Thursday, February 12, 2009

"There were giants in the earth in those days..."-- The Holy Bible

"If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants..."--Sir Isaac Newton

"The sky is crying..."--Stevie Ray Vaughn

I was born knock-kneed and pigeon-toed. Without "repairs" I would barely have been able to walk. The "repairs" began with having my legs broken and re-set like they should have been naturally, and that worked--only it didn't work enough. So my legs were broken again and set into casts again--for over two years I wore casts on my legs.

As you can imagine, not the best beginning for a very young child--but probably better than the agonizing, clumsy metal braces that followed. Think...think Forrest Gump.

My father took me to every doctor's appointment. Every single one. My mother couldn't bear to see the pain I was in, so just the two of us went. Remarkable unto itself as I think back now was the fact that we were alone--my father never went anywhere alone. There as always an assistant, maybe a secretary, a counsel, and if we were traveling probably some sort of security and an interpreter if he didn't speak the language. People always wanted to talk to him, to hang out with him, to have a word, to be seen with him, etc...But we went to the doctor alone.

In the beginning, when the doctors would start to tell my father about the prognosis and the procedures and everything else he would stop them and say, "They're his legs, talk to him--I'm just the driver". He made them acknowledge me as more than an object to be worked on, and to this day I cannot explain how much better that made me feel.

When I had the braces, he taught me card games, played board games, and had a heated pool dug so that we could swim, so that I could swim free of the braces. Being in that pool was like heaven.

After the braces came the corrective shoes, quickly coined "Frankenstein shoes" by my adoring classmates. Each shoe weighed four pounds. I wore varying versions of them for years, with weights adjusted at each refitting to further correct my stride, but they never got any lighter or any more normal-looking. To this day, my legs are huge--a byproduct of endless long days of involuntary weightlifting.

He wore them too.

Being barely ambulatory throughout most of my early childhood coupled with having a family chef and parents with a taste for rich cooking led to me being a very fat little kid. When I saw those shoes for the first time, I was devastated--I mean I was probably more distraught at the prospect of wearing those huge, square, black monstrosities than at any other time in my entire life. Within a week my father had his own pair. Whenever we went anywhere together, he put on his shoes just as I put on mine. When he left the house each morning he had them on, and indeed whenever he went anywhere he left the house wearing those hideous shoes.

Do I think the shoes stayed on long after he was out of sight? Probably not. But was his act of solidarity indescribably supportive? You have no idea at all.

When I was ten or eleven or thereabouts and I got caught stealing a pack of bubble gum trading cards from a convenience store. He was there then as well. I wasn't hit or screamed at, he simply told me how foolish the act had been and how embarassed of me he was because of it. The scare tactic had alread been applied by the store manager who had finger-printed me [and who is probably still laughing about it, dead or alive], and whatever my grounding punishment was didn't matter--I had been crushed by my father's disappointment.

He wasn't at all of my football games, but he came far more often than another man in his position would have. In my junior year we reached the state championship, but the game overlapped a visit by very old, very important friends of my parents--I assumed out of hand that he would have other responsiblities--only to look up at halftime and see him sitting in the stands with Princess Soraya, the widow of the Shah of Iran and her entourage.

In college I got in a horrific accident driving back home for a weekend. I woke up in intensive care to my parent's faces. When I hadn't checked in on time my father had turned his machine loose and tracked me down.

My father brought a former President of the United States to my college graduation.

He built a fireplace with his own hands, fought for our country, made millions of dollars, and taught me countless lessons both overt and implied [I remember begging to wash and wax one of his spotless cars one Saturday for some extra money--I think he relented only because I was asking to work for it. He left for an errand right before I started the wax and came back long after I was "finished". Walking in, he dropped a cheap packaged toothbrush on the floor next to where I was lounging and said, "Use that to get the wax out of the emblems and off the trim". He knew what mistake I was going to make well before I made it, and didn't even have to witness the event].

In the end, he loved me and he hated me, he had held me up to praise and piled upon me ridicule.

But he was always there, even if "there" was thousands of miles and a continent away. And, like most of those of his generation, he seemed eternal.

He is not there any more, and my devastation has neither bounds nor description.