What started out as another set of family pictures for the Dear Photograph (or Return to the Scene of the Crime) ds106 assignment sprawls a bit more as I find connection points– let’s see by the end if they lead anywhere. Perhaps a path. Made of bricks. It has to do with bricks and paths and making the latter our of the former.

I start with this photo of my Dad doing what he enjoyed, an outside task with his hands. Here he is laying some brick for a walkway outside the patio of the house in Florida (or how they say it here, outside the “lanai”). Look at that smile. And he is wearing an ASU hat I sent him (which I found this week in the garage).

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Dear Photograph,

I see you Dad, carefully making a brick walkway. There is satisfaction in the smile and joy in the sense of getting something done, but more so, of doing it manually, with your hands. Bricks and brick laying weaving through your life. I picture the old grainy, silent 8mm home movies of the brick patio you built at he home on Ridgewood Avenue, the one we moved out of when I was two years old, so the only memories are the ones through grainy film and video.

Bricks mean more, it was bricklaying you turned to when the fit of university was not right for you, when you had to face up to dashing the expectations of your parents to “become something”. How brave for you to accept their plans were not for you. I can recall your voice telling me this story, and I hope I can say I was listening with empathy.

So making a future with your mind was not right, and you went out to do so doing work with your hands. You and Mom, newlyweds, drove that Nash Rambler to visit family in FLorida, hoping for a new life. And there were no jobs to be found, and back you cam. Another set back? I do not know how you took it, but you kept at the work, eventually getting a degree via correspondence course, eventually a white color job in a contracting firm and later the US Government.

And when done, you could not be happier to be setting bricks in the sand, as you had made a path for your own life.

And where does the path lead? To me…

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

With even more fondness I found a photo of myself, working on making a path of my own at the house I owned in Scottsdale, almost in the same position as my Dad’s photo. And with the same sense of satisfaction of working with my hands, despite the work of my life being sitting in front of a computer. Maybe even the same smile.

Even later, when I am living in my small box of a house amongst the pine forest of Arizona, some of my greatest rewards are being outside, making paths, though not out of bricks, but of the naturally occurring blocks of sandstone.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Can I really describe why doing this activity is appealing? Only partly. I know in my heart, but what resides in there does nto often make for a good translation to text. There is again the pride of working with my hands, but also of visualizing what I think I want, and while doing the work, finding that the very act of it changes those plans– usually for the better. Organically. Perhaps, even rhizomatically.

While I am doing this kind of work, and I am thinking of my Dad, I am grappling with the fact that I knew so little of what made him tick (or not tick), what his hopes/dreams/worries were.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

There is so little I am left more or less to project it or guess or heck, write a narrative. There are no blog archives for me to reference, no search tool. How do we even commit these thoughts/ideas to a form to be understood? It is some of what drives me to write here, and it is mostly for my sake, and yet– yet– it is still just a partial window. But it is something to start from. And more than nothing.

Among the other memorabilia I found was a newsletter from the fraternity my Dad joined while he was at the University of Maryland in the 1940s. I have a challenge following the bricks from the quiet man I knew as “Dad” to the young man living life up (I hope) on campus. Were our parents really ever young? irreverent? Irresponsible? ireregular? Of course the were, I know rationally, but that line is hard to follow back to the times of our parents as.. cool as we think we are.

Here in the newsletter, written in the most snarky style I strive for myself, what reads like what one might write in a blog form, is a a bit of insight to my Dad:

The staff of this paper has been waiting for this opportunity since April the 25th in the Year of Our Lord “Ourly” Byrd, 1946. At that time, the Brothers took into the fraternity six young innocent freshman and one sophomore who had 100 credits in every college of the university except for Home Economics. Our campus representative, the only AEPi who spends any time on the campus except for Lou Ehrlich, tells us the only reason that this particular pledge was excluded from entering the College of Home Ec was that the doctor who gave him his ROTC physical found that Blackie did not possess the necessary physical equipment to become a Home Ec major.

We are taking this opportunity to talk about Blackie because he is not the Editor and can’t answer tis article. This is about the most colorful character who wears an AEPi pin that George Toli has ever tried to collect Alumni dies from: Morris “Blackie” Levine.

For years, Blackie has claimed two things: that he was a French-Canadian and not white man and second that he hated all women. When I first me the dubious personality that was possessed by the character in question, I honestly resolved to become a doctor; and if I could not get into Med School, I would become a psychologist– I just had to know what makes Blackie tick.

(Ed. note: Herb Moses just walked into the City Room, but our reporter will try to concentrate anyway. If the rest of the article is not coherent, its not Herb Sehmer’s fault– who can concentrate when Moses is talking and waving his finger in your face?)

It was during last summer, that both of Blackie’s life sayings went “Poof”. One Sunday afternoon, I had the rare privilege of going swimming with Blackie and Stan Billian at Tel Aviv Beach (Park Circle, Maryland). When the smoke had cleared and the girls had left, we departed to change our clothes. We were thrown out of the first place we entered; we were forced to change our clothes in the Men’s Locker Room in spite of our attempt to ascertain ($10.00 word) whether television had replaced SEX as the national indoor sport of the Hev Hess Hay.

