Category Archives: Family

Thirty Years Gone – My Old Man

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Thirty years ago today my father suffered his fourth, and final, heart attack. It happened while he was undergoing the insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter to monitor the functioning of his heart subsequent to his third heart attack. He did not survive the procedure. While I don’t have a truly eidetic memory, I am cursed with a reasonably healthy ability to picture things in my head. My memory of that night haunts me to this day.

The last time I saw him, he was being wheeled out of his hospital room toward the catheterization laboratory at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City, CA. The man who had brought me into the world, who had carried me in his arms into my bed when I’d fallen asleep in the car,  who protected me, and who had — despite his disappointment and distress over many a choice I made in my crazy-ass life — stood beside me and sacrificed much for me, was scared. I didn’t like seeing it then and I don’t like remembering him that way now.

My old man was old school. Born in 1924, he would have been ninety today. He was the fourth child in his family; the first born in the United States after his mother and three older siblings were finally able to flee from the Ukraine and join my zeyda (grandfather in Yiddish), who had emigrated eight years earlier and finally saved enough money to bring them to Chicago. His name at birth was Isadore Edward Wladovsky and he was raised on the South side of Chicago, where he attended Washington High School.

He did not graduate, choosing instead to join the U.S. Navy when he was in his senior year. He had turned seventeen on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I don’t know a lot about his service, other than he was on at least one Murmansk run; a very dangerous voyage through the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the Russians via the port of Murmansk. He also wrote and drew cartoons for the ship’s news bulletin. I used to have faded, crumbling copies of some of them, but they have either disappeared or are in a box somewhere in my garage. The highest rank he achieved was Radioman 3rd Class. I remember a short vacation in San Diego when I was in my early teens and we went down to the docks to view one of the ships where they were providing tours. We were standing alongside the ship and he was able to use his knowledge of Morse Code to read what one of the Naval vessels was signaling to another.

Arctic Circle Crossing Certificate

This certificate was given to each man aboard the William H. Webb upon crossing the Arctic Circle

Every father has a chance to be a superhero for a while and mine was no exception. When he carried me in his arms as a toddler, I was invincible, and when he tucked me into bed I was safe and secure. He was the strongest man alive as far as I was concerned and he could do just about anything. Once he even convinced me, after demonstrating the fine art of blowing smoke rings (he was a Pall Mall man at the time), that he could create a smoke piano. To this day I swear I saw all 88 keys on that grand piano!

Unfortunately, time burnishes off the luster of perfection and, more likely than not, children realize their parents are — much to their horror and consternation — merely human beings; flawed, imperfect, and capable of making mistakes.

Such was my experience. I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m reasonably certain it had as much to do with my rebelliousness as anything else, but the day inevitably came when I suddenly realized how “stupid” he had grown. After that, we didn’t get along all that well for a long time. Part of the problem, no doubt, was my father’s very conservative upbringing and his propensity to criticize and seldom praise. I was expected to excel and when I didn’t, there was hell to pay.

He had a quick temper and, in today’s world, I reasonably certain he would be, at best, a candidate for anger management. He was quick to strike and, when he did, it was frequently with the back of his hand. If I fell to the ground to avoid the blows he wouldn’t actually kick me, but he’d push me around on the floor in frustration. To be fair, it didn’t happen often and I never suffered more than bright red hand marks on my back or – sometimes – my face. My mother frequently came to my rescue, screaming at him to leave me alone. He once took a swing at by brother, who ducked, and ended up hitting the youngest son of a neighbor of ours. That didn’t go over too well and I think he was so mortified he decided it was time to stop with the corporal punishment.

I also think he was haunted by the many fitful nights he spent aboard ship in the North Atlantic, knowing they were being shadowed by a German Wolf Pack and could be torpedoed and sunk at any time, a fact made evident by the ships around his that suffered such a fate. Survival in those waters was very unlikely and I can’t imagine it was easy to get any real deep sleep. On those occasions my mother would ask me to wake him, I learned very quickly not to be within striking distance, as he came out of his sleep as though General Quarters was sounding.

Despite our troubled, angry, and frustrating relationship we loved each other and, thankfully, in the two or three years prior to his death we were enjoying a growing closeness — even a budding friendship. We had worked together in the business he started, which transformed from Ladd Meats to Edward Ladd & Sons, my brother having joined it years earlier.

