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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Aiming for 46


I'm still getting to know my father, and on Nov. 4th he'll have been dead for thirty-six years.

This time of year always makes me think of him. In the last few months of his life he knew how ill he was with lung cancer, and he apparently wanted to spend a lot of time with me sharing one of his own great loves: horror movies. He took me to early runs of THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS when I was six. We used to spend Saturday afternoons and evenings watching Creature Features and Chiller Theater. I think back on just how many flicks we watched together and I think, Jesus, how could we have packed so many of them into so little time?

Autumn and especially Halloween always makes me really focus my attention on him. I can't even call him my "old man" because he died young, at the age of 46. My brother is 54 and older than our father ever made it. I'm 43 and I've got to admit that it's a weird thing, wondering if I'll make it over the hurdle of the next three years. His age is something of a benchmark. 46 is a number that threatens and haunts me. It says to me, "You think you can make it this far? You think you can last longer in life than he did? No way. It can't happen. You'll never reach it."

I can't remember much about him, and it's been a very long time since I've dreamed of him, but I wonder if we'd be able to hold a conversation if we met today. He was a sports nut and I know nothing about sports. He was a machinist, an engineer, and I can't even use a hammer correctly. But at least there'd be one common interest: horror flicks. We could at least talk about that.

Last night my wife and I watched CASTLE OF EVIL. If you haven't seen it, don't bother. It's a pretty awful flick. But there were scenes in it that I recalled from when my father and I watched it some Saturday afternoon nearly forty years ago, and a few years back I picked up a copy of CASTLE OF EVIL on VHS. Watching it last night, I could almost imagine that he was in the room with us, maybe seated over in my recliner. (It's one of the last images I have of him, sitting in a leather recliner in '72, weak in a red robe, with his throat deeply scabbed from failed surgeries.) Maybe he's sitting over there with his feet up, chuckling at the film, and looking around the room at the various signed horror film posters on the walls, and pointing out which ones we watched together when I was a kid.

The mind plays tricks. I have my memories of the man and I have my fantasies of the man. He appears in a lot of my fiction, in one form or another. Sometimes he's my father. Sometimes he's me. Sometimes I'm him, or trying to be, or failing to be. I don't write about him as much anymore because I don't need to. He's still heavy in my mind but perhaps not quite as much as when I was younger. Maybe if I hit 46 I won't Feel his ghost watching me from every corner. And maybe it's me keeping him here. Maybe if I hit 46 I'll finally let him go enough so that he can find his own his own peace.

It's something to try for.

5 comments:

Craig Zablo said...

It's cool that you and your dad were able to share the time together watching horror movies. Memories like that are priceless.

Nathaniel Lambert said...

Thanks for sharing this, Tom. It's great to have that connection with your father. In some way, with your writing, a legacy has been passed on: the love of horror. Obviously, that love rubbed off on you, and thank God it did... damn good fiction.

And don't waste your time playing the number game. We're surrounded by chaos...chance. You could walk out your door, look to the sky and be struck down dead by a frozen block of airplane lavatory shit. On the other hand, you could live to be one hundred and four, drink a pint of whiskey everday and smoke three packs of nonfilters.

HLHowe924 said...

Tom,

A touching insight, one you know I in some way share. While my father died much later in my life (I was 33), he was in a way haunting me long before that, and I tend to explore the same father/son relationships/battles in some of my own short fiction.

I understand completely there are certain times of the year over others that their presence seems to be felt more. Though my father died in the spring, thoughts always tend to drift toward him and the darker memories of my childhood in the fall.

Thanks for sharing, man, and perfect timing. After spending some time away from writing for various reasons, I've come back to a new story, featuring the father/son theme because, for one, it's still one that resonates with me, and two, it seemed a natural place to pick up the pen again, so to speak.

And who cares that you can't hammer a nail straight? You've carved your own place in life, my friend, one that you should be damned proud of.

Anonymous said...

Wow.

Now THAT hit home.

My own father died when he was just 43 back in 1981 when I was 19. And, we also had a bit of a distant relationship throughout much of my time with him, in that our interests were so different.
Him being a lifelong outdoorsman with a passion for hunting, fishing & trapping that I could never understand the lure of. With my lack of interest in that area always seeming like such a disappointment to him.

It's funny how big of a difference that seemed to be back then, when in retrospect, we were actually a lot more alike than I ever could have imagined. What with him also being a big horror film/monster movie buff as well as being a voracious reader of my comic books as well as all those paperback originals that my mother & him loved so much.

Although my Mom was probably every bit as much of a genre film fan as he was, there were many occasions when it was just he & I who stayed up late to watch the Fright Night Late Show together. And, a few occasions when neither my Mom nor my two older sisters were up for a trip to the drive in, so it would be just him & I.

Things that so shaped me into who I am today that I all to often overlooked as a kid, but now understand the importance of.
With his love of the outdoors & his mastery of training dogs & with a toolbox seeming so trivial now, all these years later. Know what I mean?

And, Tom. As someone who lived through it just a couple short years back, it is indeed, a VERY strange milestone to reach an age that your parent never saw. With me, it was 44 back in 2005.

'twas definitely an odd experience that's difficult to describe. An odd mix of depression, elation, confusion, awe, relief & eventually the mundane, that's cooked up into a rather potent pot of ... something.
Believe me, you'll recognize it as your own special, unique recipe when that time comes.

And then, if you're anything like me, I think your birthdays will become a wee bit less profound & they'll settle back down into a more "normal" circumstance. Just like my own 47th did about three weeks back.
Though, should I make it that far, I'm certain that 62 will be another very interesting one to go through as on that date I'll have lived beyond the 61 years that my Mom made it to.
But, that's a good ways off.

Peace.

- Jim Allcorn

Brian said...

Beautiful entry, big bro.

See you next week!