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  • I’ll never forget the time, about 4 or 5 years after Dad had “gone over to the other side”, and Mom was visiting us here in Virginia for the holidays. It was the year after she’d moved to South Carolina.

    When we’d moved her, Mary had found the cassette tapes Dad had made of his book of family and personal stories, “”Rambling Thoughts of a 75 Year Old”, in one of his dresser drawers. He had apparently sat out on the front porch of their place at 500 Deer Road in Cherry Hill, N.J., reading and taping his stories, all 275 single-spaced, 8 font pages of them, during his last year with us. It was like having “Books on Tape”, where the author does the reading, and in this case, the author was Dad. Mary had given them to me, saying she didn’t think she could handle hearing him tell his stories, quite yet. She had been used to talking to him every single day, and probably had the hardest time dealing with him being gone than any of us did. He was her Executive Coach for work (she worked for the same outfit he had spent his career working for), her baby-sitter for her children, her confidant, and like he was with me those last couple years, her best friend. Only, they had been best friends for many years more.

    I had a 4 hour drive to a labor-management meeting in New Jersey shortly after that, and listened to Dad’s tapes on the drive up and back. It was just like having him there with me the whole trip, sitting beside me doing what he did, tell stories. It was really amazing, to me. What a gift, not only that he’d taken the time to write all his stories down and share them with all of us, but that he’d also made tapes of them. I could have sworn, as I listened to them on the drive, that he was embellishing the stories, just telling them off the top of his head, as opposed to reading them. They were injected with that freshness, that master storyteller’s ability to tell the tale as if it was the first time it was being told. He so loved to tell his stories! But, when I doublechecked the tapes against the written word, he had faithfully recorded them word for word.

    So, back to Mom’s visit with us over the holidays that year. We had decided to go visit Dad at the Columburium at Arlington Cemetery, where his cremains now resided (and where Mom’s now reside along with him). I had suggested we listen to one of Dad’s tapes on the way over and back, about a 20 minute drive each way. She had agreed that it would be a good idea, and so we did. We had a nice visit there, with Dad chirping away at us on his tape over and back. It was a lovely day, a lovely time with Mom and “Dad”. As we pulled into the driveway, back home, and I turned the car off and the tape stopped playing, Mom just shook her head and declared, “Imagine the ego of that man! To think that ANYONE would be interested in all of that crap!” Wow! I was really taken aback. Then, I remembered what she had said at his Memorial Service, when she had read the poem he’d written as the introduction to his stories. It was a beautiful poem. (It’s the Bio on Jim Bridgeman’s profile page here on Cowbird, the one about the Pebble falling in the water). After reading that at the service, she had said, “I’ve always loved this poem that Jim wrote at the beginning of his stories. Each time I try to read his stories, I read this first, and I love it. Then, I start to read the stories themselves, and I always get so angry, I can never finish the story, and I have to slam the book down and walk away.” Mom was always a stickler for facts and details, honest to a fault, while Dad did have the storyteller’s tendency to embellish, just a tad. When in doubt, make it up – although I know he did try to get the facts right. He fact-checked his stories about me, with me, before publishing them, and I just assumed he did the same with his other stories – but, apparently not!
  • I’ve always prided myself on being a stickler for the facts and details, but I have been called out on more than one occasion by my lovely wife on a detail or two that I’ve gotten wrong. You think you remember it the way it happened, when what you really remember is how you have been remembering it all these years. You remember the memory of the event – not necessarily what actually happened. Just that part that left an impression on you. And that’s what you take away and carry with you, whenever you remember the event. Over the years, there might even become the tendency to remember only the good parts about events. Then, over time, we kind of glorify those good parts. We tend to forget the pain, and the confusion, and the heartache and crashed dreams. What fun is it to remember all of that crap? I have actually found it to be freeing, and helps me to reconnect with who I am, all of who I am, by going back and mining the details beneath they built-up “myths” that my mind created over the years.

    Ironically, one of the things that helped me a great deal to get back into writing my stories, was Mom’s encouragement. Brother Chris, who lived near her down in South Carolina, would read her some of my early stories posted on Cowbird. She would tell me how much they moved her, and how she truly enjoyed my writing, my storytelling. This just opened something up in me, and the stories really started pouring out of me. I think, up to that point, one of the things that would hold me back, as I’d start to write about the past, was that voice of Mom in the back of my head, admonishing Dad’s ghost for his ego and writing all those stories that “no one could possibly be interested in”. Her encouragement helped make that “ghost” of her go away. But, I still work hard to make sure my facts are correct when I tell a tale. I wouldn’t want her rolling in her grave, so to speak, if I embellished a detail or two too many!

    So, when I write of the past, I do consult journals that I have of those periods, and like the current set of stories I’ve been stringing together, there are actual historical documents that I have at my disposal to reference, and fact-check a lot of my details, and timelines. Something I started back in 1982, documenting the history of that fellowship (NA) that I was once very involved in, has become a major, sprawling documentary, as there are now reams and reams of historical artifacts, including meeting and conference minutes, copies of the many newsletters I edited, even copies of a lot of the raw material that I and others typed up for the book we wrote back then. They now have regular “History Conferences” where they pull more and more of this material together, so each time I look things up, there’s even more material that’s been assembled from way back then.
  • I kept none of it, myself. When my home group was removed from the NA meeting list in 1984 - (we were violating traditions by referring to the AA Big Book when we shared our personal experiences, since that was where we found the direction that helped us to recover) - I’d had no choice but to leave that organization with my group. I turned all of my material over to the NA regional Chairperson, as it was time to move on, and that was all part of the past. It’s pretty cool seeing so much of it turn up on line, these 30 some years later.

    As I mine many of the memories, I try to remember what it felt like, and capture some of that in my recollection. Many times in the past, I have feared doing this, my fear being that it will take me back, throw me back into depression, into confusion. What’s interesting is, I do experience some of those actual feelings as I write, as I get below the surface bullshit memories and down to the real deal. But, there’s this psychic rubber band that springs me back to today, and I go about my business and realize, I am still here, my life today is still good, and I feel a little bit more like me, the more I mine the past for the truth – at least, the truth as I can best remember it.

    Sorry, Mom and Kathy, if I still wind up embellishing a detail or two. It’s not intentional - but hey, it does make for a good story! (That’s my Dad!)
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