My Dad Never Walked
I’ve lived in Liverpool NY my entire adult life. In total I’ve been here almost 42 years; that’s older than most of the people I know. I’ve lived in multiple apartments within a 3 mile radius during that time period.
Now I live on that same street, and I’ve been in this house for 16 1/2 years. I often take long walks through the neighborhood, which includes the Elmcrest and Grenadier Village areas, since I lived there at one time as well. Below is a story I wrote talking about one of these walks and the thoughts I had while I was engaged in the quest.
“My father never walked”, I thought as I pulled myself together on an early November Saturday morning. It was cool, yet not cold, the sun was out, and it was a perfect day to go for a nice long walk. I walk often, though not nearly often enough, and I figured since my wife had gotten up early and left for a while that I could certainly pull myself together for a little walk around the area.
I thought about many things as I was getting ready for this walk through the neighborhood that I remembered from my high school days, a time period when there weren’t many black people living in the area. People used to come out and watch me ride my bike on this very street, as though the first person who saw me would call every other house down the line and tell them to come out and look at the black kid. Now everyone knows which family lives here, because sometimes they call out to me and ask “don’t you live in that yellow house on the bend?” Yes… yes I do.
Stepping out into the brisk morning air, I take a deep breath. It’s going to be cold fairly soon; that’s just how the middle of autumn usually leans in central New York. Certainly hasn’t felt like we’ve had much of an Indian summer this year.
Starting to walk, I think more about my dad.
I know that in his day the thought of exercising wasn’t talked about as much as it is today. Back then, they talked about calisthenics for flexibility and had Jack LaLanne encouraging them, but not many people were working out, or lifting weights. They just used what they naturally had and went about their business.
Yet here I am, walking once more, trying to get myself into some kind of shape that will hopefully keep me alive for a longer period of time than dad. Not that his not exercising is what finally took him away from me; there are just some things one can’t overcome based on environment, family history and going to war for your country, no matter how much you try to keep yourself in shape. Still, it’s an interesting contrast in our lives, since I’m now older than he was when he retired from the Air Force.
I like walking through this neighborhood. The people don’t come out and look at me anymore, though everyone seems to know who I am. I don’t know any of them; something inherently unfair about that.
As I walk, I’m noticing how the leaves are way out in the street, stuck there by all the rain we’ve had lately. They’re further out than usual, or at least what I consider usual. I slip on them every once in awhile by not paying attention. Will we have another rain and wash them back towards people’s yards? I don’t have leaves in the front of my house; all our trees are in the back yard.
Now I’m heading towards the elementary school. I never went to this school; when I moved to Liverpool I was already in high school. Yet, when I lived in the apartment complex on the other side of the school yard my friends and I used to use the baseball diamond that was a part of the big field to play home run derby. We never knew enough other kids to play baseball with; that’s the trouble with moving to an area where, if you’re not one of them, you really don’t belong. We could always get enough guys for 3 on 3 basketball games, but not for baseball, though I remember once being invited to go to the older area of Liverpool, just off Old Liverpool Road, to play in a big baseball game someone else set up. Good thing my friend Dave had a car back then.
Now, in the apartment complex, I’m walking by where Dave used to live. It’s funny how some brick buildings fade with time and others seem to look exactly the same; this one looks exactly the same. On the opposite side of the street they’ve added a new building and a back street that now connects to the housing complex where I live. Doesn’t seem to serve any useful purpose, though; it’s always closed off. There are no “no trespassing signs”; they must know I used to live here.
I walk a little further and get to the little road that leads to the clubhouse. How many times had I been in that clubhouse, or down by that clubhouse, just to stare at the river? I remember the time I saw a big fish with big orange lips that freaked me out; Dad always laughed at that one. I wonder if he knew what kind of fish it was; I certainly didn’t.
