Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Aged P.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens has a character in it who is referred to as “the Aged P.”--short for “the Aged Parent.” I have one of those. My dad is 82 years old. Visiting him was pretty much the primary reason I went to Chicago last week.

As a kid, I was sometimes embarrassed to reveal to my contemporaries that my parents were 15 to 25 years older than their parents. What I didn’t realize then, however, was that my parents--especially my dad--were far hipper than those of my friends. My friends’ parents square danced and listened to Elvis and the Beatles. My dad raced dirt bikes, built motorcycles and sailboats from scratch, and listened to Miles Davis and Led Zeppelin. He went to a Frank Zappa concert when he was quite a bit north of 50.

My dad has not slowed down one little bit. He has a girlfriend 25 years his junior and got his pilot’s license when he was 80 (a year after he had double bypass surgery). Nevertheless, even though my dad really is in very good health, realistically, I know he won’t be around all that much longer.

So on Sunday my brother, his girlfriend, my sister and her husband and I piled in a couple of cars and headed out to our dad’s house in the boring suburb where we grew up. After eating a somewhat unorthodox early Thanksgiving meal that consisted of ham and turkey, a yucky frozen version of the classic green bean-Durkee onion casserole, and couple of pies smothered in copious amounts of whipped cream, we settled down to look through old photo albums and have a good long chat.

One of the things about having an Aged P. that I now fully appreciate is that I have learned some fascinating things about the 1950s and early 1960s. Now that I think about it, though, perhaps I shouldn’t make any generalizations based on the way my parents lived. It’s pretty clear to me that they didn’t march in step with the rest of America, that is, their life looked nothing like Leave it to Beaver.

An example:

My parents were both musicians. When my parents were first married, my mom was well on her way to becoming a symphony clarinetist. My dad was a jazz musician (alto and tenor sax) who played a lot of divey clubs around Chicago and worked for a time with Mel Torme (AKA “The Velvet Fog”) who, according to my dad, was not a pleasant person.

My parents lived in a trailer park on the South Side of Chicago that they furnished in an exceptionally cool sort of beatnik-influenced style. (Where is all that furniture now? It would be worth a fortune!) Just the piece of information about there being a trailer park within the Chicago city limits is hard for me to comprehend.

They bought two extremely fussy and demanding part-Persian long-haired cats. They actually paid money for these cats. (Another thing that is hard to fathom because it is so easy to get cats for free these days.)

My parents started off feeding these cats round steak. The cats ate the steak; my parents ate hamburger. Someone then clued them in about the existence of canned catfood, and they tried feeding the cats every brand on the market. The cats refused it all. Still attempting to trim their catfood budget, my parents started feeding the cats horsemeat, which they bought at “a horsemeat store” (!). This solution did not last long. Turns out that local hamburger stands were major customers of these horsemeat stores and had been mixing horsemeat into their hamburgers for who knows how long. It was a huge scandal, and the horsemeat stores were required to mix charcoal with the horsemeat. The cats turned up their smooshed Persian noses at the charcoal-tainted horsemeat. One of them who had plumped up to 18 lb on the horsemeat diet, plummeted to a skeletal 5 lb, so my parents were forced to revert to giving them round steak, eventually buying whole sides of beef and giving the cats all the primo cuts.

By the time I was born, these cats were long gone, but it is interesting to note that my parents never forked out money for any kind of steak, round or otherwise, for us kids. I don’t think I had steak until I was in college. In fact, my mom was the original frugal gourmet, with the emphasis very much on frugal and much less on gourmet. Cream of mushroom soup figured heavily in almost every dish she prepared.

I will have to write more about my mom in future blog entries. She was quite a remarkable person.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back. I loved that blog. Shades of my own chldhood!!

2:00 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

It's so great to get stories from parents and/or grandparents.
Those that marched to a different drummer even though we might not have appreciated it at the time, certainly extend the unique feelings we all have.

Such a past you have to draw from. Can't wait to read about your Mother.


6:51 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

What a wonderful post!

BTW, check your e-mail...

8:27 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...

I do very much appreciate my parents, and for a long time I have wanted to write down some of the stories they've told me. But being the extraordinarily lazy procrastinating soul that I am, I haven't ever gotten around to it.

A few years back I started an oral history with my dad, but we have never finished it. We *really* should or one of these days it will be too late. So often, I kick myself for not doing something like that with my mom (who died in 1995), so I would feel like a real fool if I let that happen with my dad.

11:20 PM  

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