April 23, 2003
(For me the calculation is a little weirder than that, since I have this odd theory that I wasn't fundamentally who I am now until sometime during middle school. It's a self-serving rule of thumb, makes me feel less close to "middle aged" than I am.)
He was sick for 14 months before his death (though, tellingly, I first estimated it at 2-3 years)...Spinal Meningitis that knocked his nervous system, made him half blind and left him with extremely poor coordination and difficult speech. (It also took out his sense of smell...and having been trained as a nurse, his first professional diagnosis was "huh, when you get spinal meningitis, your farts don't smell!") He had been on a road of slow recovery, regaining the ability to walk, relearning how to read, when treatment for a tumor on his left gave him a setback from which he couldn't recover. The saddest moment I know of, my own personal "what to think about if I need quick tears for a stage role", came a few weeks before his death. Word of my grandmother Eva's death had arrived that morning (and, historically, they had not always been on super friendly terms, ever since he managed to polish the anniversary numbers off of her silver--) and I had just gotten up and walked by his bedroom (he was bedridden again) and he was there weeping and weeping. Weeping for Eva, and with a likely foreknowledge of his own passing. Trying to put myself in his place there gives me a sense of horror and foreboding that's hard to comprehend.
He was generous too. He thought it was important for a guy to have a little "scratch" money on him, and would often slip a little something into letters to some of his nephews. Another sad and horrific yet somehow beautiful thing I remember is when he had first gotten ill, had suffered these grand mal seizures, was in the hospital bed, he urged my mom to give me a little money, a five or something. Because of his slurred speech it took a while to understand what he was saying, about how what's supposed to happen is a son goes up to his father, says he needs a little money, and the father takes it out of his wallet and gives it to him. And it took me even longer to get a deeper understanding of what he meant by it.
|Favorite Photo Pose|
I guess some of my biggest regrets are not being able to interact with him after I grew out of my graceless adolescent phases. So much of what I'm proud of in life (getting my act together in school, going to a good college, pulling off neat technological tricks, things I've written and websites I've started, finding and wooing Mo, stumbling into a decent career, settling into my sense of humor, such as it is) have happened since early freshman year in high school... (this ties into that "life begins at 13" theory of mine.) And who knows, maybe if he had been around, I might've been a bit more culturally attuned, not quite the barbarian I am now.
Sigh. More than sigh.
James Edward Israel, 9/9/1949 - 10/10/1988.(1 comment)
October 11, 2003
Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of my dad's death...I think I've said most of the things I needed to in what I wrote on the day when I had been without him for as long as I had been with him, but here are two things I'd like to post, a recent anecdote from my mom and an essay I wrote over ten years ago, that I just rekeyed in.
Anecdote of the Moment
"Had a funny incident too, that I think Dad would have enjoyed. I had my friend Wendy over for dinner last Saturday, and mentioned about Friday being the 15th anniversary of Dad's death. Wendy and I sit usually sit with a group of about eight for lunch in the canteen. On Friday the subject of October birthdays had come up, and Wendy just looked across the table at me, and in a very kind voice said, 'I really did mean to get you a card.' I knew what she was talking about, but the rest of the group immediately started wishing me 'Happy Birthday!'. Wendy look horrified for a moment, and then the two of us just burst out laughing. We did explain it once we got our breath back."
--Heheheh. That e-mailed anecdote from my mom is just a lovely bit of macabre humor.
On Strawberries and the Paths Taken
I walk down the dark path at my great uncle's farm with Dad. The path is deeply ridged with tractor treads and covered with armies of rocks. There is a storage building hugging a hill, and on the hill side the roof is so low I can climb to the top and survey the strawberry fields. I don't, though. Dad and I come to a small brook and cross the wooden bridge. A sign here reads "CAUTION - STEEP BANKS, DEEP WATER". Dad warns me not to get too close. We turn right and walk past the storage house, next to the now brown fields. We pause in the chilly November night and look west. An airplane is rising, though all we can see are the three lights on the bottom. To my hyperactive eight-year-old imagination, it's a UFO riding into the inky cold of space. I tell Dad that. We laugh, hug, and slowly walk back to the welcoming farmhouse.
