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Sturman: Father

06/23/10 5:55PM By Skip Sturman
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(HOST) Long time Thetford resident Skip Sturman was recently contemplating the contrast between memories of a loved one and his legend.

(STURMAN) This past Father's Day, as always, gave me an opportunity to conjure up images of my own deceased father. A simple enough task, you might think, especially with my 95 year old mother still alive to evoke his memory and stoke his eternal fame.

And yet, I struggle to remember the person, not the pedestal on which he has been placed. Since my Dad departed, over 20 long winters ago, my Mom has done her best to extol his virtues and glorify his achievements. Evidence of the myth remains abundant; it is only the man himself who has become obscured over time.

Like many members of the Greatest Generation, my Dad's legend lives on, enshrined in Tom Brokaw's books, celebrated by the "Mad Men" television series.

"Don't you boys remember when your father went off to fight in World War II and left me home alone with two small children?"

"Not really, Mom," I mutter. "I wasn't even alive."

After the war there was a triumphant, seemingly effortless, return to civilian life and a successful legal career. Even calling into question my Mom's Swiss cheese memory, there are no shortage of plaques and testimonials lying around to record the difference my Dad made in the civic and religious life of our community. President of this or that organization; candidate for this or that office. He was truly a mover and a shaker.

That Leon. Always larger than life in hindsight, always hidden from view in real time.

Don't get me wrong. Certainly I relish the reflected glory of being my father's son. Every time I visit his grave I am reminded to honor the legend. Still, a cemetery never really helps separate the man from the myth; the person from the pedestal. That distinction only occurs in the spring, after a long winter's night, when I'm out turning my compost pile, as my Dad taught me to do so many years ago. What better place than a compost pile to filter out the good memories and leave the rest to rot.

Truth be told, like many World War II vets, my Dad was multilayered, and sometimes it takes a whole lot of sifting to sort him back out. First you have to separate out the wordsmith from the man of few words; the man of convictions who did not tolerate dissent. The proud father for whom parental pride and affection were not easily displayed.

But when I'm out there sifting, I don't have to dig too deep to once again hear the clank of horseshoes tossed, the rumble of Lionel trains passing through our basement, the crack of a baseball bat hitting me lazy flies. Each shovelful unearths fond memories of hockey games attended, national parks visited, ski outings taken.

I suppose it sounds strange to search for my Father beneath a winter's worth of decaying remnants, but aren't remnants all that any of us have left to salvage after a loved one passes? And aren't I lucky to pass on such rich and fertile soil in which the next generation can take root.
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