Friday, December 14, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part VII)

The Long Goodbye — First Movement (continued):
Such a Deal(ey)

I’ve really been looking forward to this part; it really could have been a series unto itself, the afternoon my Dad, Alex and I spent in Downtown Dallas at Dealey Plaza, the site of the event that truly changed America for my generation, and quite possibly all else to follow it: the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The time of year wasn’t quite the same — early February instead of late November — but given those two dates juxtaposition to opposite sides of winter respectively, the effect seemed nearly identical. The air was crisp and cool and the sun shone brightly in the clear, blue Texas sky just as it did a little more than forty-two years earlier on that fateful day of November 22, 1963.

As someone old enough to remember JFK’s presidency and the way that just his name captured the imagination of people of all ages (I was seven years old when he died), this was a pilgrimage; a trek upon holy ground. It was hugely significant to me if for no other reason the event’s profound historical relevance to my generation.

But this time was just as special for its rareness; the opportunity for the three of us to do something together, just we boys. I really can’t remember when that had happened before — if ever — as crazy as that might sound. But then again you have to remember the circumstances in which we grew up. Being the two youngest of five sons, and particularly given the tragic timing of our Mom’s Alzheimer’s onset beginning within a year of Alex’s birth, ours was definitely not a ‘normal’ early childhood. Having concentrated access to our Dad simply wasn’t something that came along often. His time was stretched between increased hours at work to cover the hospital bills, and dealing with the sometimes-tumultuous goings-on of my three older brothers. Although we knew it was never intentional, Alex and I sort of got the short end of the stick when it came to our Father’s personal attention during those years.

But we never once felt abandoned or incomplete in any way, and I for one wouldn’t trade the relationship that I’ve had with my Dad as an adult for any amount of time we might have spent together as a child. I truly believe Alex feels the same way, and has indicated as much in many a conversation we’ve had on the subject over the years.

We were indeed victimized by our Mother’s illness and all that surrounded it, yet we never felt like ‘victims.’ We knew that we were loved regardless of the circumstances that swirled about our family. And on the occasion of this opportunity — the three of us spending an afternoon together sharing an activity which itself represented a great deal of meaning for all of us individually — that love was never stronger.

Alex knew who he was, he knew where he was, and he knew what he was doing. We had fun.

But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. We haven’t even started the day off properly, that day being Day Three of the four-day 2005 visit.

He’s a Lumberjack and he’s okay
I actually made a lot more notes than I’ll elaborate upon in this story, but one point I wanted to touch upon was that our accommodations for the three nights we spent in Dallas. As I said before, our first concern was to not be a disruption. Seraph had to keep on working and school was in session, so kids and parents alike had their routines to keep; we didn’t want to be in the way. We opted for sharing a room at a nearby Super 8 motel about five miles away from Alex’s house.

It was good to have the opportunity to be able to unwind after the sometimes emotionally draining all-day sessions with Alex, especially so for my Dad as this was the first time he’d seen his baby boy in his tragic condition, not that he hadn’t been through this before.

We would commiserate and decompress, then hit the hay and sleep like logs; especially Dad — only he sounded like he was actually sawing them.

I’ve always kidded my Pop about his snoring. Back in 2000 when I came home for Maxine’s funeral, I stayed with him at their place in the assisted living center where they lived (and where Dad and his wife Helen still reside currently).

It only took one night of that experience to remind me that any subsequent circumstance in which I found myself sleeping within 100 feet of my Father would require earplugs as standard equipment. As it turned out on this trip, they were my singular ticket to dreamland.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical; Michelle tells me that I snore a little myself, but gawd help me if I ever duplicate my Pop’s performances on an average night. Yikes.

Momma Maxine always said, “if you can’t change your situation, change your attitude.” I’ll amend that here to say, ‘if you can’t change your situation, change your accessories. I did, the earplugs worked great, and everyone slept superbly.

