My papa is a storyteller, conjuring worlds of make-believe by the fading light of campfires and against the hum-hum churn of our crowded van. Yet, like a magician practiced in misdirection, my papa hides his story behind these fantasies (listen how he weaves in our very own selves! we are catapulting through time!). My papa is a storyteller who will not tell his own.
My papa prefers to leak it out a glimpse at a time, like a stealthy child during hide and seek, the silences stretching and cracking through the years.
I have tried to catch every morsel that slips through his hoarding hands, storing each piece to fit with other collected scraps. If only I could will them to string together like garland on those forbidden Christmas trees! There is too much missing between kick-the-can on Bronx sidewalks and Yiddish songs at kitchen tables. What can explain the long empty threads between swaying ships and union strikes?
Caught off guard once, he dropped the memory of a U-boat strike, a sister ship sunk and left behind. I dared not ask if he thought of those, like him, sailing alone across violent seas, those other children as they floated down their watery grave.
At times, when my own child’s voice of complaining boredom breaks through my distracted haze, I wonder about hours of fading light or bright summer sun; how did my papa fill them? Were there other kids with whom to roam, absent the concerning gaze of loving-mom or doting-aunt? My father as a toddler, untethered and unmoored, weaving his way between towering redbrick buildings, overpasses and idling cars.
Who were the friends of this precious one, tight blond ringlets bouncing round his wide, sad blue eyes, neither faded nor unburdened now by the years? How soon did the clip and rise of his British tongue give way to dropped r’s and sharp Bronx lash? Was cruelty the teaching tool employed by kids who so successfully, thoroughly, and utterly Americanized this lost Jewish boy?
Gaps and dips sag this sorry garland-tale of a life through time. In my hunger, I dive for every drop that leaks through his tight seal.
I hold this pathetic swirl of nothingness in my hands. Will this be my legacy when no one is left to tell the Papa Story?