These two pictures appear to be in the neighborhood where my family lived when I was born. The house where we lived was #2, #3 is shown below, and #1 is apparently a sail making company — or was.
I remember looking down through the bannisters on the landing, but we left Florida when I was three, so I don’t think my scant memories can count for much.
I found the address in a packet of letters from my father which my grandfather had saved. It came to me on my grandfather’s death. The letters are of course mostly in French, so between the weakness of my French, the casual language, and the handwriting, they’re difficult to decipher.
I remember, though, that I gave up quickly when I received them because I didn’t like the picture they painted of my father. I read more of them once I had looked up the address, and I still don’t like it. If the letters are to be believed, my father was a spoiled frat boy.
An articulate, even a charming spoiled frat boy, but still… The letters span a period of just a few years, when he would have been 20 to 24 or 25. I don’t know why these are all the letters I have. My father had eloped with my mother and quickly become a father while still a student. He was clearly not capable of supporting his family and perhaps I should cut him some slack as I read them. What must it have been like for a child of privilege like him to find himself living so far from luxury? Perhaps he deserves some kudos simply for staying and trying to take care of his wife and children, in the face of what appear to have been a fair number of “I told you so” letters from his parents.
His letters tend to focus on how tired he is from working, how little money he makes, how hard it is to ride the bus to Ringling College from his humble residence, how unhappy he is that my mother was working when he became unemployed (no explanation of the reason for that), how difficult it is to manage without a car… The level of scorn for the town, the house where he lives, and the difficulty of his life is striking.
There are some passages about projects for school and the occasional mention of the kids (me and my brother), but there is a lot of whining, a lot of hinting for money, outright asking for it — even an announcement in the one letter in English that he has simply taken some from his father’s account. Perhaps that letter is in English so that his mother couldn’t read it.
My father died when I was six years old. I have very few memories of him, and really those memories have become memories of memories by now. I have photos of him, a handsome man lounging at the center of cheerful groups, a boy in idyllic settings with extended family. He looks as though he has a wonderful life ahead of him — and perhaps he would have, had he not died at the age of 28.
By the time of his death, he was a lieutenant in the Air Force, a radio operator. There are a lot of things I don’t know about him — why he changed schools from the University of Chicago to Ringling College, why he didn’t finish school, why he joined the military, why the well-to-do parents of the couple didn’t help them (unless perhaps they did, and the help they offered wasn’t appreciated by my father). Maybe the letters just show a tumultuous, rebellious time in his life, and he was growing out of it by the time he died.
But maybe he would have been a disgruntled ne’er-do-well all his life, bitterly whining about the wrong turn he had made when he became a husband and father, the foolish choice he had made in marrying an American girl, the disappointment a Midwestern lawyer’s daughter proved in her efforts to be a wife and mother.
I’m going back to the state where I was born in a week or two. I doubt that I’ll recognize any aspect of it or have any particular response to it, but the upcoming trip has made me think about Sarasota, something I don’t suppose I have ever done before.