Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Words...

My father died just about four years ago. The family delivered Father’s Day cards to his hospital room—he had five kids—but he wasn’t in the least bit interested in Hallmark sentiment. He was too sick and his conscious mind was slowly but surely ebbing away.

A few days ago, I picked up a book I had purchased upon its publication in 1982. It was Norman Mailer by Hilary Mills, a biography of the prolific novelist and mercurial man about town. For reasons unknown, I just never got around to reading it over the past quarter of a century. However, I did lend it to my father—as I did hundreds of my books through the years—and he both read and enjoyed it. In fact, he read it twice because I would occasionally repeat lend some of my books to him. He he often read books faster than I could add new titles to my personal library.

The paradox here is that my father was not remotely known as a lover of books or a reader of anything but the local dailies, which he devoured each day. The man labored for thirty years in the General Post Office located on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. He took the Number 1 subway line to and from this sprawling edifice every single weekday, working the four to midnight shift—inhospitable times to be a straphanger. (This, by the way, is the post office with these famous words engraved on its facade: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from swift completion of their appointed rounds.")

Nevertheless, he read oodles of books, most especially in his retirement years, on a wide range of subject matter (like his namesake son). He rarely talked about what he read, except to me on occasion—and usually only when prodded—and certainly never tried to impress others with any knowledge gained or insight gleaned, which often is a byproduct of reading about others’ lives, different times, or well-crafted works of fiction that strike a chord. I’ll never forget his pithy comment upon reading Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family by Paul C. Nagel, a favorite of both of ours. “That was some family,” he said.

(Picture from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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