (he fondly called the empties) on the floor board. Even when I exercised care in getting in his car, one or two empties inevitably clackity clacked out the door and onto the street. I would’ve died a thousand deaths had anyone ever seen this happen, and prayed no one ever would.

Though hardly six miles, those drives home seemed to last an eternity. I would pray each mile that we might make it alive, cursing myself the whole way for not walking the tracks instead. The many close calls along the way were terribly unnerving. Also unnerving was the long silence, interrupted only by the sounds of empties whenever I happened to move my feet.  I tried my best not to.

These rides together could’ve been wonderful father-son bonding times, filled with discussion and conversation, laughter and camaraderie - but they weren’t. There never was a time. The silence while we drove, was more of an understood lull before the storm. He knew it was coming. I knew it was coming, and yet, each time I would desperately try to intervene and alter the immediate future, but always to no avail.

When the car would stop, I’d quickly jump out and run inside. There waiting, would be a very furious mother about to explode. I would stress that yes, we were late, and yes he had been drinking, but please just let it go for once - for Godsakes just let it go! But, she could never let it go. Before dad could get in the door, the angry words were already flying through the air. Immediately following were the pots and pans, pot roast and mashed potatoes, from another dinner that had long since gotten cold. She would curse him and pound on him, until, without a fight, he retreated to the car, and drove off once more to the VFW. There, he would receive the solace of his buddies, and there he could lick his wounds, and the remnants of the airborne dinner.

On one of our less than enjoyable rides home, after wondering just what might be flying for dinner that night, I decided to break the conventional silence, and attempt to ease the tension with a little comic relief.

“Hey, dad.” I said, unsure if it were wise to distract him from his already impaired ability to drive.
“What?” he snapped back at me. My reaction was to just say nevermind, but that's what I'd always do when there appeared to be a risk. I was almost eighteen. It was high time I spoke out.
“Why did the moron drive his car off the cliff to test his air brakes?” I spoke too quickly. Hearing myself, to my shock and horror, I suddenly realized that I totally blew the punch line. Trying to recover from the blunder, I nervously laughed, and said, “I messed up. I was supposed to just ask why the moron drove his car off the cliff. And then, the answer was: to test his air brakes.”

Staring straight ahead at the road, and without giving so much as a hint of humor, he replied, “So, tell me. Who’s the moron, now?”
Not another word was spoken the rest of the way. In the chilling silence, I pondered this last question. I had known the answer all too well, and for a long time, only I hadn’t been aware that I did until just then. Not having the courage to respond to him out loud, I summoned the strength to answer within my mind:
“We're both the moron, now, dad: you for never being a father to me; and me, for foolishly hoping I could be a son.”

~gj duerrschmidt

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