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Posts Tagged ‘bearing witness’

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I-35 Bridge Memorial – 36/365, Archive 365, Droid Shots, 35W Bridge Remembrance Garden, Minnesota, July 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I passed by the 35W Bridge Remembrance Garden three times over the last few weeks. Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 marked five years to the day since the I-35 bridge collapsed. The third time I drove by, I was traveling home from the Guthrie with Liz and her mother who was visiting from Wyoming.

Ironically, on August 1st, 2007, Liz’s mother was in the air on her way to Minneapolis when the bridge collapsed. Liz and I were folding laundry and doing last minute preparations for her visit, when we received a phone call from my mother in Pennsylvania asking if we were okay. Confused, we quickly turned on the TV to see that one of the busiest bridges in the Twin Cities had fallen into the Mississippi and was a twisted mass of concrete and steel.

Thirteen people died that day; 145 were injured. They had been going about their lives in what was until that moment, an ordinary day; it could have been any one of us. The Memorial to the victims and survivors of the 35W bridge collapse sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, next to Gold Medal Park. There was a dedication and opening ceremony for the 35W Memorial, August 1st, 2011. It is a quiet place where water falls over a granite wall inscribed with the names of the 145 survivors, and the words:

Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.

Last week, I listened to survivor Lindsay Walz tell her story from the perspective and wisdom of the passing of time (you can read her story at this link). On August 1st, she painted details on the back brace she wore for injuries sustained when the bridge collapsed. In addition to a broken back, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She states that everyone’s recovery is as unique as their experience on the bridge that day. Some people are still dealing with ongoing crippling pain and can’t work. They can’t do things they used to take for granted. The survivors stay connected through a Facebook page; they are still there for each other.

The night I passed by Bohemian Flats, under the new I-35 bridge, and around the bend to the Memorial, I saw 13 steel girders lit in neon blue, one for each person who lost their lives. I felt compelled to slow down from all the busyness of summer, and remember their names. (To learn more about their lives, there are biographies at the links.)


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Sherry Engebretsen
Sherry Engebretsen knew how to take care of details, especially when it came to her daughters.

 

Artemio Trinidad-Mena
Originally from Mexico, Artemio lived in Minnesota for about 10 years, and worked at New York Plaza Produce in south Minneapolis for almost a year.

 

Julia Blackhawk
Julia Blackhawk had recently taken a new Indian name. The 32-year-old from Savage was given the name Thunder Woman during a pow-wow at Easter. Her uncle, John Blackhawk, is a Winnebago Tribal Council member. He says Julia was a kind person who always showed respect for her elders. And he says she had one attribute that was very special.

 

Patrick Holmes
Patrick Holmes, 36, of Mounds View, was found dead at the scene of the bridge collapse that same night. He was on his way home from work. His wife, Jennifer, heard the news a little after midnight.

 

Peter Hausmann
Peter Hausmann, 47, was a computer security specialist worked at Assurity River Group in St. Paul. The company’s president says Hausmann was a quiet leader and a man of faith.

 

Paul Eickstadt
Paul Eickstadt drove a delivery truck for Sara Lee Bakery for 14 years. He was just beginning his shift, on his way to Iowa, when the 35W bridge collapsed. Eickstadt, 51, lived in Mounds View. He is survived by a brother and two sisters.

 

Greg Jolstad
Greg Jolstad’s friends called him Jolly “because of his name, and because that’s just how he was.” Bill Stahlke remembers ice fishing almost daily, as teenagers, with Jolstad and Jim Hallin on Knife Lake, near the Jolstad family farm. The three haven’t missed a winter on the lake in the nearly 30 years since they graduated together from Mora High School.

 

Scott Sathers
On Aug. 1, Scott Sathers left his job in downtown Minneapolis at Capella University, where he worked as an enrollment director, approximately 40 minutes later than usual. Sathers called his wife Betsy at 5:50 p.m. from Washington Ave. and 35W, where he was about to get on 35W to go north to his home in Blaine.

