“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
Well, in fact there was a variety of advice from Pother, as I called him from an early age, but one must have some focus in order to tell a story. (Imagine for a moment if the first of the three wishes to the genie in the lamp was a wish for endless wishes. The tale would never get off the ground from the weight of its own cleverness.)
So — I’ll keep it light. Come closer to the fire. Here’s another marshmallow for your stick, so to speak.
This advice that I’ve in fact been turning over — like prayer beads, or maybe those number balls when they draw the lottery on TV — was my father’s emphasis on Observing. Paying Attention he called it and like a salesman he peddled it every chance he had. Looking Deeper and Concentrating were among the attachments he also hawked.
Pother was a self taught man, with a love of reading which he passed on to his kids. As with a majority of men, he married quite young; and once I came along, and soon after my sister Ada, he was working long difficult hours, and thoughts of extending his education formally disappeared. Mums struggled with holding up the home fort while taking in small sewing jobs to make ends meet.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” He found the quote in a book he was reading, calligraphed it on a piece of paper and attached it to the refrigerator with tape. The summa- tion of his philosophy. A few months later Mums presented him with a birthday present that became his prize earthly treasure — a beautifully embroidered sampler with that quote from Simone Weil.
When he had the chance, especially on the way to East River Park, where the family went almost every weekend when time and weather allowed, he brought along his Brownie camera and took photos. Mums appreciated them, as did we kids, but most friends and co-workers scratched their heads at his captures — which tended to be things like shadows of fire hydrants and shop awnings against the blue sky overhead. My favorite — this one right here — is of a subway station, Grand Avenue — GRAND AVE — where someone had carefully doubled the V with white paint so it read GRAND AWE.
Now I’m in my older, maybe less vulnerable, and downright curmudgeonly years, and I am still grateful for my old man’s insight, and the textures of life I was able to appreciate as a result. His advice, his way of keeping his eyes open — and occasionally even capturing magical moments on film — has served me well to stay alert to what is around me.
It was certainly to a large degree how I ended up so lucky as to be employed writing a column for this newspaper where essentially I share my observations as I stroll, flâneur, the city streets. Some of you have followed me for years as I’ve shared my surveillance of people, architecture, businesses, parks, seasons, and political swirls — it was all material to take in, contemplate, scrutinize, and hope- fully reflect back in such a way that I took your appreciation a bit deeper, and higher.
It’s a short visit we all get to this planet, this existence — and paying attention seems like the thing to do to return the gift, and weight, of conscious life, with gratitude. Keep the senses open, the mind critical.
Listening to Sinatra last night — he was a favorite of Pother’s — the current of memory pulled me back in time; a good thing to give into on occasion. This time it fortuitously provided material for this column. But enough looking back; now we must open the sails and head outward, forward.
So put down this newspaper and go to the nearest window or door. Look out and Observe for a few minutes. It’ll do you good.
Published December 2016 as part of the “Two Stories Up!” Series (2016–2017).
Two Stories Up! was an ongoing project that had AleXander Hirka and Tammy Remington (The Anomalous Duo) each composing a new (extremely short) short story every two months which was then sent via postal mail to interested readers.