I walked down the sterile path of the hospital corridor with m mom. She had prepared me for what was to come. Dad had experienced seizures, and he had been diagnosed as having spinal meningitis. My mom said we were lucky; it hadn't touched his mind. However, he had lost almost all of his hand-eye coordination. He couldn't even feed himself. He was almost blind. He couldn't really see me, or my mom, but he knew our voices. His speech was slurred, almost incomprehensible. We both struggled so that I could understand him. The shock of seeing him this way banged against my mind. I really didn't feel that this was my dad, this unshaven man who needed assistance in completing the most essential tasks of life.
When my dad's seizures had first started, I had visited him in the hospital, and he was still basically well. Then, reassured that everything was going to be right, I took my planned trip to New York to visit friends. But then, after the grand-mail seizures, I did not know how to act. I hugged him stiffly, and he hugged me back, as best he could. We began to cry. I did not know how to act. What he missed most, he explained through half-spoken words and rough hand motions, were the kinds of things his father had done for him that he wanted to do for me, like giving me money out of his wallet when I needed it, with no assistance. Only now do I realize what he meant. He felt so helpless, and I was so unable to do anything to make it better. After this first visit, I went to the waiting room, trying to forget and ignore.
Finally, my dad, though still essentially bed-ridden, was able to come back home. We moved his bed into the dining room, next to the kitchen. It was my habit to pick a path downstairs to the kitchen in the dark before school every morning. One morning, as I hunted for breakfast, my dad, a very light sleeper, asked me to make him a bologna sandwich (by this time his speech had become clearer and we had become more adept at understanding him). It was a simple task. Just toast the bread and get a piece of bologna out of the fridge. Dad, although he was now able to walk with a walker, still was not able to do this himself. So every morning for a few weeks, I would offer him a bologna sandwich, a favorite of his ever since he was a boy. And then, for a reason that I cannot fully remember, I stopped. I would try to be very quiet when making my breakfast and would not offer to make his. If he asked me to make his sandwich, I would, of course, but only if he asked. Maybe I was just so stupidly lazy that I thought I couldn't wait for the time it took to make the toast. Or maybe I didn't like the constant reminder of his vulnerability, and therefore my own. I wonder if he noticed the change.
It has been eight years since we walked down the path at my great uncle's farm and two years since my dad's death. I think back to the year of slow recovery. He learned to walk with a walker, then a cane, and then unassisted. His speech was understandable, and his phone with the giant push-buttons was a prized possession. Near the end, he had relearned to read via large-print books and supermagnifying glasses. But then, tumor treatments plus pneumonia proved to be too much for him. Maybe it was too much for my mom and me, too.
At the farm, the dangerous brooks is still there. On my way down to it, I see the storage building with the low roof. Now I feel that I'm much too mature for climbing buildings. An interesting rock catches my attention. I dust it and put it in my pocket. After the bridge, I turn right instead of left and follow the brook to its other end, a small pond with ducks. Then I retrace the path we took that night eight years ago, and I squint at the setting sun. A lone strawberry lies waiting in the twilight covered path for me. On my way back, I'll throw it into the brook as a sacrifice for me and for Dad.
--An essay that I wrote during eleventh grade in high school, for Mrs. McLaughlin's class. (Later it was part of what got me recognition in the NCTE writing competition.) The writing seems clumsy to me now, but at least it is pretty forthright about what sometimes strikes me as one my bigger moral failings.(2 comments)
October 10, 2008
Twentieth anniversary of my dad's death.
I wonder what the rest of adolescence and then adulthood would have been like with him around. I wrote about his myriad interests and pursuits when I noted I had been alive for as long without him as I had been with him, and I wonder what would have caught his eye over the last two decades. His world was before the Internet, before the Cellphone, before clever-GPSes, before all these things that I think have really reshaped life... not (primarily) in the most important ways of love and friendship, but in a ton of other aspects, large and small.
