Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013.06.19 Dear Dad

My father, McDonald Gillespie, grew up in Morristown NJ. After college Dad moved to New York City and went into advertising. Yes, he was a “Mad Man.” I watched the popular contemporary soap of that name, twice and never again. It was all too familiar: the 3-martini lunches, the mutual flirtations with secretaries, a shallow and competitive culture with rigid gender roles: Dad went to his office and advertised soups and Mom stayed home and advertised me. Their generation was full of anxious men and women using all their smarts to make money and ward off fearful memories of the 1929 depression.

My father imbibed his share of martinis, had one flirtation (I learned this from my mother) and also worked hard and with integrity at what he did. He never represented a product he didn’t believe in and use himself. We ate plenty of Campbell’s Soup (especially the tomato, so MmmMmmgood) and we never drank Coca Cola, only Pepsi.  Dad, naturally, smoked Lucky Strikes for a bullseye.

Dad rose to executive VP status in spite of it all. He didn’t like the exaggerated advertising trend, embellishments to sell the product for profit. In fact, when television ads came in, he fumed when his agency decided to put marbles in the bowl of Campbell’s vegetable soup to make it look rich in edibles. Marbles didn’t sink to the bottom like all the real veggies and pasta products. My father thought that was dishonest and unnecessary.  It was. He was a very honest man whose natural reserve commanded respect—well deserved.  I loved him and never said it enough. So..................

Dear Dad,

2013 marks the 30th anniversary of your death at 71, an age far too young for the length of our love.

We first met when I was born of course and you named me. Naming is a big deal you know, at least it is in the biblical tradition where God names people and gives them gifts. You weren’t God, although sometimes I thought Mom thought so, but you named me Lynda, with a “y” to call me Lyn. You gave me your good looks, your serious-sided personality, and your appreciation for sacramental liturgy. Or did I give you that? 

Two memories stand out for me, Dad. They’re not martini memories though I have a few of those too. As I grew up and got to know you I knew that you drank to relieve the silent soft ache of shyness. I have it too. And we both overdid the drinking, or let it overdo us—until we both stopped, you because of pancreatitis, and me because I came to myself.

My childhood stand-out memory is a summer one. We spent time on a farm in upstate NY  and every so often we’d go on riding breakfasts with Farmer Kurtie and his daughter Bella. Remember? This was a special father/daughter adventure, just for the oldest daughters, before we hit our teens. We packed food and headed out into the open country at pre-dawn. The image engraved on my heart is this: In the pre-dawn we sat still and quiet, I on my small pony and you on your big horse, which is to say we were together like one, our souls riveted as we watched the globe of orange sun rise and take over the earth for a new day. After that we ate breakfast sandwiches made of bacon slathered with mayo and maybe lettuce too— unhealthfully delicious.

My adult memory of you was your last Christmas. You’d had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from your esophagus. You had a feeding tube for nutrition but couldn’t eat or drink. You mustered all your strength and all your soul to make it in your wheelchair to the family table for the Christmas meal, which you couldn’t eat. You lifted a cup of coffee, took a deep whiff but no sip, grinned and toasted, “Merry Christmas everyone.”

You did it for us and you did it for Christmas. It was the most beautiful “eucharist” I’d ever seen.

Thanks Dad.