Some of the people who worked in the clubhouse, which was also where the rental office was, were very nice. Some of them were sneaky; Dad told me that. He said that trying to be honorable with them wasn’t always going to take care of you, that you have to be shrewd and plan ahead before you contracted with them for anything, including moving out. The day I went to tell them I was moving out of the little one bedroom apartment I was living in Dad went with me; they knew better than to mess with him.
I often wondered how he did that. Dad wasn’t a big man, much smaller than me, yet he seemed to garner great respect from people; he always got whatever he wanted. It’s a good thing he didn’t want much out of life other than being with and being able to support his family. He could have been a very rich and powerful man.
The clubhouse still looks the same after all these years also; over 20 years and nothing seems to have changed that much.
Until now that is, as I’m walking through an area that didn’t exist when I lived here. They’re apartments on the river, beautiful, but tiny. I went into one when I was invited to a party and thought they were extremely tiny compared to what I was used to.
I would have loved to have a riverfront apartment as long as it was on the second floor. I remember the year of the big flood, ’93, when I decided to drive through the area for curiosity’s sake, and saw how far the water had risen from the river. All the first floor apartments had to be flooded because the water had come all the way out into the street.
Today the water is right where it’s supposed to be. There are benches set up so people can sit on and watch the river. I need a break, so I take a seat.
I sit for a while watching the river run by. It seems more active than normal, but I love the sound of rushing water. My wife is scared of that same sound; can’t figure out why. When I lived in the area all of this was covered by very thick trees that you couldn’t walk through. I never knew back then that I was this close to the river; I always walked to the clubhouse instead. Still, I couldn’t have gotten to it anyway, so what would the point have been?
Dad would have loved coming over here had we known about it when we first moved to the area, before he had his house built in ’81. He and I used to walk to the river near his house out of town, where the railroad tracks are. We’d just stand there and watch the world go by, with bikers, little league baseball games, and the occasional train. He wasn’t as reflective as I was, so he only went when I was with him. But whenever we went he loved it.
I finally get back up; my behind’s getting cold. I resumed my walk through the new section of the complex, taking it all in. I don’t walk through this part all that often. Sometimes, when I felt nostalgic, I decide to walk by the townhouse we used to live in. Today is one of those days; I want to reflect a bit.
I remember many things as I’m walk through this section.
For one, I remember when the section wasn’t there. When we first moved into the townhouse, only two buildings had been completed. We always knew more were coming; they wouldn’t have built such a big circle for just two buildings.
I remember people moving in as each new building was completed. I even met a couple of the people, since some of them had kids that were close to my age. There were the two Chris’; one male, one female. He was effeminate and spoiled, his father abusive both verbally and physically. She was just the cutest thing; to see her was to want to take care of her.
Now I’m at the townhouse we used to live in; I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve gone by here. Being a military kid, it’s one of the few places in my life I can actually visit where I’ve lived before. It still looks the same; well, except that they finally paved the driveway. We were the first people to ever live in that townhouse; that was pretty cool.
Ah, the memories. It was where we established a life in New York; where Dad got his first non-military job and moved up the ladder; where Mom established herself in insurance; where I learned how to drive; where I would come home when I was in college; where I almost burned up the place one night and hid the spot for 3 years afterwards. It was the place where I brought my first girlfriend, and many of my college friends whenever we decided to leave Oswego for a weekend in the city.
It was the biggest place we’d ever lived, and that’s saying something considering it wasn’t all that big by our standards today. But it was home, our home for a long time. I want to stop for a quick moment, but I don’t want to linger. All I need is for someone to come out and wonder who this black man is staring at their place. This isn’t my place anymore, my world; it belongs to those who followed, and now I’m just a spectator.
I decided to walk across the road, through the apartments I lived in when I first moved out on my own after two years of living with my parents in the first house they’d ever bought while I was alive. I see my back window; of all things, my little apartment had both front and back windows. I lived in the basement, which meant I kept my curtains closed all the time. I had more bad memories than good back then, writing my depressing songs, dealing with my parents leaving the area, dealing with my car accident when it was totaled, dealing with the 15 escaped baby guinea pigs & pet mice that upstairs neighbors kept; ugh.
