COFFEE AND A PENGUIN / by David Jones

My Dad lost his father at age six, lungs full of gray syrup and grit, and I am leaving in a week, packing scant belongings into cardboard boxes, moving west to fill myself with sand -- how absurd, I think, as I mull over the years of malaise and fear, the confusing memories and the paralyzing indifference, as I study him, my son, a portal between generations.

I ask questions of a man who was raised without a father, and he shares vague remembrances of turning his dad's grinding stone to sharpen the chisels of his death, the metal tools that carved grave stones, ironically, and of marathon checker games, his perch the arm of a chair, a pose Rockwell would have oiled except he didn't paint preludes to pain, where survival rode the back of a dime-a-day paper route.

I listen to him talk of his childhood, fatherless, and look for my fears to be confirmed, or better yet, to have them quieted, because he has lived my son's life, but not really, because looking back while seeing the future is a unique view, and the words he offers are simple, yet aren't consistent with how he lived and loved. However there is honesty and accuracy when he reminds me to stay close, because life is like tiddly bat, a game invented by a poor kid down the street that gives you as many swings as you can earn, and penalizes you for missing the goal. 

I watch my Dad sip coffee from a silly penguin mug and we speak of the booze and the tension, the suffocating weight of Elm street, and he remembers a steak dinner, one of the good times, and I remember a beer bottle smashing against the kitchen wall, one of the worst times, and we both agree that memories are relative, and relatives are memories, for that matter, and it's probably better to hold the good close and learn from the bad, then dispose of them forever.

Because a funeral can be a life-affirming event, if you let it.