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14

M

arian

H

elper

 • W

inter

2015-16

 •

marian.org

Y

es, it was an old steamer trunk. Yes, it opened with

a creak. And yes, within it, I found a treasure.

I pulled out a eulogy, typed on brown paper

and protected in a see-through sleeve, just as it was

when my father handed it to me 18 years ago. I was in

my attic, in April, sifting through stuff. But of course,

once you come upon old contents of a chest in an attic,

your mind does that heaving fun-house-mirror thing

that indicates the past is paying a visit.

Against my will, I was emotionally regurgitated

to Philadelphia, back to June 17, 1997. My father

was eulogizing his father. “Pop,” we all called him.

Speaking before an assembly in St. Bernard Catholic

Church, my father was a wreck. I couldn’t make out

what he was saying. The sound system was tinny. But

at the time, I figured I didn’t need to hear what he was

saying to know what he was saying. His words seemed

to fold in upon themselves in a single, dreadful echo

that hurdled through an open doorway and out onto

the street where they ran away like fugitives.

I felt I could have easily identified those words in a

line-up down at the precinct. They were bloodied and

guilt-ridden. That’s what it seemed to me at the time.

As I read the eulogy all these years later, I was

shocked to learn my father referred to Pop as “an excel-

lent provider,” “extremely generous,” a man with “a

great sense of humor … and devoted to his wife.” These

things were true, but so were their antithesis, which

went unexamined in the eulogy. Pop could be cruel. He

was an alcoholic and an unfaithful husband, and my

father’s childhood was riddled with land mines.

Like his father before him, my father often repeats

stories, including the time when he was 8 years old and

with his father down by the dam. From high above,

the older boys of the neighborhood were leaping into a

bull’s-eye-sized, pine-lined natural pool.

My father had always wanted a dog. Every-one knew

that. He had asked Santa. He had begged his parents.

On this day, at that dam, his father said, “Go on up

there and jump. Do it, and I’ll buy you a dog.”

“Really?” my father asked in disbelief.

“Yes,” his father said.

My father got down to his skivvies and climbed up on

the dam. He was scrawny, shivering, hugging his arms

to his chest. He looked down at the water. He looked

over to his father.

“Jump!” his father shouted.

My father closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and leapt —

the single bravest

thing he had ever done. When he

rose to the surface, he was the happiest boy in history.

He was going to get a dog. He ran to collect his clothes,

and then he ran to his father. “I did it, Pop! I did it!” His

father looked at him, and — here’s the punch line — he

said, “You sure did. So what do you want on your dog?

Ketchup or mustard?”

He didn’t get the dog. He got a hot dog. I’ve heard this

story my whole life. As a child, it disturbed me. Now, as

a father myself, it horrifies me. Just weeks before I came

across the eulogy, my father told me the hot dog story

once again. He now has dementia. The short-term

memory is gone. The long-term memory is intact. He

told the story, but for the first time he told it for what it

was. “That was the most rotten thing anyone has ever

done to me,” he said.

In April, in my attic, as I read the eulogy for the first

time, I realized how tender, how extraordinary it was.

With his father’s coffin in front of him, my father

chose not to wade into the vacuum of regret and bitter-

ness. When he stepped to the lectern, he left the bag-

gage behind and declared asylum from past injuries and

injustices. To be precise, he embraced the true freedom

found in forgiveness. He chose to praise the man who

raised him as “an excellent provider” and “extremely

generous” and who had “a great sense of humor”

because his father was that man, too.

“Any ill feelings should be buried here today,” my father

said. “He was ‘Pop’ — a very simple and sensitive man.”

The eulogy remains tucked away in my steamer trunk.

Mercy is my treasured inheritance.

Felix Carroll is the executive editor of

Marian Helper

magazine.

F

amily matters

the story of a son

TREASURE

IN A CHEST

By Felix Carroll

MH