I got a phone call last night from the married couple who recently bought our family’s business from my brother. The company they now own was founded by my father in the 1970s and became my brother’s after my dad died. Over the years, I worked there on and off in many different capacities and Daughter followed in my footsteps by doing the same thing when her grandfather was ill and work needed to be done.
The new owners, longtime employees of my father’s and dear friends to us all, said on the phone that while clearing things out from the building’s storage they came across an oil painting of a little girl who looked enough like me to call and ask if it was. I said, yeah, it’s me. I told them that when my brother and I were very young, our parents had a pair of weirdly large oil paintings done of us and our over-sized faces proceeded to hang in every house and apartment they inhabited for the rest of their lives. My brother had apparently taken his with him when he sold the business and left mine for the new owners. Something told them that it might fit in more with the decor of my memories than theirs and I said I’d be over to get it the next day, which was today. In a phone call immediately following that one, Daughter offered to come along. “Hey,” she said gamely, “it’ll be the last time I have a reason to take the number 5 train to Mt. Vernon.” Great, I answered.
It was a strange idea we were entertaining that this little road trip to Westchester would bring us closure in the death of a man who loomed large in the lives of so many, ours especially. I’ve written often about my father in this space, and articles like Beware the Rides of March provide a glimpse into life as my father’s daughter. His death turned the ground I stood on into broken glass, a bleak period that was chronicled in Ghosts in My Head and again in Remembering the Gates. Both my parents and grandmother died within weeks of each other in early 2004 and it was like being hit by a speeding train while chewing razor blades. Like I said, this field trip to Westchester seemed like a jolly idea on the phone.
Neither Daughter nor I had been back to that office in years. Now we walked in as it was being taken apart, razed even, to begin a new life in New Jersey. Seeing such an old familiar environment in its current state of sad destruction wouldn’t fit into our heads and we looked at each other dizzily. Without a doubt we felt happy for the business and the new owners and the future. If only the past would behave itself. Here were all these people who called my father boss, employees he hired as teenagers who are now in their forties and still describe him as being like a father to them. And here also are younger workers who never met my dad, but feel like they know him through everything they’ve heard. We took turns huddling in little groups sharing Sam stories and looking at Christmas party photos, all the while expressing a mutual amazement at the connection we are still a part of because of one man who’s been gone eight years, a man whose favorite advice was, “Expect no gratitude and you will never be disappointed.”
We will always be grateful, Dad, and the only disappointment is that you’re not here to tell.
Daughter posted her Caribbean Cruise Fotos but has yet to caption them so let’s do it for her