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My father's favorite father

My grandmother was married and divorced three times, which was scandalous for the 1930s. It wasn't a topic she talked about when I was a kid, but I once asked my dad about it.

Grandma's first husband was my father's first father, a lout and a drunk named Fritz Parker. My memory of Dad's memory has faded, so I'm not sure whether Parker ignored him, or screamed at him, maybe punched him, but at age 8 my old man was not sad to see his old man packing to leave.

Grandma's second husband stayed such a short while, he's irrelevant to this story.

Some years later, Grandma married her third husband, Harry Holland, who quickly became my father's favorite father. He was a kind and patient man, who played catch with my dad and had good advice when it was needed.

And then, because it was God's will or some such stupidity, Grandma's third husband died. After the funeral, my dad, then 12 or 13 or so, asked if he could call himself Holland instead of Parker, as a tribute.

His mother waited a few weeks to make sure the boy was serious, and during that time my dad asked friends, neighbors, people at the church, and teachers and students at school to call him Holland. So his mother went to the county courthouse and made it legal.

Born Bob Parker, my dad became Bob Holland, to honor the man he thought of as his father. It's one of my favorite family stories — the one where nobody gets angry.

Now it's 2023, and my brother Clay is writing a memoir, not for publication, but for his very young grandchildren to read when they're grown. Sometimes he shows me what he's written, and last weekend he shared a Holland family tree.

It's arranged in the traditional man-and-wife flow chart. A box has my grandmother's name, beside the box for her husband — Fritz Parker.

I've spoken about this with Clay, and said that in my opinion — because it was our dad's opinion — my father's father was a man named Harry Holland.

Clay says Grandma's three marriages won't fit on a family tree, and he doesn't want to bother with footnotes.

All three of Grandma's husbands were dead before anyone in my generation of the family was born, so it's not worth an argument.

Guess this is goodbye, Harry Holland.

Everything in life is dust when it dries. Love, family, morals, politics, debts and regrets — it all seems very important while we're here, but we're not here for long. When we're dead, very soon we're forgotten, and at best we become names on a family tree, but even that isn't guaranteed.

10/9/2023   

33 comments:

  1. You doing the news and movie reviews is always good, don't misunderstand, but I like it best when you write, and this is excellent. Now I'm sad for your forgotten grandfather.

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    1. I need all of it but espesially the news. This site finds things I never see anywhere else.

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    2. I'm supposed to acknowledge compliments, so... Acknowledged.

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  2. If Clay's 99 cent family tree software doesn't support divorce, what family could it possibly represent? Last I checked, about 53% of American marriages end in divorce. Yeah, that rate was lower in bygone eras, but mental cruelty didn't start in the Reagan administration. Tell him to let the moths out of his wallet and procure some decent software. We don't whitewash history because of buggy code. We do whitewash history, which is what Clay is trying to do -- just not because of buggy code.

    John

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    1. You know, I never asked my brother about software. Such as 21st century question. Me, if I cared about genealogy, I'd just type up a page of names, and then trace an old pepper-tin or something to make the boxes. Software seriously wouldn't even occur to me. I'm such an old coot.

      Divorce must be making family trees look more like mazes.

      To be fair to my bro, I don't think it's whitewashing. He wants a family tree, prunes it so it looks nice is all...

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    2. Well, that's a good strategy if you want a fictional family.

      jtb

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    3. OK. I don't quite understand the value of a fictional family or a fictional family tree, but I guess whatever gets you through the night is alright.

      John

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    4. Ah, I was just wisecracking.

      I love my family but probably not as much as everyone says I'm supposed to.

      Never been interested in genealogy, nor understood why so many people are. I know and love my immediate family, but can't go further than that. My grandma was a great old lady, but her parents, and their parents? They're dead strangers, and the graveyards are full of dead strangers.