 

Christina Sacorafas
Christina Sacorafas was running late, and called her friend and fellow dance instructor, Rena Tsengas, to say she would be late. But Sacorafas never made it the Minneapolis church where students in her Greek folk dancing group were waiting for her to begin class.

 

Sadiya and Hanah Sahal
For Ahmed Iidle, the I-35W bridge collapse has brought a double loss. His daughter Sadiya Sahal, 23, and her 2-year-old daughter Hanah were headed to a relative’s house when the bridge crumbled beneath them.

 

Vera Peck and Richard Chit
Vera Peck and her 20-year-old son Richard Chit were traveling in the same car when the bridge collapsed.

 

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Related to posts: 40 Days, 8 Flags, and 1 Mennonite Choir, Memorial — Day & Night, Bridge To Nowhere — The Great ConnectorFear Of Bridges, Thornton Wilder & Bridges, Minneapolis At Night, The Name Game (What’s In A Name?)

Resources: Hundreds turn out to dedication of 35W Bridge Memorial, New 35W bridge memorial honors those who died — and the community that disaster brought together, Remembering the Dead, Bridge survivor on 5th anniversary: ‘The day I got to live’

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 5th, 2012

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Documentary Shorts At The Riverview, Droid Shots, original photograph edited with Paper Camera, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


When Liz was asked what movie she wanted to see before a belated birthday dinner at Blackbird, she chose the Oscar Nominated Short Documentary films at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. The filmmakers took us around the world, Baghdad to Birmingham, Pakistan to Japan. The presentation included four of the five films nominated for an Oscar in the Short Documentary category for 2012: Incident in Baghdad, Saving Face, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, and The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement. (The fifth nominee, God Is The Bigger Elvis could not be shown due to licensing issues.)

In 130 minutes, I swept through a full range of emotions. Saving Face moved me to tears one minute; the next I was smiling with the big hearted doctor who traveled to Pakistan to reconstruct the acid scarred faces of women attacked by their husbands. Incident in New Baghdad horrified me and reminded me how sheltered most Americans have been from the ravages of two wars.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom had a visual yin and yang quality. Grief, destruction, devastation, and loss following the tsunami in northern Japan; delicate blossoms of centuries old cherry trees restore hope in ways “beautiful but not showy.” James Armstrong, The Barber of Birmingham, walked steady and strong through decades of the Civil Rights Movement, and listened closely when he cut the hair of Dr. Martin Luther King. His mantra: “Dying isn’t the worst thing a man can do. The worst thing a man can do is nothing.”

The men, women, and children in these documentaries survived against all odds. They are impeccable warriors who teach me to pay attention, find my voice, and not be afraid to speak out. They teach me to show gratitude for the gift that is my life. They teach me about courage.  Through hardship and injustice, they show up and tell their stories to filmmakers who ensure their stories are heard. I hope you take the opportunity to see these films. They will inspire you to live life to the fullest, to take risks with your art and writing, and walk the way of the peaceful warrior.



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Incident in New Baghdad – 25 minutes – USA – James Spione

One of the most notorious incidents of the Iraq War – the July 2007 slayings of two Reuters journalists and a number of other unarmed civilians by US attack helicopters – is recounted in the powerful testimony of American infantryman Ethan McCord whose life was profoundly changed by his experiences on the scene.


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Saving Face – 40 minutes – Pakistan/USA – Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Every year hundreds of people — mostly women — are attacked with acid in Pakistan. The HBO Documentary SAVING FACE follows several of these survivors, their fight for justice, and a Pakistani plastic surgeon who has returned to his homeland to help them restore their faces and their lives.


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The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom – 39 minutes – Japan/USA – Lucy Walker

Survivors in the areas hardest hit by Japan’s recent tsunami find the courage to revive and rebuild as cherry blossom season begins. A stunning visual poem about the ephemeral nature of life and the healing power of Japan’s most beloved flower.


