I feel like a detective, trying to investigate my own life—piecing and pasting parts of my past together—hoping to reassemble some sense of story that makes meaning from the fragments—photos, journal entries, newspaper clippings, family stories. It’s an agonizingly slow process—exceedingly slower than I had ever imagined.
But sometimes it’s also fun. And sometimes I even laugh–
–As I have in trying to write about my father’s love of gadgets, for example, struggling to anchor that fact in specific stories, in specific memories—dates that can be marked on a calendar—places on a map.
I’ve spent the past week sifting through journal entries written when I was a teenager, sorting photographs from those years, trying to match that particular fascination with gadgets to specific events I wrote about back then—hoping to use photos to fill in the details I don’t remember and didn’t mention in my diary.
For example, during May of 1977 my father was on trial for illegal gambling operations and criminal conspiracy, having been indicted by a grand jury back on February 10th of that year, on which day the FBI also raided our house in Pittsburgh while my parents were vacationing in Florida and I was away at school for the day. Jury selection began on Monday, May 9th and ultimately my dad was acquitted on May 26th—though in actuality he was, as my mother still says,”guilty as sin.”
It was in the context of this victory, that on June 10th, my sister Lynn and I drove to Florida with our father, leaving on a chillier-than-usual, Friday morning, one that required a jean jacket for me, a white, Izod cardigan for my always well-dressed dad.
Breaking up the trip, we stopped in Nashville for the weekend to visit Daddy’s sister, my Aunt Evie, her husband, and sons. We were scheduled to spend more than four weeks at our condo in Miami Beach with 10 days in the middle on a Caribbean cruise, so Daddy wanted to have his car in Florida for the month.
Thus, the drive. Thus, the ensuing adventure.
But, Daddy may have had another reason for taking this unprecedented road trip and for dragging kids, who had always only flown, along for the ride. My mother, other sister, and 4-year-old brother could fly down the following week, but Lynn and I didn’t want to miss a ride we knew would be full of prank-playing, ridden with a general air of hilarity and fun.
You see, Daddy had recently had a new gadget installed in his Cadillac, one he wanted to play with during the drive—show off to friends, family, and innocent by-standers alike.
It’s true, my dad loved anything we would call technology today. In fact, we had the first of nearly everything invented during the 1970s: VCR, microwave oven, call-forwarding device—always a remote control this, an automatic that. And when it came to his car, things were no different. He wanted what was new, what was cutting edge.
So it was that in 1977, Daddy had what had to have been one of the original automatic car starters installed in his dark green, leather-seated Sedan d’ Ville . I had always assumed this was simply meant for recreational purposes, for playing tricks on innocent McDonald’s customers startled to death when an empty car parked next to them, started unexpectedly, seemingly of its own accord.
My older cousin, however, 7 years my senior who encountered his first ever car starter in Nashville that weekend of ‘77, insisted to me a couple of weeks ago, it was used for security purposes—which he had to explain to the still naïve, 50-year-old me, who never imagined my dad could have had enemies, ones who might have wanted to harm him or blow up our family car.
For us kids, at least, the automatic car starter was all for fun, for recreational heart attack induction in unwitting, south Florida strangers, one of whom kicked the right, rear tire when the car spontaneously roared to life next to him.
On the road to Miami, however, Daddy came up with more-frequent-than-necessary excuses to stop at fast food establishments along interstate 75, so we could park just outside the front entrance, snag a seat on the other side of the glass picture windows, and watch, over burgers and fries, as Daddy startled one balding old man after another. We laughed uproariously inside, sometimes targeting particularly gullible-looking diners deemed good for a laugh before they even exited the restaurant.
Pity the passer-by in frail health or the hotel manager in Florida the following week who was so startled by the car that started on its own, he called Bal Harbour police concerned, we could only ever assume, that the car might also pull from the parking lot driverless and endanger the blue-haired old ladies walking their Pugs, Pekingese or one another along the south Florida outback that is Collins Avenue. God knows aging drivers of Dade County were already dangerous enough without adding, not only a headless driver, but a bodiless one, as well, to the mix.
So the sometimes laughable, sometimes sad and heart-wrenching bottom line is this. I’m working on this memoir madness. I’m combing through every kind of document imaginable—and when that fails or I can’t remember enough detail, I sometimes do the next best thing.
Sometimes when I can’t remember Daddy well enough—when I feel like he’s fading—I project my father into the here and now—imagining his reaction to this innovation or that. And then I remember. Then he tumbles into today—this room, this house, this southern city—as I imagine his potential interest in Pinterest, his pulling some Instagram scam. Then I find myself missing him—an ache in the still-very-daughterly, not-nearly-modern-enough marrow of me.
What are some fond memories you have of your parents? Did you laugh a lot when you were a kid? When did you encounter your first, automatic, car starter?
Note: If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir about growing up in an organized crime family. I’m hope that publishing posts about my past will help me accomplish that. For a list of my other memoir posts, click here. If you are interested in reading any of my protected posts, please email me at email@example.com or let me know in the comments below, and I will gladly share the password with you.