…Sitting in the bowels of the small plane – 24A to be exact: a single seat within field goal range of the john – with pen in hand.
“Dear Dad, I miss you. “Wanted to write sooner, but haven’t had a chance to breathe.”
Still on the ground I heard a voice. His voice. As if he hadn’t left and was living, breathing and standing aside me in the aisle. It was that unique amalgam — HIS unique amalgam — of soft, sensitive, soothing sarcasm. Somehow audible and succinct, it carried no less resonance than it had years ago when I was still running against the wind.
“You must be such a busy man.”
(Ed. Note 1: I don’t know if he held a patent on the line, but those words sprung from his tongue whenever I didn’t finish homework, didn’t call Grandma or Aunt Helen, or didn’t — for that matter – run the Highlights leads Max Mitchell had procured).
(Ed. Note 2: Indeed, if I hadn’t made the sales calls per the latter example I could also count on hearing “You know: you’re tearing up money.”).
Crunched in my seatbelt 31-plus years after my father enrolled in the ultimate School Up North, an hour from LaGuardia, he still made me think.
Have I been too busy? Have my priorities this past half-year been awry? I hoped not.
Aunt Helen’s gone; the kids have scattered; and my brother (through struggles) is holding his own.
I schlep to grandkids, do theater, and stick close to Harriet.
My priorities? I think I’m ok.
Ah, but work keeps me running and recovery keeps me pedaling and there’s no time for poker. No wonder he’s got me wondering!
When alive, Al Bogart’s fundamental concern for me was that my priorities be in order. What was he thinking now as he smiled from United’s aisle? Would he say I’m in a good place, tired or not? Would he urge me to slow down, or do this or do that?
(Ed. Note 3: Frankly, but for my sixth grade year when he forbade me playing tackle football, my father never told me what not to do. Sharing feelings often strongly, it was more about finding options. The guys (before driving age) would hitchhike up Lee Road to see the “Shaker girls” and from his work out-of-town he really didn’t want to take the social bat from my hands. It wasn’t his thing to say NO; he’d just wax philosophic. “Too bad,” he’d surmise, “That they don’t have buses running.”
Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), it was in my adulthood that his opinions sharpened. Not that he tried to tell me what to do, of course, but that he invited me to think.
“You might consider this,” he’d preface his comment. “You might want to think about ______________.”
I leaned back in my seat, cellphone off, awaiting the inevitable sleep which occasioned most flights ‘cross country.
Eyes closed, ears open, I heard my father.
“You might consider slowing down,” he said. “You’re not as young as you were.”
“You might want to do one less play this year.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t be driving to New York alone.”
“You might consider eating breakfast at home once in a while. I’m sure the folks at Corky’s can survive without you.”
OK, Dad! Now I’ve got to draw the line!
He smiled back as he always did.
The plane was landing as outside the airport the man named after my father’s father double/parked and waited. Unbuckling my seat belt, preparing to deplane, I cast self-doubt aside.
“One more thing,” I still heard him. “You’re older now and not at the school yard with Stuart Fenton anymore. Try to keep that in mind.”
Striding through the airport, marching toward my son, it occurred to me that at sixty-seven I was still his “Little Boy”…
—And how great that was.
Smiling, living in MY field of dreams, I texted Michael: “I’ve landed.”