A Gone Fishing sign hung over the front door on Monument Drive the past few days. The siren call of Thanksgiving turkey was in the air. And I responded dutifully. So. Packing some fresh rosemary and thyme, and with a bottle of tequila stashed between clean T-shirts, I pointed the Subaru west, then south, pulling into the sister’s driveway some six hours later, tired and worn.
I thought I was on vacation but I soon learned otherwise. With little in the way of a welcome I was shown the kitchen and cast in the role of Legumier (cutting all manner of vegetables and prepping the salad). I moved from car to kitchen without even a cocktail. On Thanksgiving! No rest for the wicked.
When the properly spiced bird (an herb and citrus roasted bird, a recipe from the Bon Appetit archives) entered the hot oven, it was time to sit around the TV and schmooze.
What the sis brought out next was a total surprise. A stack of letters my father had written to his own dad while based in London as a radio journalist — a foreign correspondent for the US War Department, the BBC and for NBC.
My father, Arthur, a small town kid from upstate New York, was living large in war-time London, working alongside big-time radio personalities (of the day) George Hicks, Sir Cecil Graves, Alex Drier and Edward R. Morrow among others. His letters talk about meeting ambassadors and three-star generals, traveling to Scotland for interviews, and touring bomb-torn London neighborhoods. He also had time to see first-run movies, date cute interns at the NBC studios, eat tough steaks and tender quail, and have his bed sheets turned down and pajamas laid out each night in his apartment.
Not all was peachy, though. London was being bombed regularly by the Nazis. And more than once in the letters he mentions fellow reporters who went on missions with the RAF over occupied France and never returned. Yes, there was lunch at Claridge’s, but also food rationing, blackouts and always the threat of war reaching the streets of London.
I didn’t get a huge amount of support from my dad; he was never one for teaching or sharing skills. But he was a minor force to contend with when it came to telling tales — straight-up fact when he was doing news, wild-as-it-gets fiction when he was telling us kids his make-believe fairy tales.
Thanksgiving this year was a pretty small affair. A table set for six. Arthur is almost ten years gone. But while the turkey cooked, though, and while I read his letters and listened to the glass LPs of his broadcasts, he was somewhere in the room.
I still like a well-told story and I think some of that appreciation stems from getting wisps of what it was that imbued my father with the storyteller’s talent. I won’t be broadcasting from battleships or on any radio dial, but even when I write something as fleeting as a blog post, I try like hell to make it sing. (But damn, I don’t know how he reeled off these two-, three-, and four-page letters to his dad weekly, sometimes more then just one…I struggle with my daily 300 words!)
Now back in Hiouchi — with the photocopied letters and a CD of his broadcasts nearby — it’s a return to the muffins and merry mayhem of fishermen, vacationing couples and the occasional road-tripper on an off-season ramble.
OK. The old man didn’t overtly teach me a thing, but he did leave me something to aspire to.
So maybe I do have something to be thankful for.