dreamed of my father again last night [I wrote ten years ago]. We were standing in the kitchen of the old Fourth Plain House—actually gone much longer than he has been—and I was explaining to him about this set of glasses I’d bought, now much the worse for wear. “It was actually a set of twenty-four glasses originally,” I told him.
Bryce—my father—looked at me in mock-horror. “And there are only nine of them left now?” he said. “What have you been doing with them?”
“I bought them when you were dead,” I told him. That whole business came back to me in a flash, when the hospital had lost him somehow, and had claimed he was dead to cover up their mistake. (For some reason my subconscious seems to have evolved this theory to account for Bryce’s occasional appearances in my dreams.) “A lot of things happened while you were dead, and some of them were pretty hard on our glasses.”
“Electricity is all around us,” he said, or something like that.
We called him “Bryce,” I guess because our mother did, though I don’t really know. Once when we were kids—five and six, maybe, or somewhere in there—our mother took us aside—my brother Bryan and me—and suggested that it was kind of odd that we called her Mom and him Bryce. “People might think he’s not really your father. Do you really want that?” Well, no, we didn’t. Bryan and I talked it over for some time, and finally came to the conclusion that the only fair thing was to call our parents Ruth and Bryce, which we did from then on. Many many years later Bryan recalled this incident, and said ruefully, “You know, I think we were supposed to choose Mom and Dad.”
Bryce was born in Wyoming in the 1920s, but grew up mainly in North Powder Oregon and Grand Junction Colorado. He went to school and joined the Boy Scouts. He displayed his interest in applied science by accidentally blowing up the school bell, and his fellow scouts were arrested for stealing cars, but at least he was in there pitching. He talked his mother into buying a radio in the display window at Sears by appealing to her sense of thrift—it was on sale for two dollars off, I think he said. The case was up in the attic for many years, until my brother’s kids threw it out.
Radio fascinated him. He listened to radio shows I never heard of, for the most part, though there were some familiar ones. Our Miss Brooks. Vic and Sade. He built radios, and listened to short wave broadcasts.
When he left school he drifted up to Portland to work at the docks and wait to be drafted. The army took him in spite of his appalling vision, and he spent the war—WWII—on a hospital ship named Marigold that plied the Pacific from Honolulu to Japan. He was there playing baseball when Japan surrendered.
Post war he set out to be a writer, turning out several short stories and about a fifth of a Kaufmannesque play, as well as attending community college for three years. While there he met Ruth (later to be my mother). The two of them were married and settled down to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in the Colorado mountains. Well Ruth taught; I’m not sure what Bryce did.
A succession of places follow: Portland, where Bryce went to radio school and his first child (me) was born; Moscow, where he was fired for Thanksgiving; Artesia, where he scanned the skies for flying disks and his second child (Bryan) was born; Vancouver (very briefly); Portland again, where he was living when his third and last child was born, Vancouver (sixteen years); and finally Portland (twenty years). KSVP, KHFS, KKEY, KXL, KOIN, KGW, KWJJ, KOBP—I’m sure I missed some—the radio stations came and went over the years, but he was always working at one or another—and sometimes more than one at a time. When I was extremely young I used to hear him on the radio—when he signed off it meant he would be home soon.
For most of his life he stuck to engineering. He designed facilities, build boards, changed lights. In the wind and snow and dead of night he would be out at the station, keeping it on the air or getting it back on the air, as the situation demanded. He stuck with radio for decades before finally getting into television.
He liked earthquakes, volcanoes, plagues, and venomous animals. (I have a childhood memory of him nonchalantly turning over a black widow spider to show us the red hourglass underneath.) Diseases especially fascinated him. “Mad cow disease,” he would muse. (I think he liked the sound of the name.) “Now that’s a threat to the food supply. We ought to be looking for it. Avian flu in Asia again … hantavirus in upstate New York … and the marmots are dying.” That was the news for him.
I don’t know what his religious views may have been. If he had any, he chose not to share them with me. There is an often-told story about a dialog between him and a Catholic priest who was trying to convert him. The subject was faith. Everybody has faith in something, said the priest. He pointed to a door across the room. “For example, you believe that’s a door, don’t you?” To which my father is supposed to have replied cautiously, “Well, it looks like a door from this side.”
I once asked him what he thought about life after death; he said he hadn't thought about it. I gave him the choice between an afterlife and going out like a candle. He said that if he had to choose, he thought it was more likely that we went out like candles.
He died twenty years ago today, on 14 January 1997, at 6:11 in the morning.