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The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement – 25 minutes – USA – Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday

Mr. James Armstrong is an 85-year-old barber, a “foot soldier” and a dreamer whose barbershop in Birmingham, Alabama has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights since 1955. The dream of a promised land, where dignity and the right to vote belong to everyone, is documented in photos, headlines and clippings that cram every inch of wall space in his barbershop. On the eve of the election of the first African American president, the Barber of Birmingham sees his unimaginable dream come true.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 22th, 2012. Read more about the films at the links and watch a trailer at the Riverview website.

-related to posts: And The Oscar Goes To…, Eloquent Nude At The Riverview

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Lincoln’s Birthday, Indie bookstore window photographed with Canon Powershot & edited with PhotoShop Elements, Wayzata, Minnesota, February 16th, 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few years ago, Liz and I went to see Ronald C. White, Jr. at the Bookcase of Wayzata, an independent bookstore on Lake Minnetonka. He was there to discuss his new book, A. Lincoln: A Biography. I had heard him interviewed earlier in the morning on MPR; Liz and I decided to be spontaneous and go hear him speak. The little Indie bookstore was packed.

White talked about how Lincoln loved words. And because of that, his words were like poetry. White wrote his book for those who might be reading a Lincoln biography for the first time, or to introduce Lincoln to a younger generation. He also spoke about how Obama started to shine a light on Lincoln, and how he (White) was booked for speaking engagements in Mississippi and Alabama, and also in Europe where many think Abe Lincoln personifies the American Dream.

More than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Yet not all of his story has been told. At the end of the Civil War, between March and April 1865, Lincoln went to Northern Virginia to meet with his generals. He shook hands with thousands of Union soldiers and visited the former Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. But little is known about the last week of his life before his assassination on April 14, 1865.

Historian Noah Andre Trudeau thinks that in their rush to get to Ford’s Theater, historians have overlooked this important part of Lincoln’s life. After the Civil War, the President of the United States met Generals Grant and Sherman in Virginia to talk about the surrender of the South and its impact on our country. Lincoln visited Richmond, then considered enemy territory, as an observer. He was looking for ways a torn nation could begin to heal.

Having spent my childhood in the South, and most of my adult years in the North, I am compelled to follow literature about the Civil War. One of my ancestors was a courier for Robert E. Lee. When we moved to the North, one of the first places we visited was the Gettysburg battlefield. I am fascinated by the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan who took this photo, one half of a stereo view of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, while he sketched on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863. (See links below for the rest of the Atlantic series on photographs of the Civil War.)

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Trudeau is known for uncovering its secrets. His previous books, Bloody Roads South and Gettysburg, have unveiled information about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, and the legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now, in preparation for the book about a largely unexamined period of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, Trudeau is in search of witnesses.

He is seeking diary entries, letters or stories of people who encountered Lincoln at the time. During the NPR story, I was surprised to hear several people call in with leads to family scrapbooks and letters relating to Lincoln. (To share information, contact him at lincoln65@earthlink.net.) About his quest for truth, Trudeau states: “My one nightmare is that I’m going to do a very good job of discrediting all the good stories.” I think it’s quite the contrary. The more stories revealed, the closer we are to weaving together the textured layers of the past, and unraveling the sometimes painful chapters in American history.


Resources:

Historian Seeks Artifacts From Lincoln’s Last Days : NPR Talk Of The Nation (LINK)

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. at his Official Website (LINK)

Abraham Lincoln and Slavery | Minnesota Public Radio News (LINK) – historian Eric Foner examines Abraham Lincoln’s complex ideas about slavery and African Americans, casting fresh light on an American icon.

The Civil War, Part 1: The Places, the Atlantic – February 8th, 2012 (LINK) – First installment of amazing b&w photographs of important places in the Civil War. (Some images in the three Series are graphic.)

The Civil War, Part 2: The People, the Atlantic – February 9th, 2012 (LINK) – Second installment of b&w photographs of the Civil War. Includes a photo portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken by photographer Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865.

