April 5th, 2005



“Sheila, calm down,” I was trying to soothe her. She’s easily excited, more so than usual since the family walked into my dad’s place. “It’s okay. I know it’s usually not a mess like this.” We wove our way through half-packed boxes and a thousand toys, primary colors in plastic covering the floor.

All seven family members that are here looked wide-eyed when they entered. I just felt sad. I hadn’t seen my dad’s latest apartment, a tiny one-bedroom walk-up on the third floor that he shared with Sheila and her three-year old daughter, MacKenzie. That little girl was what kept my dad going, his beautiful engine of joy and hope wrapped into pink clothes, and pink and red hair ribbons.

I never visited my dad while he lived in this place. I'd assumed that Sheila and MacKenzie were living in a neighboring apartment, but when times got rough for them, my dad had them move in with him. We all went to look for pictures and mementos that would be meaningful to the family, and to me, and after an archeological dig, we found some amazing things.

I discovered old pictures of him as a swanky young man, from his time in the Air Force, a couple of my mom and him together, and a ton of family reunion snapshots. Seeing pictures of his second wife and the stepchildren he raised from their early childhood surprised me. Their marriage ended badly in a thunderstorm of lies and bad choices, and I'd have thought he'd have buried all of it.

The apartment was stacked from floor to ceiling with books, with papers randomly slipped through their bindings. I was looking for documentation of an insurance policy, his military paperwork, more photos, and anything else that would help me fill in some of the blanks in his very private life.

I found something that caught my breath; my mother’s handwriting on an envelope, addressed to my dad’s father. My mother broke off all ties with his side of the family when I eight years old, the cause and circumstances still unknown. She forbade my father of any contact, and resented any mention of their names. In her elegant script, it began:

Dear Teresa and Dad,

You’ll be happy to know you have a new grandson…

I stopped reading. The date at the top was four days after my birth. I gathered it up, along with some other pictures, my dad’s favorite pipe, and a reproduction of Rodin’s The Thinker.

The statue had been in our house my entire childhood. I picked it up in amazement, touching my past. Turning to the family, I said, “I was obsessed with this as a kid. I can’t imagine why I was so fascinated with a naked man sitting on a stump.”

They all chuckled, a few with barely-masked squirms behind the laughter, and I put it in one of the boxes to bring home with me. We gathered up what we could within the confined quarters and left.

Later that evening, over dinner, my aunt Evelyn, a graceful woman who has lived in Cape Cod most of her adult life, made a comment about my dad’s generosity.

“He just gave everything away, and he was left with…” Her voice floated into a whisper.

“He was a very rich man,” I said, softly. Evelyn smiled, nodding in agreement as did the rest of the table.