In the early 80’s, when he was in his mid-60’s, Dad retired from his career as an insurance claims manager for a large insurance company. He did some work here and there, did more volunteer activity for Contact 609, Ala-Call, and PFlag (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), but he still found himself with a lot of time on his hands. He did a lot around the house, did more antique furniture refinishing and repair, did a lot of gardening and tending to his yard to fill the time. Brother Chris gave him a little Apple MacIntosh computer, and Dad immediately began to write his stories. He was such a storyteller.
As he wrote them, he sent copies around to us, usually with little hand-written, personalized notes. Early on, he worked on a series of stories about me. He always ran them by me before he sent them around to the rest of the family. I would correct a detail or two, which he would correct, then send around to the rest of the family. These stories meant the world to me. As the 6th of 7 children, I’d often felt lost in the large family. For instance, by the time I came along, they didn’t take nearly as many pictures as they had of my older siblings, which made me feel like, well , anything I did wasn’t really all that special or great. It had been done so many times before, by the time I came along. I believe this drove me to be more independent, to seek out my own way. I was never one to follow in anyone’s footsteps. But, I also often felt like I just didn’t fit in, like I didn’t belong. This was, of course, all in my head. Being teased that the milkman was my father, since my hair was much lighter in color than any of my other siblings, didn’t help on that score, either.
Turns out, according to Dad, stories about me were the most requested stories of the family. Wow, that really made me feel like I was a part of this family, after all. And, he weaved some gems. It seems that long before I developed the knack for writing stories of my own, I had a knack for living them. With a Storyteller for a Dad, it was an ideal arrangement. I’d live ‘em, and he’d tell ‘em! Of course, listening to him weave his tales all my life, and then reading so many of them, also helped me to become a storyteller.
Dad eventually got really serious, and put all of his stories together in a big binder, with a table of contents and a logical order, and called it “Random Thoughts of a 75 Year Old”. He shared copies, not only with all of us, but also with all of his siblings. What a tremendous gift this was! There were stories about all of us, stories about his own life growing up, stories from the road when he was an insurance adjuster, from his days as a Christian Brother, stories of his grandfather who was in the Civil War, and who he considered a second father figure, and stories of his Dad, one of the first ever live Radio singers, but who he never much cared for.
He shared stories of his interactions with others. More than anything else, Dad was a student of the human condition. He loved people. He continued to grow as a person, all of his life. I didn’t like him much when I was growing up, but because he continued to grow, he grew into someone I became best friends with. He lost a lot of his self-righteousness as he got older. That’s when I learned to like, and then to love him. His last few years, I really got close to him. When he died, I grieved losing, not only my father, but also my closest and dearest friend.
This past summer, as I spent some time with my oldest brother Jim down in South Carolina, during an overlap of our “shifts” staying with Mom, we got talking about Cowbird. When I first starting sharing my stories on Cowbird, I had sent a few to Jim, and he clicked in and read my first 9 postings, and told me that they really floored him. He’s been a big fan ever since of my storytelling, and Cowbird. So, down in South Carolina, we got talking about Cowbird, and I mentioned that Dad would have loved it. Jim said, “Why don’t you set up an account for him, and start posting some of his stories? You could be a true “Ghost-Writer” for Dad!” I liked the idea, but some things take a while to reach fruition.
Life kind of took over, and it was only this past week that I finally followed through on Jim’s idea. I have set up an account in Dad’s name, Jim Bridgeman, and have begun to post his stories on Cowbird. This has been a real labor of love for me. Retyping his stories have brought them back to life for me, and even though I’ve read them all before, some I feel like I’m really “hearing” and enjoying them for the first time.
I hope some of you are able to enjoy my Dad’s stories from the road, and from life, as well. He had a somewhat unique perspective of life, and I am proud to be his “ghost” writer.
(Photo is artwork that Dad commissioned my sister, Juli, to do, which she developed prints of and included in his memorial program)