February 08, 2005



Sometimes when she speaks of him
I think my mother
can still taste the bitters
from the manhattans
that caused so many
of her fatherís problems.
I canít recall
ever seeing my dad
touch a drop of liquor
so itís hard for me to imagine
having a father come home smelling
of bourbon and vermouth.
Sheís never told me why he drank
and I suppose thatís
the kind of thing no one
can ever really know for sure.
Mom says that maybe
he was never happy living
in the shadow of his older brother,
the engineer,
the Purple Heart veteran.
Maybe itís just unnatural for a man
from the mountains of Virginia
to be surrounded
by so much flat land.


He was a carpenter
like Christ himself
like St. Joseph
with a drinking problem

Iíve been told his name
is carved on the corner stone
of St. John the Apostle
the church where his daughter

was married, where his grandsons
were baptized
in the font he built
with his bare hands


I was there taking pictures
with one of those five dollar
disposable cardboard cameras
the day they came to cut down
the giant maple he planted
in the front yard of the house
where he raised his family,
where his daughter and my father
raised my brothers and me.

For two summers it bore no leaves.
Watching the men fell in twenty minutes
a tree that took fifty years to grow,
I realized that my mother
was not much older than me
when, only a few years after taking
the hardest twelve steps of his life,
her father got lymphoma and died
months before her first sonís birth.


In the hallway hangs a five by seven photograph taken the day of his wedding. Thereís no tuxedo; he wears a plain suit and my grandmother a plain dress. They were married in the rectory because she was Catholic and he had not yet converted. He was still Episcopalian, the descendent of Virginia millers who fought on the wrong side of the Civil War. Although I wouldnít say he was a very handsome man, there is something inviting about his wide smile and the ears that stick out a little too far from his head. He was not expressive of his love, Mom says, though he always provided well for his family and cared for them deeply. She just wishes he could have been to them the kind of man she saw him be to other people.

Posted by dpetrella at 03:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack