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Entries in norman (1)

Wednesday
Aug102011

Independence Day Inheritance Iconoclasm

gramps in his chair, early 80s or so.My grandfather in his native habitat

My grandfather Norman died 15 years ago on Independence Day—it wasn't unknown to me at the time that a man who was always identified as a Navy Man and patriot died on the very day that the nation he so loved celebrates its birthday. Independence Day for him connotes all that but it was also was the day he was liberated from a body that was on a long slow decline. I think I have written about this here before. I don't have terribly much to add to that part of it. The new development is letting go of stuff that perhaps I clung to a bit much after both grandparents died, but most certainly after I lost the house in 2005 and the furniture and other items they used were still imbued with some sense of their presence. Today things have mellowed and it isn't so urgent to hang on like my life depended on this.

Astute readers of TAPKAE.com know that this year has been one to spill more beans and tell a fuller story of things. This chair episode has another dimension to it that I've discussed only in recent years with Kelli. I have to say that as the official family archivist and historian now, with everyone dead and gone, I can finally get on with saying things as clearly as I can, in a way to reflect my experience and that which I can put together from the scraps of memorabilia I have available to me. I am not in love with all the Lucas mythology, which like all families' mythology, glorifies the good stuff and minimizes the bad stuff. In some ways, TAPKAE.com is my exercise in iconoclasm. Not everyone gets a chance to do this. I don't feel there is much to lose, and any attempt to argue otherwise might be manipulation.

I have to remind everyone that I was given a pretty white-bread, sheltered idea of life in Clairemont, a giant suburb that I end up finding more and more of a dark side to (particularly since discovering the Facebook group). I don't know what all went into the founding of my family but I have my doubts that it was as wholesome as it was portrayed. My grandmother holds up to the most scrutiny but I suspect there are things she turned a blind eye to, and certainly behind-the-scenes kind of dealing between her son and her husband that suited them, and not all involved. These were salt of the earth people from the Midwest; only my old man and I were born in California. Virginia was a city girl, Norman was a farm boy who went to the Navy because it was more exciting than farm life. There was the death of their 12 year old son David and World War Two to shape their younger years. They did work hard. They did believe in goodness and the American Way. They went to church for better or for worse. They bought a house in the suburbs. Typical stuff, right?

My grandmother was always the one who kept the faith in as authentic a way as was demonstrated to me. My grandfather always was the one who was social and cordial at church but I don't have any great sense that he was a man of faith. He was definitely one of the tag-along husbands there. I think the Navy was his religion. My old man went to church intermittently in my youth, but more times than not, he kept away and later scoffed at church and religion. Needless, fruitless effort it might have seemed to him. I gather he was made to go to more church than he wanted to when younger and just abandoned it when given the chance. There were some times when he and stepmom Eda took me to church at the Community Congregational Church of Pacific Beach where my grandfolks were founding members from the late 50s, and of course where my life has had many a church experience in baptism, teen age years, wedding and periods of being a church officer and archivist. More typically though I went with my grandfolks as a young child, and sometimes more specifically with my grandmother, who probably took it upon herself to introduce me to church life, faith, spirituality with more urgency, knowing I was her last hope after her husband and son were drifting from such a tradition as she wanted to live out of.

Norman tended to drive his own car to and from church. Virginia stayed later and filled her roles at church and drove her own car too. Norman liked to head home for the game on the TV. He wasn't into sports as an athlete but he liked to watch whatever football or baseball game was on. I don't even remember him being a fan or going to many sporting events, if any. But it seemed that he was content doing that. After church grandma used to take me to Der Wienerschnitzel on Garnet Avenue for two corn dogs. We'd come back and eat and would always wash the dogs down with diet Pepsi from a glass bottle. Sometimes we'd sit on the patio out back. It was a nice little ritual that was in itself unmarred by consciousness of any concerns that I later bring to these kinds of memoirs. After lunch, about two in the afternoon, she'd retire to her room to take a nap. She closed her door. We might not see her for a couple of hours. It was just gramps and me until either my folks got me or the grandfolks took me home the few miles across Clairemont.

