Sunday, June 3, 2007

Happiness in Your Own Backyard

Messages and advice
from my old man
by Charlie Leck

I have whined in a number of the essays that I’ve written over the years that my old man never communicated very profoundly with me during my or his life; yet, as I get older, I get more forgiving and, perhaps, flexible.

Now I remember some of those summer nights, after we got ‘the store’ all closed up. I would spread ‘sweeping compound’ on the plank flooring and then sweep every corner, nook and cranny. With a big dust pan, I’d pick up all the detritus of the day and the accumulated sweeping compound. It would all end up in a big trash can in a back storage room. While I did all this, my father would ‘close out’ the cash register. He’d cuss on those evenings when things didn’t balance and he’d go over the totals and the accountings again and again until it all balanced in precise, logical and mathematical terms. On those evenings when the counting was exact and sure, I can remember my father expressing his happiness in song. He loved to sing. My memory tells me that he had a lovely voice. Today I must question that, for I am as far from a music critic as one can be.

One of the tunes I remember him softly singing was a famous Billy Holiday recording…

That bird with feathers of blue
Is waiting for you
Back in your own backyard

You'll see your castles in Spain
Through your window pane
Back in your own backyard

Oh you can go to the East
Go to the West
Someday you'll come
Weary at heart
Back where you started from

You'll find your happiness lies
Right under your eyes
Back in your own backyard

That bird with feathers of blue
Is waiting for you
Back in your own backyard

Why have I complained so much about my old man? I never sang a song like that to my children. Suddenly I realize that, perhaps, my old man didn’t talk to me about the important things in life; but, perhaps, he sang to me of these matters.

I’ve never told my children very much about my father. Perhaps I should have. I never sang songs to them, except a few ‘nightie-nite’ ballads as they fell asleep.

Night-night streetlights.
Night-night flashlights.
Night-night, porch lights down below.

Now, as I face these chapters at the end of my life’s story, I need to think more about those songs my old man sang to me. Maybe it was his way of talking to me. Is it possible that he couldn’t sit me down and say: “Look here, son, this is what it’s all about”…?

I realize now that I should have told each of my children this important thing about happiness. The thing my father told me, on a night when I was robotically sweeping the floor of our old general store – that “happiness is waiting for you right in your own backyard.”

Most of my kids get it! Not all of them do.

It ain’t in Paris! It ain’t by the Golden Gate Bridge! It ain’t in places far flung and exotic! It’s right here – in your own backyard! Those castles in Spain? Why, look out your window pane! There’s a blue bird of happiness there.

I wrote once that my father only talked to me about baseball and boxing. I’m rethinking that.

1 comment:

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