Friday, December 5, 2014

Another birthday

Christmas, 2006: the last Christmas we spent with my dad.

Usually I have so much to say when I write these posts, but today I find myself at a loss. I just wish my dad was here, as always. I miss him.

Steven Millman Rappaport
Dec 5, 1942 – July 4, 2007

Friday, July 4, 2014

Magic Man

How is it that I've never told the story of the purple room here?

When I was a kid, my dad was a magic man. I think lots of people felt this way about him, but I have proof. I have the stories.

Sometime around 1978 my father moved to a small, Oregon town called Pleasant Hill. He found a 5-bedroom log cabin on a few acres of land, the gravel driveway a mile long. The first time I visited the Pleasant Hill house, the room that would be mine was empty save for a hideous, wall-to-wall, red shag carpet. Also living in this house were my dad's then-girlfriend; her ancient, very hostile cat; and a lesbian couple running a graphic design business called Laughing Giraffe. For reasons that will always remain a mystery, the red shag carpet in my room was where the cat chose to shit.

While spending that first weekend in the house, my father asked me one of his “blue-sky” questions. Those questions turned out to be a constant part of our relationship over the years, but I didn't know that then. “What would your dream bedroom look like?” “Purple,” I told him.

Throughout my childhood I flew between my parents every 6-weeks, or whenever there was a school holiday, whichever came first. The next time I visited my dad, the first question out of my mouth was “Did you have a chance to do anything to my room?" And in perfect Steven fashion he explained that yes, in fact, he had. He went on to describe how he'd had a clear, plastic mat laid down over the entire carpet so that while you could still see the shit, you wouldn't step in it. Ever wonder where I learned to be such a damn smart-ass?

When we arrived at the house, my bedroom door was closed. Opening it, I cried tears of happiness for the first time in my life. A tricolor purple carpet replaced the ugly, red one. A white canopy bed had a beautiful dark purple spread, with a gauzy lavender canopy covered in tiny purple flowers. The sliding-glass doors were covered by curtains made of the same fabric. All the bedding had been handmade by a local woman who seemed to be to be 100 years old (she also made the amazing, quailed hippie vests and skirts that my dad bought me over the years). The walls were painted lavender and sitting in front of one of them was an unfinished, wooden dollhouse for me to paint.

There are so many stories like this about my dad and I want to be clear — this is not about money. It wasn't that he spent money to give me this room. It was that he heard me. He paid attention to the things I told him about myself and he did what he could to make my (and many other people's) blue-sky dreams a little closer to reality. That was the magic.

I love you, Dad. Thank you.

Steven Millman Rappaport
Dec. 5, 1942 – July 4, 2007

Note: Sadly, there are no photos of the purple room. The above photo was taken in the Pleasant Hill house around the same time as this story takes place. We are shown here dressed in our finest 1970s polyester and corduroy. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

For Papa

When I was a little girl, I would climb into my grandfather’s lap, get right in his face, and say “I love you, Papa Artie”. He was a man’s man: a card-playing, Sinatra-singing, tough guy with a heart of gold. Inside he was a pussycat, but not many people called him out in that way.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And he’d grumble something under his breath and give me a punch in the arm, or a slap on the back.

Many years ago I was visiting my grandparents in New York. We were walking around in the City, my grandparents side-by-side. For some reason I noticed my grandfather drop back one step and cut around to the other side of my grandmother. It wasn’t until after he had done that that I noticed the guys standing on the corner up ahead. My grandfather had silently put himself between her and them. I don’t know if she ever even noticed, but I did and it stayed with me.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And over time he’d say, “Me too.”

When my grandfather turned 75, my grandmother threw him a surprise party. There were loads of old friends and family, all gathered in their home. This was in the late nineties, years before tragedy struck and robbed them of everything. During the party I went into their guest room to get something from my suitcase, and I saw an envelope tucked in the side, not meant to be found until I’d gotten back home. In it was a note from my grandfather saying that even with all his old friends there, what meant the most to him was that David and I had come.

“I love you, Papa Artie”, I’d say. And finally he’d say, “I love you, too.”

A few days ago my grandfather fell, hit his head, and never regained consciousness. I was there for one of his first bad falls, over 10 years ago now.There have been many falls since then; many heartbreaks; too many indignities to count. Time hasn’t been kind to my grandparents. I wasn’t there this time; in fact, I didn’t even know about it until a few days later when I was told he was being moved to hospice care. Each day, I spoke to my grandfather on the phone. I told him stories of our life together; of when he taught me to dive, or when he sang to me at my wedding (an amazing, a cappella version of Because God Made Thee Mine that brought the house down). And then I sang to him; High Hopes, many first verses of Beatles songs, lullabies. I’m told that on the last day of his life, when his breathing was shallow and fast, it slowed from 28 beats-per-minute to 22 while I was on the phone with him.

By the time I was in my 30s, my grandfather had gotten so used to saying I love you to me that sometimes he’d even say it first.

These past few days I’ve had a lot of time to think, and what I’ve come to is this: I loved my grandfather completely and he knew it. And he loved me right back. We knew exactly who we were to each other, and that is an amazing gift.