Traditionally called “last photograph of Lincoln from life”, this final photo in Lincoln’s last photo session was long thought to have been made on April 10, 1865, but more recent research has indicated the earlier date in February. The crack comes from the original negative, which was broken and discarded back in 1865. The entirety of the American Civil War took place while Lincoln was in office, starting a month after he was elected, and ending just days before his assassination in April of 1865.

The Civil War, Part 3: The Stereographs, the Atlantic – February 10th, 2012 (LINK) – Third installment of the Stereographs of the Civil War with the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 12th, 2012, birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Related to posts: Abraham Lincoln & Nikki Giovanni (On Poets & Presidents), Presidential Poetics — Elizabeth Alexander, President Barack Obama, Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?

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-posted on red Ravine Sunday, September 11th, 2011, 9:02am

-related to the piece: Remembering – September 11th, 2008

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Black Bear Lily On The BearCam, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2010, DenCam provided by the NABC/WRI, photo snapshot 2010 by QuoinMonkey.


If you’ve never seen a wild black bear gently lick her paws, roll over in her den, or blow puffs of winter breath in sub-zero temperatures, Lily will change your life. I used to think hibernating bears went into their dens and peacefully slept all Winter. Nothing could be further from the truth.

On Friday January 8th, documentary veteran Doug Hajicek installed an Infra Red camera system into a black bear’s den near Ely, Minnesota. And not just any black bear. Her name is Lily. Three-year-old Lily is part of the long-term study of black bear ecology and behavior being conducted by Lynn Rogers at Ely’s Wildlife Research Institute, less than 30 miles from the Canadian border. Lily is the daughter of 9-year-old June, and it is believed that Lily is pregnant. There is an above average chance she will give birth in mid January.

The Full Moon in January, which I’ve often celebrated as the Wolf Moon, is sometimes known as the Bear Moon. Last week under the New Bear Moon, I listened to Cathy Wurzer interview Doug Hajicek on MPR. Then Liz and I started following Lily on Facebook. We also watched her on the Today Show. And have been reading bear facts at the North American Bear Center and checking in to Lily’s Bear Cam ever since.

No one has ever seen a wild bear give birth to cubs. Some mornings, I can’t take my eyes off the screen. If the miracle happens, it will be the first time in history it has ever been filmed. Bearing witness. It is a powerful thing.


Lily's Eye On The BearCam, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




To view the magic for yourself, check out these links:






Black Bear Snout, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine under the New Bear Moon, Sunday, January 17th,




Other Local Color posts from Minnesota & New Mexico:

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By Bob Chrisman

 
 
 

BOB FATHER & SON 1958 IMG_1798

Father & Son, circa 1958, St. Joseph, Missouri,
photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
On May 3, 1952 I arrived to take part in the family drama. My parents celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary the week after I was born. Dad had turned 38 in February. My sister would turn ten in September, followed by Mom’s 37th birthday the end of November.

As a child I adored my father, but around the age of five I didn’t want him to touch me. I would scream if he came close. He loved to come home from work and rub his unshaven face against my cheeks until they turned red. I hated that. I hated him.

My father exploded at odd times. Seemingly benign topics of conversation would cause him to yell and pound the table. Although never physically violent, his fits scared me and made conversation with him unpredictably frightening.

Not a particularly outgoing man, he withdrew more from social interactions. At family gatherings he would collect all the reading material in the house, find a comfortable chair, and read and sleep the afternoon away.

My sister left for college when I was nine. My father grew even more distant. His only ally had left the house.

The first craziness that I remember occurred one Sunday afternoon. My sister had come home. My grandmother had come to town from the farm. Our car pulled up in front of the house and I went to the door.

My mother was yelling. My father, half in and half out of the car, shouted at someone. I looked to see who they were screaming at and realized they were arguing. I had never seen them argue like that. “Sis, come here. You gotta see this.”

From behind me I heard, “What the hell?” She nudged me. “Shut the door. We don’t want them to know we saw.” I closed the door.

Five minutes later, Mom walked into the house and threw her purse on the bed. When she noticed us staring at her, she sighed, “Len will join us later. He has something to do right now.”

Twenty minutes passed before he returned home and sat down at the table. No one said a word about what had happened between them.