He took up golf late in life and became a scratch golfer. He wanted me to golf as well, but the grief he gave me over being left-handed (I tried to learn right-handed, but just couldn’t get comfortable with it) and the proximity of the ocean, where I had learned to surf, doomed that venture to failure. I didn’t come back to golf until I was 46, nearly a decade after his death. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is never having played a round of golf with the old man. I drove him around in a golf cart many times, but never played back then. Shortly after I started playing, I went to Porter Valley Country Club, where he had been President of the Men’s Club one year, and had played there a couple times a week for many years. They still had his picture on the wall and gave me a cart to drive around the course, which I did, trying to imagine him playing each hole.

We buried him in his favorite golf clothes, clutching his favorite putter, which we believe he would have liked. I’ve been told the groundskeeper at Porter Valley lowered the flag at the Club to half staff when he learned my father  had died. I think it choked me up more than any reaction I heard about.

Eddie Ladd

The Old Man at About 50

After he died, I can’t recall how many times something good would happen to me and I wanted to let him know, sure he would be proud or excited for me. Anyone who has smoked and quit knows the feeling of absentmindedly reaching in one’s pocket for a pack of cigarettes, only to discover there’s nothing there; then remembering you’d stopped smoking. That’s how it felt – only worse – when I wanted to share something with my dad, and the realization he was gone would hit me. The hole in my heart dropped down to my stomach and it took a few minutes to shake off the hollow feeling it brought.

About two or three years after his death, I dreamed I ran into him on a cliff overlooking a beach. I don’t know where the beach was, but in the dream we spent the entire day together, exploring caves, sharing a meal, and talking. We talked about my life and he assured me he was fine and happy to see I was doing well. I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe I was really talking to my father. However, I do believe I was putting a few “ghosts” to rest by dealing with some of the unfinished business from my perspective; some of the things we never got to do together. It was the best dream I’ve ever had and I remember it to this day. Not in great detail, but definitely in terms of how it made me feel.

He left little of material value, save a moderate life insurance payment that went to sustain the family business, which provided for our mother and our sister who was, I believe, just entering her last year of High School or who had just graduated and was still living at home. I got a piece of jewelry and some clothing, some of which I kept for many years afterward. I still have the pendant, which was custom made for him by an old friend of mine. One of the non-material things he left me was an ability to recognize absurdity and the willingness to comment on or satirize it. He also had lots of silly sayings the family still refers to as “Eddieisms”.

He was a hard worker who was able to move from behind the counter of a small deli in the Grand Central Market, to owning a small truck with which he would purchase and transport distressed merchandise to some of the poorer markets and butcher shops in and around L.A. He was a peddler, once the “broken hot dog king” of the City. He had a wonderful singing voice and many times, during the shows our temple, Valley Beth Israel, would put on for the congregation, people swore he was lip-syncing to Sinatra. He wasn’t. Most everybody he knew loved him and, true to the stormy nature of our relationship, I many times referred to hm as a “lovable asshole”.

To say I miss him would be both an exaggeration and an understatement. I don’t think about him every day. It serves no good purpose and I have a life, a wife, and two young children who still depend on me being with them every day in many ways. Nevertheless, he will always be a part of my life and there are numerous times when I think of him. I would give anything to be able to tell him how much I love him and how much he remains a big part of my life and who I’ve become.


Reflecting on a Deep Personal Loss

The middle of next month will be the 30th anniversary (is that a good word for it?) of my father’s death. While 30 years is a long time and I’m quite used to his absence, I find certain little things are affecting me in ways they normally don’t. Some stories and videos on Facebook, as well as some of the dramas I like to no-brain out on with television, are having a disturbing effect on me.

I’ve been thinking about the blog post I want to write to commemorate his passing and to share a little bit of the joy and pathos that was our relationship. It was a loving and stormy one, I’ll tell you that. I suppose thinking about it has been making me a bit melancholy. I used to be able to talk to my mother about him, but she’s been gone almost nine and half years and my brother and sister and I just don’t talk about him that much. Thirty years! Hard to believe.


Shalom, Salaam, and Hallelujah

I came across a post on Facebook today and I just wanted to share the videos that were in it, along with a few thoughts about the tune and what listening to the two versions did to me. The song is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, recorded and released in 1984. It is one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard and, as you’ll see in the following videos, the words are somewhat irrelevant . . . at least for this post.

