I was in the womb when it happened. It was an average Saturday afternoon in the spring, no special weather conditions… My grandfather, “Papa”, was driving through an intersection as dexterously as ever, when they were struck by a drunk driver broadside on Papa’s side - driving the car across the intersection to the opposite curb.
I got these few details from my Dad one morning. He didn’t talk about that day much. So, when he did, I would always try to keep the conversation going. He paused, and for the 1st time, I saw some tears welling up. He’d proceed to tell me how Nana had been thrown from the car upon impact, and was pushed with the car up against the curb. When the ambulance arrived and grabbed Papa and rushed him to Malden hospital, Papa tried desperately to tell them to stop, that he wasn’t alone in the car. It took the remaining emergency crew an undetermined amount of time to find Nana pinned up against the curb. And there I was pinned up against my Mom’s belly button, waiting.
This talk with my dad probably happened in my late 20s, or so. You’d think it would come up more often, especially as I've been trying to unpack our DNA and it's link to our ADHD, but my dad was a cross between Archie Bunker (played by Carrol O'Connor) and Frank Cannon (played by William Conrad). Let’s just say dad was a glass is half full of shit kind of guy. A constant skeptic. Not sure why, at the time, or where he got it from. Papa was a respected writer for Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, and everyone said Nana was as sweet as pie.
Neither of my grandparents or parents went to college. But I know dad wanted to. Mom often says that Nana and Papa simply couldn’t afford it, but dad had hinted there was something else that kept him from the experience.
So, he left Malden High and started working as a technician for a couple high tech companies. He used his smarts to land a job at AVCO as a technician watching missiles re-enter the atmosphere over the ascension islands off the southern coast of Africa. By the time I heard these stories, however, I had been immersed on weekends and in the summer in my dad’s small business as a surplus electronics dealer. He left AVCO and bought an old organ pipe factory in Reading. To hear these James Bond like stories now was rather tough to believe. Because here at "Parker Products" my dad’s character, the one I knew, was on full display. He loved to espouse his knowledge about each and every item, usually to the exhaustion of a would-be buyer. And if you stepped on a loose floorboard just the right way, you ran the risk of a transformer falling on your head and knocking you unconscious.
I struggled with my relationship with my dad and spent some part of each day of my life asking myself why he would want/really-need to accumulate so much stuff? And why is it all so ultimately important? And then it struck me, because, ya-know, I took a psych class in college, his need to accumulate and hold onto things must be because of some great loss in his life. OK, OK, OK, now if only I can get him to really talk about it we can unlock the matrix and live the rest of our years in a normal father/son relationship! And the chance came up. We were driving down Scotland road in Newbury from I95 towards Colby farm, and I looked at him for a long beat (there’s a long straight-away near Colby Farm), and said, “Dad, what did someone take away from you?” And without hesitation, he said, “My education”.
'Aha', I said to myself, this may take a little more unpacking.