Then I watched as Blackie as he started to strip. (Ed. notes Herb had only succumbed to a natural desire to see a live real body after taking Zoology for the fourth year. THAT’s the REAL REASON and NOTHING ELSE, dear filthy minded reader.)

Ladies and Gentlemen (and I use the term loosely this New Year’s Eve!!) excuse me while I get a drink. I was so horrified that even the memory of that day still haunts me. (Scotch and Soda, please Rocky).

Blackie dropped his trunks; I let me practiced eye rove over his body. I noticed the broad shoulders, the well-formed but sexless chest covered with steel wool, the spindly legs- Gad what a mess! Like Asa Yoelsen says, “Folks, yoi ain’t heard nothing yet!!”

There as broad as daylight was a sight the likes of which I have not seen on any human being in ym five years as a Zoology major at College Park. No, it was not his BEHIND that astonished me, but you have the right ideas, kids. It was there in the same anatomical region, that astounded me. For there, where anyone could see, was a broad expanse of skim’ WHITE skin… white skin.. WHITE SKIN… aaaaahhhh! WGAR WAS WHITE SKIN DOING ON BLACKIE’S BODY????

I had just seen in on the most astonishing revelation in the 20th century. The atom bomb was nothing, just nothing compared to what I had just seem. Ladies I could go on like this forever–keep on praising Morris for ages.

Blackie:
The man who said he hated all women.
The man who “thought that all women were strictly from ________.
The AEPi who KNEW that his fraternity pin would NEVER leave his chest for some female’s.
The man who had broken dates with reckless abandon.
The boy who ditched his dates when they gave him the slightest evidence of e hard time.

Blackie… but all of this is past history; its all changed now. AND HERE’S WHY…

Also this summer at Carlin’s Pool (this I heard from one of my spies, a bacteria in the pure filtered water of John J.”˜s Olympic Pool) Blackie met a fine specimen of femininity named Alyce, through the looking glass. Rabinowich, the doctor, was there too; but Blackie’s smooth and mellow technique was too much for Mac. And Alyce asked Blackie to accept the AEPi pin she had loft over from last victim. For once, Blackie was hogtied by a woman and didn’t try to get away. And so, Blackie goes the way of all flesh–Horizontally.

Seriously, the best of everything to Alyce and Blackie and we hope that they have the best of everything, especially if they’re good sports and let me live in one piece.

Yes, Dad was called “Blackie” for the dark color of his tanned summer skin- he was also known as Mickey or Mick or Mike, almost anything but his given name of Morris (until he was an office man). So yes, the frat boys poke fun at his complexion, but that bit about Dad “hating women”? “broken dates”? I can only guess it was not malice, but frustration, awkwardness.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

He did meet my mom at a swimming pool- the fraternity letter leaves out the part where Dad had pushed her into the water, to create an opportunity to save her, and how crazily enough, this plan actually got her attention. And according to the letter above, Dad was not so keen on chasing the ladies. He must have seen something… a path? Or a place for a path?

Oh how I wish I could ask him questions!

But I do have my Mom’s voice telling me her version of the story- this is among about an hour of recordings I made in 2008 when I visited her:

Mom Tells Story of Meeting “Blackie”

Listen to that dogged persistence Blackie used to go after Alyce! He was not going to let go of the path.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

And this morning, taking these photos, I am standing on these bricks Dad placed in the ground maybe 15, 16 years ago, and think again about the paths back for him and forward to me. I am here because of him, and in his quiet, stoic, non personal expressing ways, still demonstrated so utterly clearly, simply and as strong as a well placed brick how much love he had for me and how proud he was of my own paths.

Making paths is something that I always cause me to think of Dad.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Dear Photograph,

All I can say to you is how much I miss you and for as much as I am grateful for, wish we could have more conversations. I want to know you, Dad, but alas, I am left to imagine it.

The post "Dad was a Bricklayer (Dear Photograph)" was originally pulled like taffy through a needle's eye at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2011/11/dad-a-bricklayer/) on November 9, 2011.

4 Comments

  • Harriet

    Blown away by your post!

  • Michael Branson Smith michaelbransonsmith.net

    A truly lovely investigation into your family’s past. I can picture the time you must have spent pouring through boxes, drawers finding these amazing artifacts. It’s time I’ve spent as well, but your effort to reflect and reveal the value of this process is awesome.

    As adults, when we look at our parents close-up and finally realize the love and wear that went into raising children – imperfectly – they are suddenly more accessible and beautiful.

    Bravo for revealing this.

  • Hanging around Fort Myers | Moondance38′s Weblog moondance38.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/hanging-around-fort-myers

    […] Dad was a bricklayer – One of the best he’s written […]

  • I love how you goes deep into assignment and come up with great yet clearly organized output.

    It is very inspiring to see one picture with time rag… it is new, but old. And it makes this inspirational but also tickles your old memories.

    I am sure using your idea someday somehow for somebody. Thank you for sharing!

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