I listened to both of these in the order I’m presenting them. Both brought me to tears for a couple of reasons. The sheer beauty of the melody was certainly one of them, but the quality of the performances, as well as the identities of the performers was a factor as well. The first is a performance by a group from the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces; the second is sung by a young Arab boy, accompanied by the Voice in a Million Chorus.

The struggles of Israel and the Arab world, especially the Palestinians, and the tension they caused between my father and me, were probably significant in my response as well. This is no doubt because next month he will have been gone for thirty years and he’s been on my mind more than usual. Somewhere in my head I felt the pathos of these struggles and the frustration that they’re still going on, as well as recalled the countless family arguments and disagreements encountered over meals both mundane and special.

It’s difficult to write about the feelings this particular juxtaposition of artists and performances evoked, so let me just drop the videos below and allow you, should you care to, listen to them both. I don’t expect you’ll feel exactly as I did, but I can’t help but think you will feel something powerful.

The IDF

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nt_zDQjkwY

Mikhael Mala and the VIAM Choir

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPsNr0Ih-m8

I hope you enjoyed and, perhaps, even felt something a little special. As the original poster said: “On the day that Arabs and Israelis can celebrate TOGETHER, peace may be round the corner. Salam and Shalom.”


Living Out Loud

Lanterns afloat

My intent is for the act of sharing to be liberating for me . . . and informative for others.

I decided to celebrate my birthday this year by doing something I may regret. No, I’m not taking off to Vegas with $5k and a desire to lose my inhibitions completely, nor am I going to see if I can find some Window Pane or Orange Owsley and relive the late sixties. I’m going to delve a little deeper into what I see as a corollary of something I’ve been writing a little bit more about lately . . . working out loud. The corollary is . . . living out loud. Let me explain.

Working out loud is about finding ways to work where not merely the fruits, but also the cultivation, planting, and meticulous care and grooming of those fruits are conducted in a manner that allows others to follow along, perhaps contribute somewhere along the way. It involves activities such as moving conversations away from email and into other forms of internal communication; e.g. micro-blogging, wikis, other types of social networking/communicating/collaborating tools, etc. I have found from experience it is not an easy thing to do, even when you are a wholehearted supporter of the idea. The entire ethos of our work culture militates against it and, for some, it’s downright dangerous and heretical.

Living out loud, however, is something a little bit different. I’ve never had to do an activity report though, come to think of it, as a kid I did have to face my father’s wrath when I forgot to do one of my chores. Now, however, I’ve retired from the last place I had a regular job at, so nobody much requires me to report to them. I do have some activities I’m involved in where I keep people apprised of my efforts and progress, but it’s not the same as when I worked at Rocketdyne. Anyway, in an effort to share a little more of me, here’s my first formal attempt. I posted the following on Facebook first.

This is the first birthday I haven’t much looked forward to. Although it seems not to mean all that much, since some time in April I am seven years older than my father was when he died. I think about it, because I grew up being told I was “exactly like your father”, especially when I did something untoward or displeasing to my mother. Medically, although my experience is not like my father’s, I am nonetheless in uncharted waters. It’s a situation both my daughters will likely have to deal with their entire lives.

Also, this year I will be closer to 70 than to 65. I am entering my dotage and, frankly, my worry isn’t for me. If it was just me and Linda, I think we’d be fine. We’d get along OK. However, we have two young girls to care for and see into adulthood and sometimes I fear I won’t be there for them much longer. I’m not yet losing any sleep over it and I surely don’t plan to, but the thought I could be gone any day has a little more power than it would have even 10 years ago.

I also think the feeling was somewhat exacerbated by the sudden loss a couple of weeks ago of a long-time friend who was a half a decade or so younger than me. I was deeply affected by her loss and I’m quite certain it’s still haunting me a bit, though I don’t consciously think about it that much.

I know a few of my friends are older than I am. If you’re reading this and you’re older than me, please take pity on me.  I’m a relatively new old man. It takes some getting used to and I’ve also kind of determined this is one hell of a good place to leave some stuff for my kids. It’s why I welcomed the Timeline when it was introduced, and why I’ve uploaded some pictures I have that were taken before digital pics existed.

Sorry if I’m bothering or boring anyone. I’m experimenting with living out loud. Your mileage may vary.

