Mostly stuff about my own family, but if you’re interested, feel free.
“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” – Carl Jung
I grew up with a depressed alcoholic Father. I’d sit watching TV beside him in the evenings as he knocked back a steady line up of scotch/rocks and smoked his Kents. I loved my Father though his misery seemed way too much like the family business I was expected to eventually shoulder. My Dad seemed like a frightened, tired fugitive who’d joined the family by pretending to belong here, reading the paper nonchalantly, until the coast was clear. This turned out to be close to the truth.
I discovered something surprising about him while reading through a stack of his old poetry.
Pretend you’re me. Five years after your proudly heterosexual and masculine father dies.
Here’s my new story, delivered to me at that hour and minute. My Dad was Gay and living in permanent exile from his own life. Or he was Bi, in the closet, and living an untrue life. Or maybe there was something I’m missing. I’m building a story out of fragments connected by gaps of unknown size and shape. Being Gay or Bi mid-twentieth century are sufficient explanations for some rhetorical person hiding, but insufficient for me to understand my father. Who was he hiding from? His family? He held them in contempt or at a cold distance. Society? The law? I have a sort of theory. I’ll get there eventually.
I’m uncomfortable revealing his most private secret to you, one that he never wanted to reveal to me. One he may not have revealed to anyone after the age of maybe twenty-five. I’m reluctant to expose his story out of concern for his feelings, his pride, and his shame. But none of these exist now, except in me on his behalf. OK, I can’t hurt him with this story. I’m the only one morally responsible and there’s no victim to protect.
Maybe I’m naive but I was shocked at first because he was so gruff and masculine, it played hard against type. However, it did resolve my lifetime question: Why the hell is this guy so uncomfortable? It made him a more sympathetic character to me. He stifled his most basic feelings and lived in that prison. He nursed a broken heart for a lost love grown perfect in separation. Many of us do, but a happy life keeps that pot on low heat, on a back burner. His pot boiled away till it charred. Pay too much attention to ghosts and they own you. Continue reading
(explaining our family background to my son)
I said I know I lot more about Mom’s side and that’s because she loved her family and became a curator of warm memories. (BTW, Mom actually wrote a full autobiography, I’ll be happy to share it with you if you ever want.) Dad disliked his family and lacked curiosity about them overall.
My Dad was Richard Bruce Miller. He was born in New York in 1925 and died in Florida in 2005.
The two branches of the river that flow through Dad to me and to you, are the Eckermanns and the Muellers. The other two lines joining with them in the previous generation Were Berman and Vanderbeck. Supposedly we are part Jewish on the Berman side. I hope so. Vanderbeck was Dutch and apparently ran an ocean crossing steamboat company. Here they depart our story.
Your two great grandparents from this side were James Mueller (soon after known as Jim Miller) and Dorothy (Dot) Eckermann.
(My son asked me to explain our family background)
Our Family, the side that comes to you through me, has two parts: My Dad’s side and my Mom’s side.
They are very different. I’ll start with my Mom’s side because I know more about them. Also, they were nicer.
My Mom was Irene Dorothea Lundstrom. Born in 1929 on long Island, in New York and died in 2001 in Florida. She was a gem, by the way.
Her Parents were Hjalmar Georg Lundstrom and Aina Helena Sundberg. Both born in the 1880s in Finland and died both at 95 years old, on Long Island.
This is the hardy and competent (yet quirky) peasant side of the family.
Grandpa was born in the southwestern Houtskär region of Finland, a group of wild and thinly populated islands. (Wiki help included here) Continue reading
Hjalmar Georg Lundstrom
He was my Mother’s father, my Grandpa, and your Great Grandpa. He was born in the Houtskär region of Finland in something like 1885. His Dad died when he was very young and he and his brother had to work hard from an early age.
- He was a fisherman and a carpenter and came to the United States around 1903 to stop being a fisherman and to escape being drafted into the Russian army.
Lesson 1: At all costs, avoid being drafted into the Russian army.
- He found my Grandma Aina Helena Sundburg when they were young and poor and working in Brooklyn. She was a maid and he was a carpenter living in a single men’s barracks (different world). Grandma didn’t take him seriously – they dated – they didn’t date – and dated again. She finally went back to Finland to consider her options. He showed up to be with her. They got married and had six kids.
