THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
I’ve got to admit to not knowing nearly as much as I want to about most things.
How and why our politicians do what they do is a mystery. Ditto why women always ask men who love them questions we don’t dare answer. And why men always try to answer them anyway is another big unknown.
There’s one thing, however, that I thought I had nailed. I figured I knew myself pretty well. So I was shocked yesterday when I discovered something completely new—and at Wal-Mart, of all places.
Where I looked into the mirror in the men’s room. And saw my father looking back.
There he was. Leonard Aaron Brody, who died in 1994 at the age of 72. Of lung cancer, after having smoked at least two packs of cigarettes every day of his life since he was 12. (My mother died three months later at the same age and of the same thing. They’d done everything together for sixty years.)
I know many people who’ve found themselves turning into one parent or another as they got older, and they’ve taken it in stride, but I was totally thrown by this whole thing. Because since adolescence I’ve tried as hard as I could to be nothing like my old man.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate my father. (I keep wanting to write, “my dad” but I’ve never once regarded him that way) My problem is that although he was always physically present he and I never connected.
We were so far apart that even now, when people ask me about him, I always say, “My father was a very quiet man. In my whole life I don’t think I heard him speak more than a total of twenty minutes.” It’s not literally true, but the situation sure felt that way.
I’ve been told that Leonard A. Brody was a very intelligent man, but I never saw him demonstrate that. He was a handsome boy in a family with four older sisters who in his youth coddled and protected and did for him. A job my mother took on when he and she married.
My father never finished college. When I asked him what he’d dreamed of being he said, simply, “Employed.” But he never held onto a job either.
When I was a teenager he opened his own business with one of my uncles. Their partnership ended when Uncle Morrie punched out my father at a family gathering, for reasons no one understood.
My mother loved my father, but he didn’t communicate much with her either. Theirs was a relationship of silences and looks.
I wanted to know what my father felt. What he thought. When I became an adult I’d say to him, “Who are you? Let’s spend some time together. Why won’t you talk?”
And he’d say, “I’m me,” and when we did spend time together he’d pick up the newspaper and read to himself until I left.
When my father died, his funeral bulged with a couple of hundred mourners. But no one stood up and spoke.
I didn’t either. I had nothing to say.
After the funeral not one person who came to my mother’s house had any stories or reminiscences about the deceased other than, “He was such a nice guy.”
I figured the only reason there’d been such a big attendance was because people liked my mother and were showing their respect for her. But when she died no one but the immediate family came to her service.
So it wasn’t about her. It was about him. But why?
Here I am, living as publicly as possible and writing about all I do so my children and the readers of this paper—and just about everyone else who might care—won’t wonder who I was. So they’ll know me and understand.
And then yesterday I looked into a mirror and saw my mysterious father instead of myself, the way he looked when he was my age.
In spite of all my efforts, he’s won. I’m him, in a way I should’ve expected but never did.
I moped around about this all day. But as I write I feel full of hope. Because I’m thinking maybe now that I’ve become the man others called “Len,” I’ll understand him.
And if I can do that, then maybe someday I’ll finally be able to think of my father as “Dad.”