On Wednesday morning we ate breakfast at the motel and then headed over to Alex’s. After receiving a few thumbnail directions from Seraph (I had the printout from the Dealey Plaza web site in hand that she’d given me), at around 10:30 A.M. we were on our way.

Mia Botha
Although it was in fact my second visit to Dealey Plaza, it was my first occasion to circumnavigate the Dallas Metroplex behind the wheel in more than five years — easily more than sufficient time for whatever familiarity I might have had with the freeway system there to be long gone.

Back in 1998 most of our family convened in Dallas to celebrate Thanksgiving at the home that Alex and Seraph owned prior to their current one. Three out of my Dad’s five boys’ families were represented, including Alex, myself, and even Son #3 — my brother Kenny and his wife — along with Dad and step-Mom Maxine, scant more than a year and a half before she passed away.

As a part of the long Thanksgiving weekend festivities, we all piled into cars and traveled em masse down to Dealey Plaza. I’m not sure if it was simply the fuss associated with making such an excursion with thirteen people (including my two whiny, mostly disinterested kids) or what, but I don’t remember getting a whole lot out of that visit. Thankfully this time would be different, but I still didn’t know where I was going, but it was a lot more fun getting there.

Maybe I didn’t listen, maybe I’m just a knucklehead (remember that one; it’ll come into play again in a later trip), but on the way to Dallas, I took a wrong turn — a wrong split, actually. After about a minute I realized my mistake and announced that we’d have to exit the freeway and double back to the place where we had gone astray. Alex however insisted that we were in fact going the right way and argued passionately to that end. Using the directions that Seraph had given me, I tried to explain to him that we had gotten turned around and needed to be heading east. “Well I LIVE here!” He protested, insisting that we needed to go west instead.

Nevertheless I had to go with my gut even if it meant upsetting my brother.

“Tell you what, Alex,” I offered, hoping to smooth his ruffled feathers a bit. “We’ve got all day; we’re in no hurry. Let’s just go east a little bit further and if the signs tell us we’re going the wrong way, we can always turn back around.”

Reluctantly, he accepted.

When we had gotten back to the original point of departure, this time I took the correct split and got back on course. Alex suddenly could see that we were headed in the right direction and began apologizing profusely.

“Mia culpa, mia culpa,” he exclaimed, disgusted with himself for making such a big deal to no avail.

“No, Alex; I screwed up first. Mia BOTHA, bro; We BOTH made a mistake,” I replied.

Alex chuckled. The tension was broken, and we were back on our way.

Wheelin’ and Deal(ey)in’
Negotiating downtown Dallas traffic was a nightmare. I didn’t exactly know where I was going, Dad didn’t either; and Alex, well, he wasn’t quite sure; you could tell that he wanted to help but was understandably struggling to get his bearings as well.

When we finally reached the general area, the real headache set in — I was driving down Houston Street trying to find a parking spot. At one point I nearly turned the wrong way up Elm — which is a one-way street.

We finally found a parking place across from the Hyatt Regency hotel, but some four blocks from Dealey Plaza. The lot was packed but still had a handful of open spots so we snagged one. That left us with a bit of a hike, which was fine with Alex and me, but a little tough on our Dad, who at a still-spry age of 84 was nevertheless having some trouble with one of his knees at the time. On a couple of occasions as we were strolling along, Alex and I would look up to realize that Pop was straggling behind us some 40 or 50 yards. We chided the old man to hurry it on up — we didn’t have all day y’know (even though we actually did). We all laughed about it; Alex seemed wonderfully relaxed and at ease. It was the official start of what would become an extremely enjoyable and memorable afternoon.

Again, the weather was perfect for the occasion. The previous time we’d visited, it was overcast and rather cold. This day, however, the bright, sunny conditions and the time of day made the setting absolutely surreal. The landmark event of my generation, the JFK assassination, was coming alive to me as if I had actually been there on the scene 42 years earlier.

Next: The Long Goodbye — First Movement (continued):
A three-hour tour
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