Friday, March 9, 2012

Live Your Life For a Change

Live Your Life For a Change

I never realized when I started this blog how freeing it would be. Imagine: the ubiquitous of the Internet--there are over 651835100 million active users on Facebook--and yet on this public forum I am invisible. I track my stats. I have a few readers, but largely I can say anything without fear of offending or slandering.

It's like I can tell all my secrets.

Hours before Dad died (unfortunate timing, to be sure) my sister told me I had been written out of my father's will. Later my grief clung to that revelation, wanting to milk it. But then Christmas rolled around and my daughter came home from college and the things that were important to me returned. We celebrated with homely gifts, either handmade or bought for 25 cents from floor sales. We, all three of us, agreed it had been our best Christmas ever.

Then Mom passed--and the details of the will have again come back into focus.

If my dad had just been middle class then this all probably wouldn't matter, but he wasn't. He'd invented the label gun.
I know--it sounds ridiculous, almost as absurd as claiming my father invented post-it notes.

So there was a tidy amount put away. Not that I'll be getting anything.

But the point I want to make, the treble string that gets plucked in self-pity is this: I must have been a terrible disappointment to him.

I've alluded to certain family dysfunctionality in my short stories, Freeze Dance, Google Earth, and the forthcoming Sense of Smell (ROLL: A Collection of Personal Narratives, the anthology!!), and That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do, coming out in the spring. My life choices were not validated by my dad who had grown up during the Depression and had pulled himself up by his bootstraps; he was a self-made man. He'd never had to take a handout--yet his whole life, "the greatest generation" sat at the confluence of the GI Bill, job security, low insurance rates, affordable heath care costs, and even college education for his kids, all of us, we were able to pay as we went without loans. It was a time when one could pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Anyway, my life choices represent a life given over to hand-outs. When I came to Chicago in 1982 fresh out of college I worked at an inner-city mission handing out sandwiches, serving an afternoon meal to dinner guests, sorting clothes at our Freestone. I had a neighborhood club for kids which included Cambodian refugees who were still learning English.

All I did was give things away.

Thinking back over 30 years spent here in Chicago serving the poor makes me wonder: Am I such a financial risk that he couldn't leave me anything? I suspect he thought I would give away the money he'd saved.

And, maybe I would have. A little.

But we'll never know.

So as I walk the sidewalks of Uptown to and from the shelter and hear someone bellow from across the street "Hey Teacher Lady," I don't feel so bad.

Dad lived his life how he wanted to, just as I'm living mine.

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