( Max Bowers Tohline, 1914-1991, @1987, working at his lathe, photo by John B. Tohline)
I have written a lot about my Mom in the blog, but not so much about my Dad. This does not mean that my Dad has not had a profound influence on my life, just the opposite! But it does have to do with how inadequate I feel in representing him through the written word. My Mom’s personality jumped out at you and just gushed from her pores. She was extraordinary and a unique, gifted woman, and someone I am glad I had the opportunity to learn from throughout her 85 years – and that includes the final ten years that she battled Alzheimer’s disease.
My Dad was also a truly unique and extraordinary man. His life, however, was much more a mystery to me than my Mom’s. I grew up knowing only one grandparent on each side. My mother’s father died before any of her children were born, and my father’s mother died before my parents were married. Mom’s mother, my Grandma Brock, I knew intimately, and loved her dearly. She was filled with stories, and I came to know about my mother’s upbringing through those wonderful tales. She lived with us for a significant period during my “growing up” years, and died shortly before I graduated from high school.
My Dad’s father was more of an enigma. We saw him rarely, as he lived several states away from us, but what I remember of him, I loved very much. He was a quiet, skilled, and I think a rather lonely man. He remarried shortly after my grandmother died, and his second wife, whom we called “Granny,” was very dear, but again, not altogether communicative, though I stress that neither she nor my “G-Daddy” were at all hostile – in fact they were very kind and gentle, though distant people. Since I know so little about my Dad’s parents and about his upbringing, I believe that is why so much of Daddy’s life remains a mystery, despite the few stories he told and wrote out for us. The primary (and most important) thing I do know is that he loved me, and all of us, very much.
My Dad and my two brothers “spoiled me rotten!” I was the youngest of three children, and the only girl, and if you were to look for a definition of “Daddy’s Little Girl” in a dictionary, you would find my picture there as an illustration. Daddy was six and one-half feet tall and strikingly handsome, as well as extremely intelligent and gifted artistically. I was a sucker for him and vice-versa! His relationship with my brothers was quite different than mine – naturally – but that is a story they will have to tell. I wanted to please my Dad and tried to live up to his high estimation (not expectation) of me. He helped me to believe that I could do anything, and any sense of self-confidence I have today is firmly rooted in the relationship I had with him.
I learned early on that my Dad did not respond well to hidden or subliminal cues from his children (or perhaps even his wife). He lived a very up-front life, and spoke directly to the point, and with very precise (as I have said in previous posts) vocabulary. If he needed or wanted something, he asked for it, and he expected us to do the same – he didn’t ever want to have to guess, intuit, or discern those things from our behavior. That particular character trait was not in his skill-set. As I learned this about Dad, I also discovered something else: he was willing to give me anything I asked for (and often did), but with one proviso: it had to be something that interested him as well, and I learned to tailor many of my interests to fit his own. So many of the books I read – right into adulthood – were books he got for me, because I had “casually mentioned” to him my interest in a particular author or subject. He always wanted to fuel my education, and increasing his own knowledge – in a variety of subjects – was important to him as well. Our interests frequently meshed, and our mutual interests profited me greatly – both through his material gifts and more importantly his time.
When I was in high school, the movie version of Boris Pasternak‘s novel, “Dr. Zhivago,” was released. This sweeping epic tale, beautifully filmed, starring beautiful people, was a very big hit. I, along with most teenage girls, fell in love with the movie, its stars, and the story. Since I loved to read, I decided that I wanted to read the original, and other books by Pasternak. Because of that movie, I developed a keen interest in the great Russian novels/novelists, and wanted to read all that I could. My Dad commuted by train to his job in New York City each day. One morning before he left for work, I asked him if he could possibly find, if he had time, a copy of the book “Dr. Zhivago” for me, as I wanted to read it. He took an early train (6:50 a.m.) most mornings because he liked to get the bulk of his paperwork done before most of the other employees arrived. That also gave him the opportunity to take an earlier train home (4:40 p.m.), and avoid the train station crush that often occurred after 5 p.m. This particular morning was very rainy and stormy – not really even nice weather for ducks, as it was too windy. Dad did not get home at the usual time that evening – around 6:00, and two more trains brought commuters home before my Dad got home. He walked into the front door and looked rather bedraggled and damp, but he had in his hands a brown paper bag, which he gave to me upon his arrival. Inside the bag was a paperback copy of Dr. Zhivago. It turns out that Dad did not have the time during lunch hour to browse area bookstores in search of the book, so he left work a little earlier than usual in order to find a copy to bring to me. He spent a couple of hours in the pouring rain going from store to store until he found a copy of that book (and I still have it – some 43 years later). I grinned up at him and thanked him profusely before I even knew the whole story of his search. He brushed off my thanks, but he was obviously pleased at my own pleasure. Like I said, I was spoiled rotten – and it is a tradition that my brothers both continue to this day. (My husband is equally good at it!)
To be continued, next post.
Until then, Gentle Readers, enough…