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June 16, 2010

Michael Perry: Tenderness and Strength

Posted by Anonymous

Michael Perry has pondered life while fixing a jalopy in his memoir TRUCK and running a farm in COOP, both told with equal parts wit, grace and emotion. Here, he finds a balance between stoic father and sensitive dad.

When the mumble and sibilance of the final rosary had risen to dissipate through the ceiling fans of the small church, the beads fell clicking into pockets and purses and then we stepped back into the white Colorado heat of the street to gather our children. Among them was my daughter (my given daughter, as a poet friend once declared her when I expressed my dissatisfaction with the term stepdaughter), and it is her grandmother we are here to mourn.

coop.JPGI have little claim on the legacy of Grammy Pat, late-arrived as I am. My daughter is also the daughter of her son and my wife before she was my wife. That is its own story; it is enough here to say we all commune in peace. When I joined the scene, Grammy had already commenced her seventh decade; I learned her history in bits and pieces. A rural girl, born in 1933.  Married at the age of 24. Three years teaching in Denver before her first child arrived in 1960. In 1963 the young family moved to a farm and built a house. Another baby that year, with three more to follow.  By 1970, they were a family of seven.  Then, at a point of blinding light, a drunk driver hurtled out of the night and when next the young woman awoke she was a widow with a farm, five children and no father for them.

Grammy left lists. A life in shorthand for those of us who knew her only lately. Over 270 musicals and other stage performances attended. 19,387 recipes attempted and only one classified as “a total failure.” 1,800 books read and neatly totted up in a journal, the final entry inscribed only weeks before her death  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 foreign countries visited, from Cancun to Croatia. And for those fatherless children, 93 birthday breakfasts served in bed. Through it all, as the easeled memorial photographs document, this farm woman of nearly six feet carried herself with elegance, whether scrubbing vegetables for the county fair or giving her children in marriage one by one until the photographs became crowded with new smiling generations. Even so, in every image --- and here today at another funeral even after 40 years passed --- the resonance of long absence hovers. 

After a recent morning disagreement between my wife and daughter, I intervened with a low-key but scowl-powered lecture titled “Why We Will Stand Firm.” My daughter waited until I left the house to confide in her mother that she was afraid to talk to me because I began my days so grumpily. This has long been a joke between us, but it hangs on more than a thread of truth and I am jolted now, left as a father to ponder the balance point between tenderness and strength and if I may have already big-shouldered it some irretrievable measure off center.

And so when in the midst of service our daughter crumples with tears and turns from the side of her fathers to the arms of her mother, I am riven with the responsibility of stepping aside so that today of all days this little girl might understand the profound strength of the feminine line. When finally she unburies her face from her mother’s breast and turns her eyes to mine, I begin to avert my face that she might not be troubled by my own weeping.  Then I think, No. She must feel the strength of women and see the tears of men.

Michael Perry is the bestselling author of the memoirs TRUCK: A Love Story and COOP: A Family, A Farm and the Pursuit of One Good Egg, both available in stores now.

Tomorrow Gar "The Batting Stance Guy" Ryness writes that winning isn't everything as long as you're with dad.