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    5. Sure, but you were talking about your father and how he felt about his fathers, which probably affected how he wanted you to remember him. Not some unknowable great uncle twice removed, but your father and Clay's. Not my business, but Clay wants to live in a world where people get married once and stay that way. Like Uncle Jesus. Oh, wait.

      jtb

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    6. Once we're dead, what does anything matter? My memory of my dad will die with me, same as his memory of his dad died with him. Family trees are fake even when they're trying to be accurate. Listing Mary as the daughter of Frank and Francine, when only Francine knows she was sleeping with the mailman five days a week around that time...

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    7. You're right. Let Clay have his family as he wants to depict them. No harm, no clipping.

      John

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    8. Something else that hadn't popped into my fat head until this moment: My brother Clay is one of those very religious folks who believes divorce is a sin, or at least something to be embarrassed about, same as masturbation or coveting thy neighbor's wife's ass.

      And he's divorced.

      I think he just *really* does not want to go there.

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    9. Perhaps he's too busy masturbating. Uncle jesus! Does your family read this? In that case, I meant praying.

      jtb

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    10. This is the first place I could insert Mr. Chandler . . .

      “You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that, oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was.”
      ― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

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    11. And while I was looking for the exact quote, I came across this. I really need to reread Chandler. I read him when I couldn't hear the clock ticking. Now it ticks loud.

      “Mostly I just kill time," he said, "and it dies hard.”
      ― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

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    12. Definitely he's not masturbating. He's literally opposed to that. We've talked about it, which was really really weird.

      No, the family doesn't read or know this site exists. Of they did, I couldn't write most of it.

      That's a damned fine Chandler quote. I've been Hammetting myself to sleep the last several nights, with a very low-volume unabridged reading of The Maltese Falcon, which seems to be movie-influenced. The actors reading the dialogue are doing impressions, especially of Greenstreet and Lorre. Time to move on to some Chandler for tonight's bedtime story.

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    13. Well I'm opposed to him masturbating as well. So that makes two of us.

      j

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    14. Doug, if you want to hear what Hammett and Chandler sound like, you need to grab an audiobook. The Hammett books are mostly free (over 95 years old). A few people have snuck copies of Chandler books out there although they aren't quite in the pubic domain.

      This is the Hammett book I'm "reading" now:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlmMwqQK0Mc

      If somebody is abridging Hammett or Chandler they're committing a near-capital offense.


      John

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    15. Downloading now, grazi.

      The abridged ones I've listened to are old radio adaptions. Not bad at all, but certainly NOT canon or complete. I'm already forgetting which titles I've heard, but the first was 7 hours and complete. And I've already read the books, so mostly it's about putting me to sleep.

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    16. It occurs to me that you might be looking at books through the lenses of movies. I see discussions here of the 93 minute cut or the 110 minute version. This happens less often in the world of books. To be sure, our friends at The Readers' Digest found a way to squeeze all the interesting sentences out of classic works of fiction and present us with "condensed books" once upon a time. As if whacking brilliant prose out of Steinbeck or Twain or Vonnegut somehow made the work more pithy.

      We don't do that anymore. It is the unnecessary sidetrack of a Chandler or a Hammett that makes them who they are. To be sure, the gents I mentioned don't beat around the bush: they are direct, moving swiftly to the murder and mayhem. But it is EXACTLY the sentences the late Readers' Digest would excise to somehow optimize our valuable time that contain the tastiest bits of prose.

      So there are NOT ten different versions of Dead Yellow Women, which IMHO is Hammett's towering triumph. There is one. A version from radio with four oddly dressed voice actors dropping used papers across the floor isn't the original text of of the work, but rather a distant echo: an approximation of what the story could have been.

      The text is available. Read it or listen to it or have it read to you by a volunteer. It has created our culture. Get the real thing.

      John

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    17. I've read most of the masters, though nothing called Dead Yellow Women. Here I'm only talking about the voiceovers that seem to help me get to sleep, and radio drama works as well for that as full text novels.

      I am preferring the full text, just because it's always the same story when I wake up a few hours later and a few hours after that.

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    18. Hammett wrote five novels and several dozen short stories. That's it. Two of his novels are glued-together short stories. So it's not hard to read Hammett's entire output in a few months or less.