Lesson 2: If you want something, prove it.
- Once he had a mishap and cut off the end of his nose with a circular saw. He walked over and picked it up out of the sawdust and taped it back on with electricians tape. It healed. No problem. Just a little white scar around the tip of his nose forever after.
Lesson 3: Fuck it, move on.
- He designed and built houses, had six kids, wrote poems and played the violin.
Lesson 4: Get busy.
- He died at 95 years old, asleep in his bed.
Lesson 5: Die at 95 in your sleep, my boy.
It’s just a snippet out of context and it won’t mean much to you, but for me, this is like finding a shred of an ancient scroll in a clay pot: Thrilling, but poignantly incomplete.
I love bedtime stories. Listening to the voice of someone I love telling me a story at bedtime carries me along like a gentle river, and the moment of drifting off is exquisitely easy. It’s unburdened by the thornbush of anxious thoughts where we so often find ourselves after turning off the light. I also love reading bedtime stories. If there was some way that 17 year old Isaac would allow it, I’d be happy doing it now. It’s a very sweet way of being together and sharing a world. I always found it relaxed him into naturally talking about what was happening in his world. This was never the reason for reading, just a very nice side effect. Nothing else allowed him to confide his feelings and concerns so easily. We’d pause the story and explore his situation for a while.
Between the days of reading baby books and the days of reading novels, I nightly made up stories out of thin air. He was very small, but old enough to understand and love a detailed, wide ranging story. He initiated it with a passionate request that I make up a story. I suppose it went on for two or three years ( I didn’t have him full time, but often). If you imagine doing this it feels daunting and doomed to failure. Waiting for a story to collect in your head is useless. The opposite of telling a story is worrying about what story to tell. The secret is to simply begin. Obviously you need a character or situation as the first domino but you can grab one off the endless racks surrounding us and just jump.
Not impressed with bible camp.
For Isaac, who was shocked at a story about his early flashes of brilliance. Here are a few early memories of your shining mind.
First I wanted to mention two very early things.
In the first you were about 18 to maybe 20 months old, that’s a toddler. You had started walking a few months before. Your favorite form of travel was me picking you up and carrying you around. You started to talk a couple of months before this. We were in the backyard at your Mom’s old house, I was carrying you. It was a beautiful evening with a royal blue sky and a big, nearly full moon. You pointed your tiny hand and said “Moon climbing up the sky…” In case you don’t get it that’s amazing. One night not long afterwards, your mom was driving you home from day care and you were of course strapped in the back seat and said “The night is dark and lovely” You have your quirks my boy, but you have serious gifts too.
Both sets of my Grandparents lived in this city at this time.
I have always been fairly bouncy and youthful. I’ve also always been vain and deeply in denial about getting older. 2 years ago, my health nosedived in a way that went from sad to frustrating to terrifying. It started with sudden arthritis bad enough to stop my aerobic routine and make keyboard and mouse use agonizing. If you know me, you know that means a lot of every day was agonizing. I rationalized that I am getting older and that I’ve earned any repetitive motion injuries with 2 decades of thoughtless ergonomics. I sucked it up.
I started having a lot of stomach trouble but it was gradual enough that it never clicked into the foreground. Whatever was happening, it messed with my energy levels. It messed with my sexuality. It messed with my sleep. I had a hundred odd little complaints. I rationalized it all as me getting old. My optimism decayed, my demented confidence that women still think I’m hot went with it. It turns out that a lot depends on that delusion for me. You might as well remove my thyroid or my knees.
I love moving, I love walking. Suddenly one day there was a tightness in my chest when going up a big hill. Over the next year, it got worse and worse and worse. All the joy in my life began to shrink and dry up like a waterhole. I was imprisoned on a small island. Walking to my classrooms the chest pain would become crushing and terrifying. I wasn’t tired or out of breath, just being squeezed by something that would pop me like a bubble if I kept moving. Worst were the weird middle of the night chest pains that seemed to come from nowhere. I think they made me the loneliest I have ever been. Continue reading