THE MARK OF A MAN

I’m feeling nostalgic today as I honor the anniversary of my father’s death, which occurred on August 29, 1981, sometime around the noon hour. It was a beautiful late summer day in Michigan. The morning had been cloudy but when I stepped outside into the backyard at my parent’s home moments after he took his last the breath, the sun came out from behind the clouds and the child I carried in my womb moved inside of me for the first time. Thirty-six years disappear when I remember that day and when I remember my father.

I spent much of my time this summer compiling a collection of essays that represent my writing life over the past two decades when I began my writing career. It began with the publication of an essay about my mother’s hands six months after her death in 1998.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS finalOn September 5, 2017, Eclectic Leanings–Musings from a Writer’s Soul will be released on Amazon.

The Introduction to the book explains why I decided to publish my nonfiction (and several short stories) writings.

Excerpt from Eclectic Leanings

INTRODUCTION

Eclectic Leanings spans the length of my professional writing career. Most of the pieces were published in newspapers, magazines, and blogs from 1998-2017. For years, I wrote a column for small newspapers and regional magazines in Florida. Many of the essays come from my column, Another View, which won several awards. In 2012, I began writing several blogs, and many of those pieces also appear in this book.

Recently, while packing to move, I came across all my saved clippings. Many of them were only in hardcopy and hadn’t been saved electronically. I decided saving yellowing newsprint and fading magazines not only created more boxes to move, but it was a very unstable way to save some of my life’s work. Eclectic Leanings seemed to perfect way to preserve a digital copy of my nonfiction works. I hope readers enjoy a book where they can pick and choose to read whatever might be of interest.

I’ve also dabbled with short story writing over the years, so I’ve included a few of those that have survived. Unfortunately, several that I wrote twenty years ago are missing from my collection. Perhaps they will surface one day.

When I published my great grandfather’s Civil War journal several years ago, I realized the importance of recording our histories. His journal—which covers only three years of his life—and one photo are all that remain of this man. I have even less from his son, my grandfather. And I sorely yearn to know more about all my relatives. There is even less from my female ancestors.

It has been said that when a person dies, a library burns down. While this book is not my autobiography, it does give an indication of my beliefs, values, and passions. It represents one wing of the library of my life. I hope you’ll consider leaving behind a portion of your life’s library. Your progeny will be the beneficiaries.

If you should find even one of the offerings within these pages worth the read, I will be grateful. It has been a pleasure to put together Eclectic Leanings, which is truly a testament to my love of language and its power to express a gamut of emotions and portraits of life.

Patricia Camburn Zick, 2017

The book contains stories about my family, and in particular, essays about the life and death of my father, my first hero. Here’s one I wrote for my newspaper column on Father’s Day in 2002.

DadFather'sDay

My father on Father’s Day holding the tie I had made for him.

REMEMBERING MY FATHER NOT AS SUPERHERO, BUT AS A MAN

Published in The High Springs Herald, June 13, 2002

My father never leaped over tall buildings.

But he would have tried if I had asked him, and two decades after his death, he remains a hero to me.

But when I think of my father, even today, it is tinged with sadness because only in his dying moments did he come to the realization that what he had right in front of him made him a success in the eyes of those who mattered most.

In the days before his death, he knew he had only a short time left with us, and he made the most of those hours. He called my four brothers and me, along with his wife of forty-three years, into the dining room we had converted into his bedroom. The room, not more than nine-by-ten feet, could barely contain the hospital bed and the accoutrements of a dying man, let alone my tall brothers.

But he wanted us there, and he wanted us to touch him. All of us. I stood at the foot of the bed with one of my brothers. When my father saw us there, he lifted his head from the pillow with difficulty.

“You two down there, grab my big toes,” he commanded.

He then told us that he loved us all and always had. But he said he wished the rest of the family could be there. And he meant our spouses and his grandchildren. The only grandchild present that day was the one I carried inside of me, barely visible during the fourth month of my pregnancy.

I found out I was pregnant exactly one week after we found out my father had liver cancer. My first husband and I had been married only a year and hadn’t planned to start a family quite yet. But that was not to be.