And I wonder what he would have thought of me. My agnostic stance. My academic achievements. My marriage and divorce. Things I've written. Bands I played in. Websites I manage. My hobbies, my humor. I was so graceless at the time he was getting sick and dying. I guess there were glimmers of some of my potentials then, but also some outlines of my limits... and how would those limits have been different if he had been there? I know I'm very feedback driven, and so some of that has been cultivated in how I relate with my mom. Other relatives too, and teachers, and respected colleagues... but there's one type of approval I know I'll never really hear, and I wonder how that's changed my course, for better or worse.
I'll never look at him from an adult viewpoint, just over my shoulder in retrospect, and projection. I want to know what he would have made of this world, what he would have continue to make of himself in this world. Hell, in 4 or 5 years I'll be as old as he was when he died. Won't that be something!
October is such a bad month. Do other people get that too? Even apart from the current financial terrors, it just consistently seems to be an ugly season for me. A lot of the deaths in my family this time of year. Almost ten years ago today I wrote a note in my Palm Pilot's datebook to see if the young romance of Mo and I was still around, and it was around 5 years ago that she was deciding it wasn't what she wanted. just in general this time has a sense that things get worse, fortunes falling along with the temperature.
Can't wait for Halloween.
<<should i stand now where i've never been? / should i leave this place behind? / this old railroad car is loosening from the tracks>>
It's clear AT&T is compelled to charge 20 cents per txt msg even on unlimited data plans, because HEY SCREW YOU
pentomino Twitter's "Hot Topics" seem to be subject to whole lot of "hey guys, everyone Twitter on this!" manipulation.
McCain's really used "Fight With Me" as a slogan? I mean, I would, gladly, but it wouldn't seem super fair for him with his war injury etc. (10 comments)
September 9, 2009
Today my dad would have turned 60.
6 years ago (six! wow, what a number - college plus half of high school! The speeding raceway of time reminds me why I was so anxious to start dropping these daily bread crumbs for later leisurely perusal!) I had noted I had lived as many days with him as without him, and wrote a kind of tribute that I probably shouldn't try to top here. In 4 years, May Day 2013 (assuming the 2012 doomsayers prove as wrong as every date-based doomsayer has been thus far) I will be as old as he was when he died. I guess I should get over it some time? Or maybe parents are just that kind of thing you never have to get over - maybe especially if you haven't had kids of your own.
(Again, you can calculate your own happy or sad little milestones with that date toy tool I threw together in 2001.)
I've tended to express my regret in terms of be being a graceless adolescent when he died, that so much of the becoming I've done, that I'm most proud of because of its deliberate nature -- I think before you're a teen, you kind of just are -- happened after he passed. But now, coming up to the ages I have memories of him being at, I can think too about how many interesting paths could have been before him... I listed a bunch of things he'd done in that essay, and sometimes I'm still in a bit in awe.
Heh, it's another dumb little milestone today - the tenth anniversary of the 9/9/99 release date of the Dreamcast, a video game system beloved in the hearts of fanboys, but ultimately walloped by the DVD-playing, somewhat-more-powerful Playstation 2. I wonder what my dad would have thought of me and video games - not that it's such a big, time-consuming thing for me these days, but over the years I've sunk a lot of dollars and a lot of hours into them - but they were pretty primitive back when he was watching my early fascination with them. Lately I've been pleased by one thought though... here's a (pooorly photographed) example of some of his cross stitch (an inuit design I believe)
Man, what is cross stitch and needlepoint if not a crazy kind of folksy pixel art? So our interests maybe weren't as far apart as all that. (Hell, we might've collaborated on some of this stuff, I'm sure modern stitchers use all sorts of scanning and conversion high tech tools, rather than being solely reliant on the type of pattern books my dad had (and I remember being kind of fascinated by as a kid.))