 
 
 

Years later my mother said, “Your father got scared when you started to first grade. He knew someone wanted to kidnap you kids. They planned to snatch you at the Frosty Treat.” The Frosty Treat was a popular, after-school, ice cream shop. Without any explanation our parents had forbidden us from joining our friends there. I didn’t think much about it. By the time I started school, I had grown used to these commands. The new order was, “Come home directly from school.” I obeyed.

My mother told me that Dad has accused her of moving the pillows on their bed to make him crazy. “We only had two pillows. I never understood what I had done.” Although these episodes continued through my childhood, she never talked about them.

When I asked about the argument on that Sunday afternoon, my mother swore me to silence. “Your dad said an angel descended into the church and stood next to him during the service. It communicated telepathically and told him to watch himself. The man next to him had been sent to see if he played with himself during church. I told him he was crazy. That’s when he yelled at me.”
 
“Mom, that’s nuts. Did you think of going for help?”

“To whom? God? I prayed for your dad night and day.”

“How about a psychiatrist or psychologist?”

“We took care of our own problems.”

 
 
 

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My Father, circa 1968, St. Joseph, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 

Physical problems plagued Dad during the late 1960’s. The grain dust at work irritated his one good lung and caused severe asthma attacks. I can close my eyes and hear the gasping sound as he struggled to breathe. I can see him sitting at the kitchen table, his mouth wide open and his neck muscles strained, as he inhaled.

My mother walked twelve blocks in the dark to the pharmacy to buy the “breathing medicine.” She never asked me, her teenage son, to go. As soon as she left, I crawled under my bed and hid. I didn’t want to hear any calls for help. I’d fail him. I always did.

He underwent hernia surgery in December 1968 and a re-do in January 1969. He stayed off work until March. Two weeks after he returned to work he suffered his stroke.

Chaos erupted. My mother stopped being a mother and became a devoted wife. I resented his stroke because it hadn’t killed him and because it took my mother away.

Somewhere in the years that followed, he gave up. Not that I blame him. His life beat him down. The stroke and residuals destroyed what little will he had left.

It ended any chance I had to talk with him about what happened between us, to ask him questions, to make my accusations, to hear his side of the story. Even if he hadn’t lost his mind, I couldn’t have talked to him, so great was my hatred. On May 2, 1984, he died of old age. A birthday “present” I can never forget.

I’ve always felt incomplete as a man because he didn’t teach me the secrets that fathers pass to their sons. Even now, after decades of searching for that knowledge, which I doubt exists, I still feel inadequate.

 
 
 

Recently a psychic said, “Your father asks you to forgive him for what he did to you.”

Without hesitation I replied, “I have forgiven him. He needs to forgive himself.”

I joined forces with my mother. I disliked the failure I thought he was. I sometimes treated him with no dignity because I thought he deserved my contempt. Perhaps most importantly, I hated him because he didn’t love me enough. But then, I never gave him a chance. Like my father, I must forgive myself for all the things I did and didn’t do in my relationship with him. Only then can I truly bear witness for my father.

 


About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. My Life With Dad is Part III in his exploration of a trilogy series about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August, followed in September by Part II, Bearing Witness.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and The Law Of Threes. He has also published two pieces about the life and death of his mother — Hands and In Memoriam.

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By Bob Chrisman



I possess no physical evidence to offer in defense of my father. Family stories and my own fragmented memories comprise what little I know of him. Fifty-seven years have blurred much of what I remembered, but I will bear witness for him.

At a trial, the court clerk would instruct me to raise my right hand. “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” I would hesitate before I answered. I don’t know the “truth.” I only know my truth. But the court doesn’t want to hear my doubts. The only answer to the question is, “I do.”


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My Father – 8 Months Old, circa 1914, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.



On February 28, 1914, my father, Len Chrisman, became the first child of H.T. and Annie Chrisman. In September of that same year, H.T.’s gall bladder ruptured. The resulting infection killed him. My father never knew his father, not even from stories, because his mother didn’t talk about the man.