In fact, I thought my nausea when my father received his death sentence was the result of my great sorrow as I contemplated losing my father, the first man in my life and in my heart.

The day I found out I was pregnant, we drove to the hospital immediately to give my father the news. He didn’t say too much but right after we told him, his cousin walked in the door.

“I’m going to have a granddaughter,” he told her.

From that moment on, I never considered that I was carrying anything but a little girl inside my womb. I told my father one day during his last summer—one month before he died—that I had picked out the name for the baby.

“We’re going to name her Anna, after your mother,” I said.

His eyes filled with tears, and he turned his head away from me. “I never cared for any girl’s name but Patricia Ann.” My name. And that was the last he ever talked about my pregnancy and his seventh grandchild.

At first, I was hurt by his refusal to talk about my child. But then I realized that my father’s refusal came from the very simple fact that he knew he would never see my daughter. He would be gone from this world before her birth.

After a few weeks in the hospital, we couldn’t bear walking into his room to find soiled sheets and food caked on his face, lying there all alone too weak to do anything. So, we decided to bring my father home to die. We took vacation time from our jobs, and we all stayed with our mother through his final weeks.

One day my father called me into the small room and asked me to read his favorite Psalm to him, the twenty-third. I needed help remembering, so I opened the Bible from his bedside table and began to read. I choked at times overcome with the beauty of the words and their meaning now that my father lay dying. When my voice faltered, my father’s voice came out strong and sure as he spoke the words from memory.

His pale face lay against the pillow, and with eyes closed, he said the Psalm in his old voice, the one before the cancer, the strong authoritative one. He gave me the strength to continue reading.

The year before, when I came home to tell my parents that I was getting married, they both hugged me and began talking excitedly about the wedding ceremony. I wanted to be married in my parents’ home in the garden where my mother grew flowers of extraordinary proportions.

My mother mentioned my father giving me away. And I, fresh out of college with newfound feminism beating on my consciousness, said, “I don’t belong to anyone. No one has the right to give me away.”

My father didn’t turn away fast enough for me to miss the bullet I shot through his heart. Never have I wished more that my tongue and brain worked in unison. However, I never regretted what I said on my next visit home.

“Dad, would you walk me out to the garden on my wedding day?” I asked.

My father never made a whole lot of money, and he never found a job that made him happy. But he always worked, and he kept a roof over our heads. And even though he slaved long hours for other people, he never forgot he was a father.

He attended every game my four brothers ever had a chance of playing during their high school years. And they played them all:  football, basketball, and baseball. Some of them wore out the courts and fields, and others wore out the benches. But my father attended every game, home and away.

And while my brothers will say that my father spoiled me, I will say that I always had my father on my side. When I was sixteen, I took my father’s 1962 Chevy station wagon out for the evening. Even when I came in the house and told my father the car had four flat tires, he never got mad at me.

“Must have been bad tires,” he said. “You don’t know how it happened?”

“No, Dad. I just heard something funny about a block from the house,” I told him.

I didn’t lie. I just didn’t confess that an hour earlier, with fifteen friends stuffed into the back, we’d taken a joy ride through a recently harvested cornfield. He never questioned me again, and I never told.

But two years later when I got my first car, he took me out to the driveway before he would let me drive away.

“Open the trunk,” he commanded. “Now you’re going to learn to change your own tire.”

And I did.

My hero. He never flew through the sky or changed clothes in a phone booth, but he didn’t have to do those things. He just had to be my dad.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS final

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Rebels with a Cause – Heroes All

There are several women whose stories have crossed my path in recent months. I’ve written about Rachel Carson and her pioneering efforts to bring controls over pesticides used indiscriminately in this country after World War II. She didn’t want to write about birds and fish dying, but the more she researched the topics, the more she realized she had no choice. She was vilified by the pesticide manufacturers when Silent Spring was published in 1962, but her book brought awareness and eventual changes and controls over DDT that was killing wildlife and making people sick. She didn’t set out to create a whole governmental agency (EPA) to monitor the poisons and pollution of our new industrial world, but she did, and she did it because she knew someone needed to speak for the voiceless.

