Daddy Dearest: RIP

My father would have been 99 years old today.

Posted Nov 11, 2017

Laura Deutsch
Source: Laura Deutsch

My father would have turned 99 today. Born on the day of the armistice, his middle name was Victor. Enoch Victor Deutsch. But he died when he was 66.

On the first anniversary of his death, I drove to the produce truck that parked on the frontage road of Highway 101. I thought I was just buying groceries. But when I came home, I prepared a bowl of fresh apples, oranges, pears, and grapes. On my grandmother’s oval, white china serving plate, I arranged fresh, ripe vegetables: deep purple Japanese eggplant, fat red beefsteak tomatoes and striped green zebras, a head of garlic, red onion, yellow, green and orange peppers. I placed them on a table on either side of a vase of fragrant yellow roses.

I didn’t interrupt the experience by writing about it in the moment, but soon after I did a free-write describing the fruits and vegetables so that I would remember the details. I went on to write about my father, his children, his garden, and his jerry-rigged waterfall.

My reverie of flowing water was suddenly shaken. I remembered the urgency I’d felt to get to my father when my mother had called with the news. “Your father says it’s time to tell you.” Her voice was calm. “He has a fast-spreading form of liver cancer. There is no treatment or cure.”

I turned back to my writing.

I looked past the bowl of apples and pears on my altar. Through my window, I saw the garden Dad had planted for me when he and Mom had visited Sausalito. I remembered him slashing through the groundcover vines with the sharp edge of a square shovel so that I could grow tomatoes. Beyond the garden, on San Francisco Bay, a Chinese junk, with a single red trapezoid sail, crossed the face of Angel Island.

Another memory surfaced that made me smile. I saw myself at three in a tiny red bathing suit, an adult-size white rubber bathing cap flopping down over my ears. I was splayed out in the Atlantic near our Miami hotel, a South Beach haven for working-class Jews before it became a slick deco scene.

I remembered my father holding me afloat, the large flat palm of his hand under my belly, while I kicked and churned my arms, sputtering, laughing, until finally a few days later, I triumphed. I could swim!

Today, when I read my writing about my father, I’m surprised how it takes me back and reawakens a deep sense of loss that is no longer is part of my daily consciousness. I’m grateful I wrote with enough detail to keep my father’s memory alive. Re-reading it helps me re-experience the love.

My best writing comes when I relax and allow it instead of willing it when I am an instrument for the writing to flow through me. That’s how my pieces about my father unfolded. Hiking in nature, meditating or listening to music are just a few ways I open myself to inspiration, like Beethoven who thought up his best ideas when walking through the Vienna woods.

Exercise:

Sometimes I create a platter of fresh fruit and vegetables to use as a writing prompt in my workshops. Whatever appeals to me and delights my senses. The students choose an item, take it back to their seats, and let the story unfold.

You can do this exercise by placing five fruits or vegetables on a plate. Take one that strikes your fancy and inspires you to describe it or write a story, memory or fiction.

Copyright © 2017 by Laura Deutsch