 


A Dichotomy of Tears

After my retirement, I determined to make this blog one in which I could write about both professional topics and personal topics, which meant I would share my thoughts about the many things I find of interest. It also meant I planned on writing about my feelings and experiences over the years. It hasn’t been easy, as I’m quite certain some of my thinking is not mainstream and — in some cases — is certainly frowned upon by some sizeable chunk of the population. Nevertheless, I keep plodding along and, in that spirit, I share here something I posted on Facebook recently.

Two things brought me to tears the other day. The first was the ending of the current episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Just knowing what has been accomplished by my fellow human beings; the incredible discoveries and wondrous inventions that have accompanied our ever-growing knowledge of the workings of the universe takes my breath away at times. The other evening was one of those times. They were tears of ineffable joy.

Japanese Umbrella

A Miniature Wagasa (Umbrella) made of Camel Cigarette Packs, Toothpicks, and thread by my Mother-in-Law, Taka Shitara

The second was being reminded of the terrible injustice wrought on the Japanese people who were living in the U.S. when Pearl Harbor was attacked. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, as well as many of my wife’s extended family, were “relocated” in internment camps. Many lost everything they had worked so hard to accomplish, much of it never to be regained. They were not the enemy . . . and they did not deserve the treatment they received, nor did those who stole their property deserve what they gained. These were tears of inconsolable anger and shame.


Something Borrowed – Something Blue

I got married for the first time (there have been only two) in my early thirties; somewhere around 1980 to be inexact. It was a self-organized, backyard party held at the home of friends in Venice, California. We were living in Playa del Rey at the time. I was just reminded I wore a turquoise bowling shirt a friend loaned me that he had recently  purchased second-hand from Aaardvark’s Odd Ark in Venice.

Turquoise Wedding/Bowling Shirt

My Turquoise Wedding/Bowling Shirt

I have a lot of slides from the wedding. Of course, they’ve been sitting in a binder for the last three decades, which is about how long ago I divorced my first wife (who, btw, remains a friend but who I see very infrequently and always at an event involving my brother’s family, as she was close to my SIL and her family). I have no desire to go out and spend money to have photos made of these, but I did try to scan one of the slides that shows me in the shirt. It didn’t work too well, so I went around the house looking for enough clear backlighting to snap a pic with my iPhone 4S. I offer it herewith.

I’m sharing this because it is somewhat indicative of the kind of relationship, wedding, and marriage (despite its having ended) Alina and I had. In our case, it was the Groom who wore – in one garment – something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.


How To Shop

Clothing for entering a blast freezer

This is what I should have been wearing!

Many years ago, when I was in the wholesale food business with my father and brother, we got a new customer who sold to many high-end restaurants. Many would recognize the names of these famous Hollywood eateries, all of which were very successful and (bonus) somewhat recession-proof. This was a very good thing for us, as it provided a substantial boost to our gross income. I became the schlepper; the one who had to drive around every morning and pick up the items our new customer needed to service his clientele. I did not mind. I was young and full of energy and truly enjoyed arising very early in the morning to greet the day.

My job meant driving around every morning, picking up the items that had been ordered and getting them to our customer’s location, where they would be either stored temporarily prior to delivery, or further prepared for later  delivery to their customers. Generally, three days of the week required me to enter as blast freezer that was forty degrees below zero; so cold that it had no solid doors, merely thick plastic curtains as a safety measure, ensuring no one could be accidentally locked in. The freezer was huge and the doors big enough to accommodate a large forklift laden with several palettes of product.

I never had to pick up more than I could carry out by hand, so I wasn’t in there for very long. As a result, I made the decision not to spend the money to purchase the kind of clothing that I would have needed had I been required to spend more than a few minutes in that freezer. I would put on a sweatshirt above my regular shirt, a jacket, and a white butcher’s coat on top of that. Still, I can’t recall a time I was in there more than a minute before I found myself wondering what it would be like to freeze to death. It was painful almost from the instant I pushed aside those curtains and stepped inside!

This meant I would generally stand outside of the freezer for a few minutes and mentally chart the shortest course to pick up what I needed, which would facilitate a quick retrieval and egress. With the exception of stationery stores, which I view as museums of contemporary business practices (and which have those sacred items, paper and writing materials, enshrined within), this is how I have since shopped for everything. I suspect most men do the same, despite never having had to enter a forty below blast freezer. It’s how we roll.


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