Statute of Laura Haviland

Statute of Laura Haviland

In researching my latest release, Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, I came across some references to a woman I’d known all my life as “Aunt Laura.” Laura S. Haviland lived 1808-1898, and she saw injustices in the way slaves and women were treated. She opened her southeastern Michigan home as a stopping point on the Underground Railroad as she assisted–and sometimes accompanied—runaway slaves to Canada. She opened a school attended by my great grandfather and dedicated its purpose to educating women and African Americans. She didn’t have to open herself up to these causes, but with her Quaker upbringing she saw no other way to live her life. Her life is the blueprint of someone dedicated to fighting for causes that seemed hopeless, but left a lasting legacy. A statute stands in front of the Lenawee County Courthouse in Adrian, Michigan, with the dedication, “A Tribute to a Life Consecrated to the Betterment of Humanity.”

Recently, I watched Erin Brockovich about a single mother of three who fought the huge utility giant, Pacific Gas and Electric. Best of all, she won. It was good to see this movie again. Erin Brockovich— real person—discovered in her job researching for attorney Ed Masry that people living in Hinkley, California, were coming down with mysterious illness and extreme cases of cancer. As Erin continued her research with Masry’s permission and sometimes reluctant participation, she discovered the culprit. PGE was dumping toxic waste into the waters of Hinkley. Erin didn’t want to get embroiled in this ghastly business, but seeing children and mothers suffering so much she had no choice but to become involved. In 1996, PGE was forced to pay out $330 million to more than 600 residents of Hinkley. Erin’s dogged research resulted in the largest payout for this type of lawsuit. Her website states it best, “If you follow your heart, if you listen to your gut, and if you extend your hand to help another, not for any agenda, but for the sake of humanity, you are going to find the truth.”

There are many other women and men out there who heed the call to action. Some of them become famous; yet others are sitting right next to us on the bus, train, or airplane, in the line at the grocery store, or at the PTA meeting. They do their work and follow their heart simply because they feel they have no choice. These are the real rebels with a cause.

When I was younger and much more jaded than I am today, I thought there were no heroes. But now that I’ve mellowed, I’ve taken the time to realize some of my closest friends fit the same mold of Rachel Carson, Laura Haviland, and Ern Brockovich. They are folks living their lives for the betterment of humanity.

These other heroes get up every morning and set out to make the world in which they live a better place.

There’s my very dear friend who’s a nurse. She goes to work each day with one thought in mind, and that’s to put the patients first. She helps them find their way through the red tape of insurance, and she makes sure they leave the office or the phone call with answers. She is their advocate, and after spending the past year in and out of doctor’s offices, I know firsthand how a kind word, or even a smile, goes miles toward easing my troubles. She probably won’t have a movie made of her life, but she’s a hero to many who come under her tender loving care. I know—she’s always been one of my stalwart supports. When I returned to Michigan for the funeral of my mother, I stayed at her house. One night I came home dispirited and depressed. On the table waiting for me was a plate of hot spaghetti, garlic bread, and a glass of my favorite wine. I never forgot that night and the tender loving care she showed me on a night of deep despair. She does that for everyone within her orbit.

Another dear friend brought her older brother into her home to care for him as his MS worsened. He can’t use either his arms or legs, but she ensures he’s showered every day and comes to the table with the family for most meals. She’s led by example in many things she’s done, but perhaps none greater than what she did after her daughter was killed in a drunk driving accident. The daughter, Sara, turned her keys over to her boyfriend that fateful night, and she died while the boyfriend survived. My friend went to court when it came time for sentencing of the young man. She spoke up and said it could have been her daughter driving and that she forgave him and hoped for leniency in his sentencing. She’s remained a support for this young man as he faced life after the accident. Her unselfish actions make her a hero for all time, even though Hollywood probably won’t visit her either.

These women stand as the examples of lives well-spent to benefit us all. They don’t do it for glory or fame; they do it because it’s the right thing to do. I can only sit back in awe and attempt to follow in some very big footsteps. This week of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to all the rebels who fight for causes no matter the cost or the sacrifices. Our world is a better place because of them.

Who are your heroes today?