Sigh. Guess today I'll fire up the old Dreamcast and... I dunno, try to have some place that cooks hot dogs in beer or something, like I think my Dad said they did in Ohio...
Miss you, Dad, Happy Birthday.
May 1, 2013
"If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn"
--Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Sep 9 1949
That was one of the first quotes I ever "collected"-- it was my .signature file for a while.
Last year, before I turned 38, it occurred to me I might be about as old as my dad was when he died. I wasn't positive of his birthdate, but I thought I knew the year, so I googled my site for 1949... this quote came up before my dad's birthday (which I thought, correctly, was there from a tribute I wrote when I was 29, and had lived as long without him as with.)
Somehow I had recorded the quote with a date, and never realized that the day Charlie Parker said that was also my dad's birthday. And according to my date toy, today is the day I was wondering about last year: I am as old as he was as he died.
I guess the guy lived it so it woulda came outta his horn, except that he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Played a mean timbrel (Salvation Army term for a tambourine) though, and wanted to start the James Edward Israel School for the Triangle.
All of the above I wrote last year.
I didn't really come up with a great way to commemorate the occasion, so I ordered a box of Payday bars (his personal favorite) and am passing them out at work and whatnot.
Now that the day is here, what does it mean? I think there's a time in late teenagehood, young-adulthood when a young man kind of takes on his father to help become his own man, and I'll never have a proper version of that. A milestone like this, where in every memory I have of my dad going forward he'll have been younger than I am at that moment, might help me grow up a bit. Maybe.
Still bummed he didn't get to see me grow up, still bummed he didn't get to see the world evolve a bit into something more connected and communication-oriented, still bummed for me and all the other people who loved him and have been deprived the pleasure of his humor and company.
"History teaches us nothing except that something will happen."
At least two of them have some footage of my dad. I think it's the only audio footage of my dad I know of, except there might video tape of him playing a elderly grandfather stuck in a rocking chair for a Christmas pageant (given how sick he was at that point, that part wasn't much of a stretch, alas)
(Love the shot of my mom Youtube picked to thumbnail it.)
The opening scene is a child on a distinctive kids chair, consisting of 3 slotting rectangles, made by my grandfather (there are two piece in all, and either can be stood as a chair, a rocking chair, or a desk)
Quiet scene of my dad at 0:20.
Then it's a Wittenberg and Israel kitchen scene, I suppose in our place in Cincinnati.
At around 0:54 is my dad, hiding behind his hands from the camera. At 1:06 the camera is on me, and I think my dad is talking about the mafia (a group he consistently despised, along with the movies that would glorify them.)
2:00 has my dad sticking his tongue out at the camera. Later there's some further goofing and some leg.
Around 3:13, it's a new recording. The scene changes to our over-the-church apartment in Salamanca NY. That's the first home I had recollections of, and could sketch out its layout. Now it's a surprisingly small grass field. My Aunt, Uncle, his son, and a Salvation Army cadet from Poland are also there besides my family the Wittenbergs.
I recognize a lot, like the mission chair, lamp and server from St. Thomas still in my mom's house, the record player behind my dad at 3:52, the umbrella plant "Kirk Tree" that was planted when I was born (finally died a few year ago). I guess as an "Officer Kid" who moved around a lot, it's those kind of objects that make a place for me... in almost any photo taken in an old apartment, I'm often as or more interested in what books are on my shelves then whoever is in the main subject of the shot.
Around 4:00 is probably the single biggest stretch of my dad's voice. Along with me in the background clowning for attention.
My Uncle at 4:50 and one of his infamous naps...
At around 5:15 my dad does a bit of deliberate pantomime with a pampers box, a stuffed koala bear, and a brush , kind of invoking the "Little Tramp" bit with the rolls from "The Gold Rush"
Finally the video ends with a quiet shot of an infant and a toddler, probably just using up the film.
A lot of feelings struck up with this, from some cringing at how attention seeking I was then (I know it's a fairly normal part of life especially that age but still) to some things that will never be fully resolved between father and son, to just a general feeling of bittersweet nostalgia.