Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


DECEMBER 4, 2010 11:54PM

For My Daughter on Her 30th Birthday

Rate: 7 Flag

Dear Adele,

Yes, I left that sappy note on your wall on Facebook, and it wasn't enough. There is so much more that needs to be said, and even if we are able to talk on the phone today it's likely not going to be time enough to cover the past three decades' most important moments that deserve review and any ripe advice I might have for you. After all you are in Iceland today, chasing the Northern Lights. I pray you get the best of all possible light shows.

Thirty years ago your mom had just jostled me awake to let me know her water had broken and we needed to get up and start thinking about getting you into the light. Someday, I assume, you will get to do that to Justin. When you do, enjoy it, because for the rest of the day and for days and months to come, everything will be changed -- in a way impossible to fully describe. Anger, pain, bliss, joy, fun, but most of all change. Wonderful, evolving change with a new person in the house.

I was lucky. I had Andy to keep me company into that night after you finally decided, with much prodding, to make your disturbingly quiet debut. You've been pretty tight-lipped ever since, too, at least when it's in everyone's best interest. It's worked well for you. In fact, I've only seen you lose your composure a few times. Those were very difficult situations and the only one I enjoy revisiting is the one where you (with Kripa riding shotgun) had been driving on Georgia Avenue only to be run off the road, twice, by an enormous county leaf-collector/dumptruck. You'd called me from the church where your car had wound up on the front lawn -- your nearly indestructable 1990 Mustang, the one you bought with your own bucks. I got there and a cop held me back for a few moments, saying "Wait...she's not done yet." What he meant, of course, was you reading the riot act to the huge, hulking, very browbeaten looking dumptruck driver you had pinned up against the telephone pole. You'd sounded so calm, too, when you'd called to let me known you'd had "a little accident" and were at the church. I have to admit I enjoyed watching that verbal butt-kicking and knew I didn't ever want to be on the wrong side of that.

Somehow you managed never to do that to me, though I'm sure you'd have liked to on several occasions. Thank you for your restraint.

But from the beginning you were different. Once you started sleeping alone, in a bed of your own, you'd get up in the morning, turn on the TV and sit on the sofa, waiting, til your mom or I got up and came in, always amazed you hadn't taken a hike or, like your brother, eaten many strange and awful things from the refrigerator or the medicine cabinet. Nope, you'd just sit there watching something appropriate til we came out. It continues to amaze me.

The fact you started writing (poetry mostly) when you were five still concerns me, because that was very good writing. I often wonder when you will pick it up again, or the cello. I don't see a return to gymnastics or cheerleading or beauty pageants in your future, but basketball? Maybe. You were always deadly from Zero Degrees.

Remember the stories I used to tell you til you started asking for specific ones as if from a menu? Well now you've got far more than I did at ten years older than you are now, and I am going to start asking to hear, say, the one where you and your friends drove to Langley Park in the middle of the night only to have your car break down and have it fixed by a crackhead who'd gone to high school with your brother. That has to be my favorite.

There were other moments, too, strange, disturbing ones like the night of the party you'd had when your heart started racing and you asked me to count your pulse and it was so fast I couldn't be sure, but knew it was over 200. Three years later I remember you telling me, on the way home from the cardiologist's, that you wanted to have the ablation done. It was while we were passing your (and my) high school, and you said "Just be sure to schedule it after homecoming." It worked, the problem was solved, and for you to decided to let someone introduce a catheter into your heart two years after you'd walked into the ICU after a week in Florida only to find me looking like I'd driven a motorcycle into a tree -- because of a catheter-related mishap -- was very impressive. But so was the doctor's argument about you having one of those episodes while climbing a mountain or standing on the Great Wall of China. You have to admit he had a great point, even if he didn't mention driving a dune buggy in the Sahara on Christmas day. My god you've done so much, been so many places, and learned so much in such a short time!

Sundays learning how to negotiate the rocks in Rock Creek so as to get to that big rock in the middle -- and you laughing at me the time I lost my footing and managed to hold on to a lesser rock while most of me foundered in the waters -- those are memories that will keep me smiling into my dotage, which will not be spent in a nursing home, just FYI. No, I'll probably be living in your attic then, but I'll not be in a nursing home.

Your pool shooting skills, learned and perfected at the fire house, were amazing and once even defused a potentially god-awful situation down on Virginia's eastern shore.

Your remarkable calm after having been holed up in an upstairs bathroom most of the night that character broke into the house and hung around for hours, and your outrage at learning Brian had been picked up for the crime (and the other breakins) and knowing the only reason they'd grabbed him was because he was black, I will never forget that, either.  

There are just far too many stories of character, heroism, humor and brilliance to begin to find any rhyme or reason to them, but suffice it to say you have been, for your mother and me, not only a joy but also an inspiration. Yes, you have inspired us both, and I know this is true for your mother because I have seen how you affected her, her life's ambitions and her decision to complete her degree and teach, to name but one thing. I can't begin to tell you the ways you've inspired me.

No one I know (with perhaps one exception) has accumulated, either, a circle of friends more diverse, reliable, intelligent, funny and devoted than those I've known through you since high school.

Now the weather guy says it may snow here in the morning. Apparently the weather doesn't know you're in Europe. Or maybe you're getting more than we will here, if we get any, but for the past what? eight years? it has snowed here on your birthday, starting the first December I was living in California.

Oh, and thank you for that, too, for accepting my leaving, coming and staying out there, and when I finally returned, standing by me. I will never forget that either.

Thank you, too, for letting Justin catch you. He married very well. So did you.

Forgive me for being the sentimental fool I am, but few people have such good reasons to feel the sentiments about a son or daughter as you have given me -- and your mother.

I'd mentioned advice, hadn't I? I really don't have any, now that I think of it. You've been the one I've looked to for advice, reminders, inspiration, knowlege, and you've always known where you are going and what you've wanted. I don't see how I could tell you anything useful, but if you ever have any questions -- mainly medical ones -- you know how to find me.

You're 30. The brain reels. The Little Green Man is still behind that rusty, locked door at the end of the long tunnel, and Raymond still brings him raw meat on a stick every day.

I love you more than I can possibly say. I tried to say, but obviously there will never be enough words, enough time. So I'll use those, add Happy Birthday, and I hope you get to see those northern lights today.

I'll see you in the spring.


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Ahhhhh. Wonderful Woman. My daughter turned thirty and I was so proud and amazed. And then she had a baby! Totally blows me away. Thanks for this tribute.
Stunning letter for an obviously stunning young woman. Thanks for sharing it, it made my heart smile.
Zanelle: Isn't it amazing? Thanks for your lovely comments.

l'Huere: She is stunning, in too many ways to count. Thank you, and thank your heart for smiling.
Lovely tribute AJ. My baby boy is 41, ouch! I always tell parents of young kids that the best is yet to come, nothing beats having a close, sweet, honest relationship with an adult child. Maybe that's because we somehow (projecting, I guess) couldn't do that with our own parents, who thought they had to lie to us to keep us in line.
Every daughter should get such a letter.
Risa, thank you. Wow, there's one more parallel line. My son is also 41! In both cases though, check, nothing like a close, open, loving relationship with an adult child, just nothing. And if you're projecting you hit at least part of the target here. Close enough that I never went that route with my kids. It makes a huge difference.

Aw Scupper...I do my best. Thank you.