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"Picture At A Railroad Station"

The cavernous old Railroad Station was dimly lit, 
or seems that way in my memory. 
My parents, my sisters, and I headed toward the big doors 
that led to the platform where the trains chugged as they waited. 
It was the end of an era. 
One of us wasn't coming back...ever. 

We had never been your average family. 
My mother had been an artist and a model. 
My father was a flamboyant jack-of -all-trades: 
A stock broker at times, head of an oil company, 
owner of a gambling ship that never sailed, 
a mortgage broker, an aviator and author of a course on aeronautics. 
He was a party thrower and the life of every one, 
he made every holiday a festival. 
He was rich one year and broke the next. 
As a young man he was a boxer and a daredevil. 
During World War Two, 
he was drafted to be General Manager of the huge Bell Aircraft plant, 
at the same time there were rumors 
of his involvement with the black market. 

I came home from school one afternoon and couldn't get the front door open. 
It was stuck against silver fox furs. 
The whole house was knee deep in them. 
I don't know where he got them, but wasn't too surprised. 
We all knew him, and were ready for anything. 
There was a distinguished couple in the 
living room browsing through the pelts. 
They were a New York State Supreme Court justice and his wife. 
My dad always started at the top. 

He was brilliant in an off-beat way, and an adventure as a father. 
Then he got sick. 
His disease had symptoms similar to Alzheimer's, 
and the smart, witty man of the world became like a child. 
He couldn't work. 
He tried. 

My mother submitted a resume for him, 
and got him a job on his track record as a mechanical engineer. 
She dressed him in a suit and tie and took him to the job. 
He called a few hours later to be picked up. 
He had ordered his crew to put way too much pressure 
on a ship's drive shaft they were working on, 
and blew it through the factory roof. 

The family was broke and had to split up. 
My father was to live with his sister in Ohio,
"just until things get better". 
The rest of us were to sell all the furniture and belongings, 
and move in with my mother's parents in Florida. 

Certain memories stick in my mind like clear snapshots and never go away. 
One of those is the night at the railroad station 
when we kissed my father goodbye, 
and lied to each other that it was just temporary. 

I remember pushing through giant swinging doors 
that led to the train platform. 
The steam from the idling engine puffed out across my knees, 
The ceiling was dark and high with sooty light bulbs in it. 
And that's all I remember! 
The rest is gone. 

I do recall seeing him one more time several years later. 
I was hitchhiking from Florida or somewhere 
and I stopped in Miamisburg to see how he was. 
He opened the door and after a minute, recognized me. 
I didn't think he would. 

He grabbed me in his still strong arms and hugged tight. 
One moment in time again, like a photo, and everything after is blank. 

I don't have any memory of hearing of his death, or a funeral. 
I have a thing about funerals: 
People tell me I was there, but I have no memories of them. 

All in all, he was the perfect father for me. 
Tailor made. 
We had so many good times, 
it's funny that this railroad station picture surfaces so often. 
There was a lot more happy than sad in our lives. 

The only other positive thing that comes to mind: 
"The closer to the fire, 
the harder the steel". 

Jack Blanchard 

* * * 

EPILOG. 

I got this note from my cousin Donna, 
who was a child when we were. 
These are little interactions she had with my dad. 
I'm glad she sent them because they are so typical of him. 
When she refers to "a little girl" she means herself, of course. 
Here's what she wrote: 

"I have a few memories of my own. In brief: 

 One winter day when he remembered to swing by to pick up another 
little girl for a ride in the magical horse drawn sleigh, complete
with lap rugs and bells; 
* One Christmas day when that same little girl spotted a Shirley Temple 
doll on skis, waiting under a Christmas tree on the sun porch; 
* And another Christmas when I did my own shopping and bought him a 
pocket comb (He was pretty bald by then.), which he carried proudly in 
his shirt pocket, and each time I looked at him he pulled it out and 
combed his "hair" with a flourish; 
* A Hallowe'en when he gave us soap to soap his own windows so we 
wouldn't get in trouble with the neighbors. 
* And another "poor" year when he bought a huge grocery bag of 
fireworks for a wondrous display; 
* And another Christmas when I shopped again and bought him a shiny red 
plastic see-through mechanical pencil with an eraser on the 
end....again, carried in his pocket. 

Yup, memories. There are more....These are just a few from a short 
person's perspective." 

(Donna Blanchard Kinder) 

Copyright  April 16, 2001 by Jack Blanchard. All Rights Reserved.

 

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