As I walk around the front of the building I think of the people who used to live here. I remember my cars. First was the ’77 Vega that got me everywhere and that I probably would have kept longer than I did if the two doors and finally the trunk locks hadn’t all broken and I couldn’t get into it anymore. Even the floor rotting out so that I had to put both cardboard and rugs over it to keep water from splashing up into the car didn’t get me to think about getting rid of it.
Second, the ’78 Cordoba, which was too big for me to ever master, after the car accident that finally led me to make some big and positive changes in my life, including eventually moving out.
I remember the guy who used to live above me, who had a beard that came down to the middle of his chest. He never complained when I played piano in the middle of the night, and I finally learned that he used his living room as a storage room for all his hunting gear. Included here were animal heads he’d mounted, but didn’t put onto the walls for fear that the weight would be too much for the apartment. He spent all his spare time in his bedroom, and had it set up as a living room; to each his own. I learned later on that he sometimes heard the piano and didn’t mind hearing it; he never heard me sing, though, which I often had to do while composing.
I’m now walking by the tennis, basketball and swimming area. The basketball pole is gone, the tennis nets are removed for the season, and the pool’s covered up. I never learned to swim, but I did learn to play tennis, and I was pretty good. I learned how to play tennis the year we moved to Liverpool, just after Arthur Ashe won Wimbledon. After having been ignored by my cousin and uncle in Boston, who would leave me alone while they went out to play tennis while my parents had come to New York to find a place for us to live, I had to learn the game.
I knew no one; Dad came over and played with me. And we learned together; I think it was the most strenuous thing Dad ever did in his adult life. He’d been a ping pong champion for the armed services, but that’s a game of reaction; you don’t see much running… at least not back then. We learned how to play like he played ping pong, which was more of a slashing the ball style than hitting hard. That’s what helped me beast so many people, including my cousin and his stepfather, my dad’s oldest brother, when they came to visit us a few months after we moved in. We beat them both in doubles, then I beat them both in singles after only 3 months of playing. Neither my cousin nor my uncle ever played me again; yeah!
Enough of this; it’s time to leave these apartments and head back towards my house. I look at the field once more and wish that I had children that I could bring over here to play in the field, or on the outside playthings that are next to the school, which weren’t there before. Just before I reach the school a thought hits me; my mother never walked either and still doesn’t. I wonder what’s given me this bit of wanderlust…
I wonder what Dad would think of my choices at this point in my life. It took him awhile to understand why I decided to try working for myself. His was a world of doing whatever it took to take care of a family. He’d forgotten, until he thought about it one evening, that his father had been a sole proprietor for his entire life also.
One of the last things my dad ever told me while he was still able to communicate with me was that he was proud of me and knew I would be a success; I hope I’ll be able to honor those final words.
I’m finally past the school and on the last ten minutes of my journey; how long as it been anyway? I’ve gotten lost in thought and lost in the time. How long did I sit? How long did I stand outside our townhouse, or my apartment? Where are the kids? There aren’t any kids at the playground, at the little basketball court on the side of the street, riding their bikes, playing ball, playing whatever… where are the kids?
I haven’t heard any dogs barking either; I know there’s at least one somewhere around here. I saw a cat sitting in a window, but now that I’m listening hard, I don’t hear any birds either. I haven’t seen a single car either; has the world stopped today or what? Am I really that alone on this journey, on this day, on this street? I must be, as I’m finally approaching my house, realizing I haven’t seen a single person on my trip, and my wife still isn’t home.
Wrong; I’m not alone. My dad is with me. My wife and my mother’s love will warm me as soon as I walk through the door, whether they’re here in the house with me or not. I think I might be wrong about my dad never walking; I think he walks with me when I walk, here in the neighborhood or at Onondaga Lake, whenever I think I’m by myself. I may feel lonely at times, but I’m never really alone. Maybe Dad’s walking after all.