Several men courted the Widow Chrisman. A local banker, my father’s favorite, asked her several times to marry him, but she refused.

When she remarried in 1920, she chose a widower, William Hecker, who had seven children. By all accounts, including some from his children, he was a very angry man. Mr. Hecker stipulated one condition for the marriage. “You must promise that you’ll never favor your son over my children.” She promised, and she never broke a promise.

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My Father In His Baby Carriage, circa 1914, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

My father rarely talked about the mother of his childhood. I remember him saying, “She married him because the children needed a mother. She felt sorry for them.”

The step-daughters resented her. Ruth, the oldest, had already married and left home. Fern and Gladys soon followed their oldest sister’s lead. The remaining daughter, Myrtle, who was my father’s age, loved both her new stepmother and stepbrother. The teenaged stepsons, Ralph and Glenn, took after their father. They hated my dad because he had been an only child with a mother all to himself. The remaining step-son, Everett, died in 1926. My father rarely spoke of him, except to say, “He died too young.”

Early in the marriage they lived in western Nebraska. One day the boys roped my dad and dragged him behind a horse through cactus patches. “I never cried. Mom pulled the needles out of my bottom and back with a pair of pliers. I didn’t cry then either. I never let them have that satisfaction.” His voice remained flat as he told the first part of the story, but cracked when he said. “You know, my own mother didn’t say anything to Dad Hecker or to the boys.”

A high school teacher offered to send him to college and pay his expenses. My father wanted to go. “Mom and Dad Hecker listened politely. The last thing he said was, ‘A brilliant mind like his shouldn’t go to waste.'”

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Widow Chrisman & Her Son, circa early 1900s, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.


“Mom answered as soon as he finished, didn’t even take time to mull it over. ‘None of the other kids went to college. Len doesn’t need to go either.’ It wouldn’t have cost them anything. I left the room because I was so mad at her.”

Her decision doomed my dad to a lifetime of farm labor and blue collar jobs. He worked at a dairy. He worked in a foundry, a meat packing plant, and finally in a grain mill. He never fit in with his fellow workers. He read too much, thought too much.

My father met my mother in the mid-1930’s. She lived down the street from his parents. The two became friends. In the late 1930’s he traveled to Oregon to pick fruit because local jobs didn’t exist. His traveling companions were his future brothers-in law. He wrote letters to my mother. She saved them, called them “love letters” even though they contained no obvious expressions of love, other than “Love, Len.”


I asked my mother why she married him. At that time, he had been bedridden for five years. “Did you love him?”

She dodged the question. “I promised myself that I would marry someone like my dad.”

“Was Daddy like him?”

“No, he was nothing like my father. I felt sorry for Len. He needed me.” I cringed. My heart hurt. She hadn’t loved my father. I didn’t ask any more questions because I didn’t want to know the answers.


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My Father Dressed For A Tom Thumb Wedding, circa early 1900's, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.


In 1942, my sister was born. My father loved her. She was his special child.

In 1943 his stepfather died, but not before he secured a promise from his wife to watch over Ralph. My father never understood why she agreed to put up with someone who had treated her so rudely, a man who cussed and swore about everything. Maybe she felt sorry for him because his vision was so severely impaired. Whatever the reason, she took care of him until her death 32 years later in 1975.

In 1952 I arrived. Unexplainably, my mother laid sole claim to me. She excluded my sister and father from taking care of me. I was her child. The possession of my life had begun.

For the first five years I slept next to my parents’ bed in a crib, then on a tiny rollaway bed. Our four-room house didn’t have any extra rooms. My father added two rooms, moved my sister to a new bedroom and moved me into her old room.

He lived his early life abandoned and betrayed by the people who loved him or should have loved him.  He had no protector, no father. Long after he died I complained to my mother about the kind of father he had been. “Don’t be so hard on him. He never learned to be a father because he never had one himself.” My father and I never had a chance to have a normal father-son relationship. That’s all the truth I know for now.




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. This is Part II of a series of three about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August. Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

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