#41 The San Francisco SeparationPosted: April 23, 2013
When I was about twelve years old, the Coast Guard transferred my father to San Francisco. We had lived in Port Angeles, Washington for almost three years and before that North Carolina the second time and before that New York and before that North Carolina the first time. (That was not by accident but it’s also another story.) I was thrilled. No one on earth could have been more excited than I was about the move. We drove through San Francisco on our way to Washington State and I loved it, unaware we’d ever be transferred there.
I was giddy about going. I dreamed of ballet and symphonies. I don’t know why but that’s the adventure that excited me. It did not excite my brother. We were always opposites about moving. In fact I’ve done so much moving in my life, it may be why I’ve hovered in one place in recent years.
The school year had already begun so my father went on ahead of us, like the scout of a wagon train. He bought an old green Studebaker to drive there and he built a trailer to haul things to California. I announced at school that we were leaving and there was talk of going away parties for me.
Dad was gone. But weeks went by and we weren’t going anywhere and we weren’t talking about going anywhere. Finally it was announced that we would finish the school year and leave the next summer. I think Dad came home for Christmas. We were kind of used to his being gone for long stretches. He trained with the Coast Guard rifle team in Cape May, New Jersey every summer. Or he had duty nights at the base when he was home. So this was more of the same.
In California Dad went to the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. He went to jazz clubs and comedy clubs in San Francisco. He was always at somebody’s house for a cookout. At last it was summer. I was on hyper alert for bulletins of our move every day. We were out of school but we still hadn’t left.
Finally Alice (my mother) was flying to San Francisco to start house hunting, so a lady came to stay with my brother and me. We had never met nice Mrs. Baker before but I remember that we ate her wonderful cooking for a couple of weeks. She fed us well and of course we were supremely well behaved.
But Alice came home without Dad. And I don’t know when or how but we were told that we weren’t moving after all. Dad was going to take an early retirement. I remember something about his not liking what he saw in the schools around San Francisco, drugs mostly. So he wanted us to grow up in our beautiful safe town.
So much for my big yippee of moving. No going away parties, or gifts. I have a vague memory of announcing something awkward to an entire classroom about our not going. Probably because I had nattered on so about moving.
Eventually Dad drove back home, hauling his trailer. He had with him a gigantic ornate silver coffee service given to him for his retirement. He had no job and it took him several tries. He was a machinist at a logging camp across the state, gone again. After that he came home and sold furniture. He had a radio show. For a while he braved nipping dogs as a mailman. But he found his bliss as a teacher at our High School. He just didn’t know then that there wasn’t much bliss or life left.
More than a decade later, long after my father had died, I was told that his early retirement was for medical reasons. He lived in an age without cholesterol medication. Though he made drastic changes in his diet, it wasn’t enough.
Now within the past five years and with a new understanding of my family, it occurred to me one morning in the shower, where I have my most lucid and unfortunately evaporative thinking, that my parents were SEPARATED for that year. Well of course they were.
I’ve always secretly hoped that Dad had a wonderful time that year. You know, wink wink, a wonderful time. I’ll never know but I like to think he did.