      But he's my favorite writer, and every ten years for the past 50 years I've reread him. My favorite Hammett short story is Dead Yellow Women. I have a cigarette case (actually a joint case) with the cover of Dead Yellow Women on the front. I don't really smoke joints anymore, but I keep the joint case around for good luck.

      Dead Yellow Women was published in Black Mask in November of 1925. You can find it individually published (used) or in a collection called The Big Knockover (new or used). There are a few copies of me reading it (recorded illegally -- it would be legal to record it now) but I don't even have one of those. It's a short story and I was in the studio every day for close to two weeks for hours in a small booth trying to sound like the Op. It's easier to listen to someone else.

      jtb

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    19. I'd be curious to know how illegally recording books worked, pre-internet. You made cassette tapes and shared/sold them?

      Can't find an audio so I'd have to read the dang thing, and I might.

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    20. Doug,

      Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Elvis and The Beatles and Dylan turned the world upside down decades before the Internet sprang to life in the form of the World Wide Web in the spring of 1994.

      I made a digital recording (and digitally corrected hundreds of mistakes and made hundreds of improvements digitally) before we burned the digital image onto CDs. We made nice labels and I gave them away as gifts -- never sold any. I thought not making money might provide a coherent legal defense if Lillian Hellman or one of Hammett's publishers sued, but since nobody confused me with a professional reader, I guess they just called it a no harm/no foul situation. I had to do something like 15 voices, some of them Chinese and Chinese/American. The result wasn't horribly embarrassing, but I'm a man of minimal talent, so I'm not easily embarrassed. Jeez, I bet half the people I gifted them to are dead.

      John

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    21. My very slight experience with something similar is fan-made Star Trek and et cetera. It gets nutty quick. Like you reading a novel, someone writes and films a do-it-yourself Star Trek movie (the few I've seen were better than the real thing), and anyone who does eventually gets a cease-and-desist letter (because there's no way humans can contact Paramount Pictures for permission in advance).

      If a DIY maker lucks into a human lawyer at Paramount, after the cease-and-desist, they *might* allow you to continue making DIY Trek, so long as you can always prove you're not making a dime from it. Even asking for donations gets dicey, and frequently the studio won't allow it anyway. Such a ridiculous, shortsighted strategy for killing fan interest.

      Reading an under-copyright book out loud, recording it, pressing CDs? Man, even if you never tried to sell a single CD for a single dollar, you are lucky not to have been sued oblivious. You stuck it to the man, man.

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  3. I second First Samuel. Good story well told. Fine writing.

    John

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    1. Ah, those were the days...before we were born, not a care in the world. Lovely tale, I just can't imagine how people braved each day in a time when so many diseases were rampant. I'd be afraid to even get outta my bed each day.

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    2. As recently as the 1950s, anyone not in church on Sunday was suspect. Homosexuality was illegal, and being trans wasn't even something conceivable to 99% of people. If you wanted porn or a sex toy, you went to the skeeviest corner downtown and hoped the cops hadn't raided the place, or didn't raid it while you were there. Fuck, there weren't even seat belts.

      It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

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    3. All those characterizations of 1950s America are accurate. We could add that a city of any size had a street which was the dividing line between the white and Black citizens and businesses. In Tacoma, that was South 15th Street. I used to know the name of the street in Seattle, but I'll look it up if challenged. And in many cities the hispanic folk had it worse. Any white kids caught by the police in niggertown after dark were either taken home in the back of a police cruiser or transported to the local juvie facility. Any black kids caught in honkytown were beaten up, no questions asked. This was in my lifetime, and Tacoma and Seattle ain't Memphis.

      All this to say that as bad as things are now with the world falling apart and all, they were worse 50 years ago.

      John

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    4. I didn't grow up in the city proper, we were suburban, but my guess would be Rainier Avenue as Seattle's dividing line. Never many Hispanics here — I remember visiting Seattle while I was living in San Francisco, and couldn't find an even half-decent burrito in the great northwest. This have gotten better in that regard.

      As for everything else, some things have def gotten better, but jeez the trajectory has switched entirely from way back when.

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