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That’s How it is with the Good Ones, You’re Sure You’ve Heard Them Before

March 13, 2010

Watching Crazy Heart yesterday felt like listening to a song I’d loved as a child. Like my dad sitting on a ratty rust-colored footstool teaching me to play the guitar. We’d sing “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” and I’d be wearing cowboy boots because he was wearing cowboy boots.

I cried at the end. It wasn’t just my eyes filling up because the director had pulled the right emotional levers. These were very specific tears.

A little over a year ago, my dad lost his house. It was a house that had gone from our house to their house to his house to gone in a series of losses fueled by a return, after 30 years of sobriety, to drinking.

I’d never known my dad as a drunk; he’d quit when my mom was pregnant with me, so he’d always called me his angel growing up. It was mantle I took seriously enough that in high school and even into college I planned on entering the ministry. I eventually shed that ambition, though I haven’t lost the drive to do work that matters and create community among people who share what I believe.

What I have lost, what I’ve yet to reckon with, are all the possessions of childhood I hadn’t extracted from that house on the last mission in with my sister. That was the time we left with her trunk full of the last of his gun collection – the ones he’d been cleaning in the living room floor the night of my first date, and the one the sheriff had pried from his fingers when he’d threatened to take his own life.

I wasn’t there for that episode, and my sister would argue I wasn’t there for most of the worst of it. I don’t know. Can’t, I guess. And since my memories go back farther than hers, I can do like my dad and wax nostalgic over Merle Haggard records instead.

Occasionally, I’ll take a mental inventory of the things that were in that house that must be somewhere: the portrait of my great-great grandfather, a Confederate soldier; the dress my mom made for me to dress up as Betsy Ross in the school play; seven scrapbooks documenting my first year of college; my grandmother’s china.

My dad is sober again now and back to selling unicycles, war movies and old televisions to Mexican immigrants at the flea market where everybody knows his name. My mom even took him back for a while, until they both realized that while history binds them, those bonds can also chafe.

I should call him tonight, I guess, or send him a copy of the soundtrack to Crazy Heart so he knows I’m thinking about him. I love him something fierce, but so much has been lost, sometimes it gets hard to figure out what to say.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2010 10:00 am

    Send the record – for all of the memories. Sometimes the music says more.


  2. Daddy permalink
    July 27, 2010 2:20 pm

    I finally found this and I love you so. The circle will never be unbroken. Thanks for the music.

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