Long and sad story here. I had meant to give this bibliolage to my father as a present, though as I got into it I kept realizing that it might really confuse or even annoy him. His health was failing fast. Not a part of his body or mind was functioning quite right, and the old spirit was not often in him, the spirit of a jokester with a generous, affectionate heart within.
That heart gave out, here at home, on the way to the garden, in Canton. Or maybe it was his brain or his lungs or his guts or his willingness to live. Probably all. May 20, 2013. At the age of 89.
Not a thinker, though smart in many ways, not a gifted athlete (golf, ping pong, etc.), but always game to play, not a strong believer, but in awe of the glories of life (plants, animals, children, music), he and I did not agree sometimes. Politics was hazardous territory, and “art” named two entirely different realms for us. We thought each other odd, but all of that was secondary to love.
The lineage from him to me was unmistakeable. He held me close, as a father should do, and I held him close, too. The resistance, the counterforce, which we always knew, had to give way to the embrace, owing a lot to his effort—and mine. From the time I went away to school at 13, I called home every week, sometimes more often, if only just to mouth the expected platitudes about everything being “fine,” even when they were not always. And I hardly ever missed in the rhythm of regular visits, though we each found the father-son thing a bit of an ordeal.
My mother, who died two and a half years ago, got it that I had fallen further away from the values of family, Ohio, the GOP, and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church than my brothers, and perhaps she even understood why. She also had her issues with Dad, but they were overwhelmed by a mighty attachment. She gave me my melancholy, my quiet sympathy, my attraction to the written word, my capacity to be alone, and my taste for the past. Dad’s eye was always on the present or the future, like anyone who cultivates the risqué.
The art of bibliolage plays with those divergent tenses. Books from the past, each a lonely guardian of bygone effect, suddenly open their arms to new interaction, fresh attention. And by “fresh” I do mean that motivated stare or the pinch on the butt that could get your cheek slapped in films of the thirties or forties. So yes, bibliolages are books that, invigorated, now risque.
I was initially looking for safe ground to hyperilluminate for him, and initially I thought the place was to be the golf course. I found Extreme Golf, which delighted in such things as golf courses in Iceland, Dubai, or alligator country. But the perspectives in those pictures I found too limiting, too many distant aerial shots, too many par fives for me to hit the green. So then I came up with The Garden, the sort of book I can’t imagine anyone reading, and even the browsing of the pictures might narcotize. Especially in his later years, Dad took more joy from gardening than anything, and he took joy in many pastimes and involvements.
He also loved golf, not that he was an expert or even very good. He loved it as “the most maddening game ever,” and yet he was skilled and practiced enough that each round brought some little miracle of execution. He watched the tournaments on TV, bought the weirdly deviant men’s outfits in colors that would make the Easter bunny cringe, and kept his clubs in the garage, ready for the public course or the neighbor’s back yard.
Sunday took him to church, where he sang like an angel in the choir, and attended occasionally to God. Actually, he taught Sunday school when I was a preschooler, nudging his teenagers to memorize all the titles of the books of the Bible. His mother and father were the kind who read only books about the power of Jesus, and so Dad’s drinking of the Episcopalian punch (the Perfect Manhattan) was an outrage, one that he kept well covered until they passed away.
During the months I was working on this bibliolage, I heard more and more of his fundamental despair. Someone whose whole life was so dedicated to living well felt betrayed by any divine force that would bring that to an end. The sonorous phrases of the Book of Common Prayer, the ones that had never quite penetrated, now had no power to turn back the sad reality that his body just wasn’t going to take it any longer. In his many days, he had incinerated enough tobacco, tipped enough bottles, and fully inverted the food pyramid, so that it was a wonder he had made it so far. But, except for in the music of Bach or the books of Nicholson Baker (in my opinion), wonders will ever cease.
So fallen divinity occupies a curious corner of Dad’s garden, trampled by the golfer, and overwhelmed by the vixen’s parfum. “Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow.” The present probes the future for its soft and slippery spot. It’s all good if it’s all hilarious—and gratifying. That’s what I mean by my self-mocking “risqué.” Because this was, on one level, Dad’s bibliolage, but it’s always mine.
Yes, here we get into the unmentionables, the ridiculous dangling part of a man. Dad’s humor went there always, though whether it came back, who knows? That whole category—the X-file and all its documents—should never even be breached by the son. And I’m not opening it here, except in collage.
Dad died with A and B by his side. It’s a long story, but briefly, A and B were people who were glued in to his life in the last decade. He did the gluing, they did the gluing, and glue did the gluing. All in all, the passive voice works best: they were glued in. Cut from another book entirely, one you would not expect, they augmented and enhanced his life, and they ironized and carnivalized his life, and they reaped and they sowed, cooked and mowed, and altogether handied the man.
The family might sometimes seem a closed book, but it’s easily reopened, and there are scissors and glue at the ready to make the old book bulge with new intent.
I miss you Dad.