Sunday, November 03, 2013

Travels with Father – an introduction

As I reflect upon my dad at this time of year – our favorite time to travel – I realize that I was so fortunate to have had a father who knew the West as well as he did, and helped educate his sons in the history and geography of that area.

Actually, for many years my dad and I did not get along at all.  He was literate, well educated and self-educated. He had majored in art and photography and minored in physics.  His mind was brilliant.  So, here I was a young kid, not interested in the least in reading and education.  We did not talk much with each other.  I did not help with household or yard chores.  But in 1969, things did begin their slow change.  We went, for the first time, on a family trip.  Before that it had always been my dad with my brothers or his parents.  But in April of 1969, we rented a camper and set out for a trip to the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce. 

Along the way I discovered the joy of the open road.  I sat up front as much as I could, or deposited myself in the part of the camper that overhung the cab, giving me an unfettered view of the road.  I was in my element there.  A couple of years later we took a major trip, going all the way to Minnesota to see my uncle.  Along the way there was the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, the Big Horn battlefield, Mount Rushmore, and mile upon mile of open 2-lane highway.  I hogged the front seat next to my dad as much as I could, gazing out the generous front windshield.  Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota were all in front of me.  After that was a trip to Flagstaff, Arizona in another rented motor home to see where my brother, Jim, had decided to attend college.  It was our last family trip.  My oldest brother, Donald, was off to New York to work on his masters and doctorate at Columbia, and my other brother was to start the 5-year plan at NAU.  Dad retired and we moved to San Clemente.  He spent the first two years of his retirement landscaping the backyard of their home, and building a studio for his art business.  I had started high school with the same lack of enthusiasm that I had displayed all through elementary school and junior high.  Dad, to say the least, was not pleased.  And when I was not at school, I was in front of the TV watching endless hours of junk.  Read?  Not no your life, even if it WAS an assignment.

My dad was born in the foothills of the San Juan range of the Colorado Rockies.  His father was a shepherd and eventually worked as a mason.  His mother had been a former schoolteacher.  They picked up their lives and belongings in 1922 and moved west to California.  I never can remember if dad said it took them 4 weeks or 4 months.  But they settled in the Pasadena area, where he excelled academically, and displayed the gift of drawing.  He attended Pasadena City College and the Art Center, where he learned the skills of illustration and drawing.  When the war broke out in 1941 dad saw many of his buddies go off to serve in the army or navy, but he was unable to do so because of his poor eyesight.  So, he did the next best thing.  He got a job at Lockheed Aircraft Company, and was put to work on the outdoor assembly lines for the P-38 Lightning fighter.  He got the singular honor of being a “rivet bucker” inside the fuselage.  He was the smallest man on the line, so it only made sense to put him in the small areas of the plane to assist in the riveting process.  After a short time there he was pulled off the line and placed in the top-secret program to help develop a jet fighter for the war effort.  Eventually he made his way to the art department, where his skills, patience, fairness and loyalty helped him climb the ladder, eventually to the manager of the department in the 60’s.  It was around this time of great stress that I began to be such a pain.  Our relationship was always strained, more from my lack of desire to learn than anything else, coupled with my sheer laziness.  His retirement didn’t help matters, because he was always around now, and able to see just how lazy I truly was.

But in the early ‘80’s, as I spent a rainy winter in dad’s studio, I discovered the joy of recreational reading, reading the apologetic books of C.S. Lewis, and the fictional novels of James Herriot.  Then it was the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  I read them all with great joy and enthusiasm.  Then I began to work, to make a living.  I began my long career in the printing industry, and area which dad knew well because of all his years in the graphic arts.  In addition, I was becoming interested in photography as a hobby and as a means of gaining additional income.  I had “apprenticed” myself to a local photography studio, and had purchased a high-end 35mm camera.  The ice of the years began to melt as dad and I became close.  He began to loosen himself of all the stress from his years at Lockheed just as I became more open to reading, to art, and to traveling. 

Our first vacation was a short one, although it was, for me, a long and enjoyable one.  It was a trip up to Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite.  Along the way were a visit to dad’s cousin Jean, and then a visit on the way home to his aunt Nell.  It was a time for him and me to just be together, to talk or not to talk, to observe the scenery, and to communicate through our own personal vision with our cameras.  As the years progressed we planned these trips with great care, deciding together where we’d go, where we’d stay, and the sights we’d see.  After I started spending time with a gallery in San Juan Capistrano that offered workshops, and the influence of the instructor’s more loosely and unplanned trips, our last few trips were more extemporaneous.  We knew the general area that we wished to go, but the day to day stops and shooting locations were unplanned, and hence, more magical.  Our last full trip together in 1994 took us to the Rockies, and to the ranches that his parents were at in the early part of the 20th century.  We explored the red rock country of Utah outside Moab, and discovered the beauty of that area together. 

We did take a few more shorter trips together – mostly long weekends.  Finally, I knew that he would not be able to continue the long trips with me, but we still had our time together.  He’d critique my work, help me in the darkroom – all activities that continued our relationship, and turned it from father and son, to friends and creative collaborators. 

The stories of our times on the road, the times we traveled together, the places we saw, are treasured memories.  Memories that keep him alive in my heart, and mind.  And memories that I hope to share with my own creative children.

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