While cleaning out my mother’s house I discovered something about my father.
When he died in 1996 at the age of 52, my parents had been divorced for about 10 years, and both of them had remarried and divorced again. Their marriage to each other had lasted 12 years, a substantial length compared to the their subsequent unions, and after those, too, failed, they rekindled a friendship.
It was my mother who took care of business when he died, who wrote letters to banks and settled the legal matters of death. I helped, but at 21 was ill equipped to face these tasks. Anyway, I was due back at school to finish my senior year, and so my mom finished what we started together, going through his things, disposing of what could not be donated and safeguarding the practical and sentimental objects I might or might not want to have. Many of them, some pieces of furniture, rugs, linens and stereo equipment, would furnish my first apartments after college. His collection of slides would remain unsorted in her attic, and I could count on a gentle request to go through them any time I was home visiting her.
My father had done a turn in the navy. He was stationed in Rota, Spain, in the late 60s, and had taken advantage of the position to travel through Europe. That much I knew. I’d seen slide shows of Germany, and two beautiful bullfighting posters he’d brought back were framed and hung on my apartment wall in New York. I thought that was all the evidence that remained of that time in his life, until I found this box.
In it were guides and pamphlets and maps of Morocco, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Receipts and “Do Not Disturb” tags from hotels in Hamburg, and Zürich. Ticket stubs and flyers announcing bullfights. Postcards and a military passport with wallet sized photos tucked inside. It was a sort of time capsule from a part of his youth I never really knew about. It’s likely that no one did except his navy buddies; his parents, especially his pious mother, surely would not have approved of the activities these young men engaged in while on leave.
Case in point: Among the artifacts is what appears to be a typed itinerary for a marathon pub crawl through Rota, with 21 bars listed (and 19 alternates) on the front, and a sort of score sheet on the back with columns listing the participants, where they were and what time it was when each had his last drink of the night, the total number of drinks, and “fouls”. It’s far from completely filled out, I suspect because they were too busy getting hammered. There are notes all over the paper, though, sloppy handwritten remarks which reveal that “Weisser fell on the floor at the Dutch Club – OUT!”, “Towsley farts too much!”, “Libby owes you $5.00″, and “Gus puked in the New Hong Kong.”
Gus was my dad.
There’s also a postcard from Paris with a photo of Notre Dame (sorely in need of a cleaning whenever it was taken), sent by his friends Bill, Ray, and Bob. Gus couldn’t make the trip, apparently, which is too bad because according to his buddies, “Paris is ACE, the broads are beautiful,” but then, “France is expensive!” Plus ça change…
The young sailors’ paper trail of debauchery aside, this pile of softening paper resembles my own set of souvenirs, filed in folders under my desk. Ferry ticket stubs, an expired passport stamped with European visas, unsent postcards, train tickets, and museum passes. More than photos or gift shop trinkets, these are the kinds of mementos that I like to keep after a trip. Lots of people do, I suppose, but there was something so unexpected about finding such a similar collection among my father’s things, and every time I go through those scraps and slips I feel very much my father’s daughter.