I used to call Dad “our father who art 10 paces behind us.” Once I asked him if he had to run “that way.” His speech was always slow and deliberate; he never seemed to get excited, even in anger, though he laughed and showed joy without holding back.
I’ve written elsewhere about distinguishing whether these things were personality or symptoms of Adult Polyglucosan Body Disease, the rare neuropathy that took over his body 20 years before he died and was diagnosed only in the last 3 months of his life. APBD is heritable, autosomally recessive, and is most common among Ashkenazi Jews; Dad’s parents were first cousins, which helps explain why he and his sister had it and why I am not at a high risk of either having it or passing it on to my kids.
In any case, Dad was a slow walker, while he still walked, and a slow talker until he was unable to talk any more, a couple days before he died. Though it wasn’t always clear to me, he spoke even more slowly immediately after a series of small strokes.
Partly because of the deliberation with which his thoughts emerged, they often had the sound of oracular discourse. I present some of his wisdom today in honor of his 73rd birthday.
“Pearl, I think your ultimate math class should be in ab-stract math-e-mat-ics.” (He said this sometime well after I had earned my BA in English; my response was,“Dad, I think I my ultimate math class was in pre-calculus in my senior year in high school.”)
“I think it’s all right for a person to live many different places when they’re young, then settle down in Seattle.”
“Sometimes, it is a better value to buy an ice-cream cone at the Haagen-Dasz store for $3.50 than to buy a pint for $4.99 at the grocery store.”
“I’ve discovered the secret of life, and it’s personal relationships: relationships between people. I’ve gotten a lot from my family members and my friends… I’ve learned about the two-way—the bi-directional nature of giving.… When I ask if I’ve been too much of a burden—no, it is giving to a friend to tell them how much you hurt.”
The reason his marriage to my mother didn’t work out:“I was a baby.”
“Aunt Gert was the best person I ever knew, the best family member. She took care of everybody, which I made up was something her father assigned her. When she died, she bequeathed that role to Laura. And now, it falls to your generation.”
“I have enjoyed my life and I want to keep going, but I don’t need to get better.”
“I was thinking about reincarnation, and then I thought, I’d better just stick with what I’ve got.”
Requiescat in pace, my father.