The details I am about to divulge take place when I was five years old, and therabouts. There were a few such instances but I don't recall them one from another. With such an empty and quiet house it doesn't take a lot of imagination as to what would happen next, though I do want to be clear and not to sensationalize it. To the extent that it is abusive, I recognize that, but I also have to contend that the stuff that left me in clear pain and anguish didn't stem from this. I suppose some depth psychologist could extract something from this, but I have to be clear that a lot more conscious pain has been generated at the decisions and policies that were my old man's. But in some ways, you can perhaps understand something else about where his mind was shaped.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I was invited or simply attracted to sit on the chair with Norman. He was my grandfather after all, and I was five years old. (He was about 66 at this point.) On some number of occasions he drew out his penis and invited and encouraged me to masturbate him until he ejaculated. Ostensibly it was an anatomy lesson scaled to a five year old. There was a kind of narrative, teaching tone to it all. In fact, this was when I learned the word penis in the first place. Of this I am clear beacuse it was such a novel word. (Of all the things to remember from youth!) Yes, it was one of those this will be our little secret, won't it? times that seems to be the code word in these situations. I was told not to tell anyone though I don't think I was threatened with reprisals. It was self evident that I'd not want to cross him. Certainly a mind of a child like that is just a sponge, and people who practice these things know that and leave the kid to be the one to sort out the conflicting messages later on. There was never penetration of any sort, so this was one of those transparent exchanges that leaves no marks for the family or friends or teachers to see. 

I suppose that while I don't look to this experience to mark the beginning of one pain or another, it does bespeak the pathos that lurked under all the wholesome stuff. In my Family gallery, I wrote the following as a caption to this letter:

Letter, 1/30/08
Another chickenshit letter delivered to me not by the mail man or any of that. After a year or more of silence between he and I, and particularly after a hot period at the end of 2007/early 2008, my father dropped this off at the church (where I had since departed a year before) and told my former pastor that it needed to get to me. So Jerry sent it to me. This is an excellent display of thought distortion. He loves his Manichean colors of black and white thinking. Here he wishes to make the point that my Lucas family taught me love, and that my mother taught me hate. And to pile ridiculous on top of ridiculous, he wants to make a point that my marriage now is founded on this glorious Lucas past. Ahem, that is the domain of much effort between Kelli and me, and a good load of grace! Almost everything I learned about marriage has been from admitting what a failure I can be and trying to repent of that at each turn. Only my grandparents at 61 years of marriage can be said to be a family influence upon me. My father seems to confuse my candor with hate. Calling a spade a spade is not calling it evil or hating it.

I might have to call this "fam-washing;" the thing he does when he wants to badmouth my mom's side of the family, and to clearly butter up his own. It is a way of carrying on like a five year old with a polar mind that something can only be black or white, or any other set of opposites. (It seems to get worse with age.) As I said, I have never told this story to anyone but Kelli (on July 26, 2008 while walking the dog that night). No one at church has heard it and neither has it been brought up at several years of therapy. No one but Kelli heard this before this journal was released. My old man might turn on the denial. But what can he deny? What does he know about it except the chance that he might have his own experience to add to it? His polar argument over the years is flimsy, and breaks under the weight of this kind of news. Sure, Norman and Virginia did show me a thing or two about love, mainly in their 61 years of marriage. (Though I don't kid myself, there has to be some shit that went on. My mom always used that as her ammunition to puncture my Lucas balloon. I've heard about adultery from her version of the story.) The propaganda will backfire for each as I eventually expose what the other has said, and occasionally add layers of my own experience and interpretation. Along those lines, the expose of my old man's antics with my older sister in 1973 makes more sense and maybe I'll investigate that more.

I feel like quoting some of King Crimson's song Epitaph. My understanding is that it is a swipe at organized religion and its mythology, but I think it can be seen as an iconoclastic jab at authority figures and institutions that shout their conflicting tales of who is right and wrong and who has the truth, but ultimately leave the mess for the individual to clean up with his or her life.

When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams
...
Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
...
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules

the chair he had when he died, now 15 years later set on the street for giveawayThe chair itself is liberated on Independence Day, 2011

I told Kelli that one night that I didn't want to turn this into a major deal, but it has been a long guarded vault that has gone unopened. It won't do my grandfather harm anymore. My grandmother probably never knew about this but certainly had to cope with other antics. They're both gone. Part of my inheritance was material stuff that was useful and nice to keep while I could do so. That was pretty hard to think of getting rid of. But this has been in my mind, never too far from ready access, for years. It too is inheritance that only I got. Or maybe there was enough for everyone. Funny how that goes. I could have used a roof over my head. Instead I got this. Now I am giving it away, piece by piece.