Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Classic Crews (copy)

When you read, do you see family members in the characters? For example, in reading a boy’s coming-of-age story, I might substitute my brother for the boy. The character and my brother may not share mannerisms, voices, and thoughts; but, if they have one common trait, I relate to the character and thus the book.

My father, the best living character I know, has eluded me when reading. There are times when I catch a glimpse of him in books. The calm sage-like quality when riled as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the controlled strictness over my brother and me as Lt. Colonel Bull Meechum in The Great Santini, are a few hints into his psyche.

This weekend I came closer to reading my father than ever before. Through a copy of Classic Crews: A Harry Crews Reader by the title’s author, I face my father over and over again. I know what you are thinking. Father’s Day has prompted my thoughts. Well, yes and no. Dad is on my mind, but it is a coincidence I find an author who writes like he knows him.

The book, a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, is a sampler of the author’s tremendous talent. The first story read was originally published in Playboy. “Fathers, Sons, Blood,” opens with the death of Crews’ four-year-old son, Patrick. The toddler was afloat in a neighbor’s swimming pool. Crews ran three doors down, scooped him from the water, and began mouth-to-mouth. His little boy’s body would not take in the breath. It was later found Patrick had thrown up in an attempt to breathe and his wind pipe was obstructed.

Crews admits to spiraling into a pit from which he saw only two options: die or go crazy. Sleepless nights, zombie days he writes, “I must have caused it. I must have been too strict or too unresponsive or too unloving or….”

Enter Uncle Alton. Upon hearing the news, walks straight out of his tobacco field during harvest to be with his sister’s son. Crews’ father had died when Harry was not yet two and Uncle Alton raised him as his own. After the funeral with most mourners gone, Crews joins Uncle Alton under the oak tree. Uncle Alton drops to his heels, lights up a smoke, as Crews follows.

It is in their manly conversation squatting under a shade tree smoking, I see my Dad. Both men, Crews and Uncle Alton, demonstrate the same mannerisms, voices, and thoughts my father would surely use.

My friend Paul says, “Crews is a helluva writer,” from which I add, my Dad is a helluva man.

Note: Second book for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge!

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