January 20, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v45)

I've been looking for my father lately, as I do particularly around this time of year. Today marks nine years that he's been gone, and his birthday is next month.

Actually, what I was trying to find were copies of some articles he wrote when he was at Hamilton College. We had gotten them from a kind gentleman in the Alumni Office who was gave us the generous gift of Dad's alumni magazine obituary. Odd as that sounds - an obituary being a generous gift? - that's what it was, and I re-read the post every 'today' or as the mood strikes.

Hard as I've looked, I haven't been able to find the copies, which frustrates me, and in fact brings out the Dad in me. Patience with himself not being one of his virtues, he had a litany of mostly under-his-breath mutterings that I find myself repeating when I'm kicking myself for some minor failing or another - losing something being a prime example - about which, in reality, only I have any concern.

While I wasn't able to locate the particular collection of writing I was looking for, I did another set of family papers that has me wondering, this Wednesday.

Here's a sample of what was in the packet:
Dear Miss Oldring:
You suggested in your last letter that I send you my next story before I labored over it too much.  Well - here it is.
Notwithstanding your kindness, I feel that I have taken a terrible liberty. This is only the first typing and even a casual reading reveals so many glaring inadequacies that my conscience bothers me.
To plunge simultaneously into the light touch and more plot is quite an undertaking for a dour person whose temperament and training is so exclusively for clear exposition as against baloney.
So, I realize that I have got to do a lot of work on this. The dialog needs sharpening up and a cross-check with young folks. There's too much dialog. What plot there is needs more punch. Damn it all, the whole thing's lousy. Maybe it will show that I'm teachable
I hope business brings me to New York soon. You've been so kind to me; I want to buy you a lunch.  
Oh boy. Talk about muttering!

Miss Oldring worked for a New York literary agent, then called Harold Ober, Inc. still in existence today, and at one point, home to many famous authors. The letter was written not by my Dad, but by his father --  R. W. Drummond, the grandfather I never met.

A man who had a day job with Oneida Ltd., but who wanted to be more, wanted to tell stories and share them with the world. The man who, as president of the Board of Education, offered up words of wisdom to graduating seniors, encouraging them to be all they could be, even as he lived his 'double life' of executive by day, frustrated, self-conscious, highly self-critical writer by night and weekend.

My Dad had so much of his father in him, it seems.

He wrote, too: daily, on the countless essays and tests he marked in his career as a teacher, constantly offering feedback and encouragement, and of course, sometimes just the dreaded note that a student had completely missed the mark.

Stoking his passion - he had always wanted to be a reporter - he wrote articles for the community newspaper that served the little village of Jordan and the other western reaches of Onondaga County, while he had his day job and his volunteer jobs within the community. After he retired from teaching, he wrote for the school district newsletter, tracking down alumni in various professions years after graduation, getting them to talk about the value of the education they received at Jordan-Elbridge, and encouraging others through the stories. There was also his foray into poetry; given the observance of Martin Luther King Day this week, it seems appropriate to share his effort.

So - my grandfather. My dad. And now, there's me: a third generation 'keep-the-day-job, try-to-be-a-writer' person, full of self-doubt, a mutterer and sputterer, apparently from way back. I'm wondering, this Wednesday, what Dad would tell me about his father, and his father's writing, and his own writing, and mine.

And I'm wondering, is this nature or nurture? Writer begat writer begat writer? Or, frustrated writer nurtured a frustrated writer nurtured a frustrated writer? Maybe a person can be born with a nibbled-on pen or pencil in their hand, just as easily as with a silver spoon (or, famously, with a silver foot ) in their mouth? Or do they pick up the pen, with awe or reverence, or at some point simply coming to the realization that a pen is not just for jabbing a sibling?

I'm not sure. Intrigued, but not sure.

There is one thing that regular readers may pick up on, and that's the obvious divergence of my branch of the family writing tree from by grandfather's.  It's my obvious appreciation for 'baloney' -- which I attribute to my father, with great love. In that regard, and others, this apple surely did not fall far.

I'll find the articles I was looking for, or I'll go to Hamilton College and read them myself, one of these days. We have an open invitation to do that, with some advance notice.

In the meantime?  I have some short stories to read.