Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Memoriam

November 30th holds a special place in my heart for various reasons. Not only would today have been my father's 84th birthday, but it was also the day that my mother and I settled into Alabama after months of displacement five years ago as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Two years later, on this same date, my father would receive the ultimate birthday gift as I would reunite him with his wife, placing her ashes alongside his casket in his crypt in New Orleans.

On February 3rd, 2007, seven months before my mother's own passing, I had written a piece commemorating my father, Theodore Vincent Torres Sr., and with some slight modifications, what follows is that essay in its entirety:

Two years ago today, my father, Theodore Vincent Torres Sr., passed away after a mercilessly long and drawn-out battle with cancer. He was 79.

In remembering my father, I recall first and foremost his almost encyclopedic intelligence, which he applied to everything in his life. A natural and life-long outdoorsman, my father was unmatched in the ways of the old-school New Orleans men who made their living in the marsh. Whether it be as a fisherman, a hunter, a trawler, or a trapper, Teddy was the last of a master generation who passed his knowledge down to the next. Since his passing, I've been told story after story about my father's vast reservoir of knowledge on topics ranging from rope tying to aerodynamics, from carpentry to electrical engineering. Having had me rather late in life, I was not privileged enough to have been a part of that consecutive generation, a group of men and women alike, now well into middle-age, who hold my father in the highest of regards as both mentor, innovator (I have been told that the first airboat in St. Bernard Parish was not only owned by my father, but made of his own hands), and in most ways, a father figure.

I struggled for a while with the idea that my father and I were opposites. There was no doubt in my mind that he wanted me to be the natural heir to his knowledge and skills. I was of a different mindset, however, far removed from the world of the marsh and instead naturally rooted in the arts. A perfect example of such a juxtaposition would have to be the time that he took me on my first duck hunt and handed me his childhood 4-10 double barrel shotgun to use. According to him, within the hour, he had turned to see me playing air guitar with the weapon. For some reason, I don't recall this event, although I know damn good and well that I more than likely did just that. I did, however, come away with a life-long fascination with guns, an interest that we truly did share, but the hunting I'm afraid stayed in that duck blind.

Our passions would cross again years later as he would in fact be my first editor. Intrigued and relentlessly curious about language in general, my father loved to play with words. I remember playing word games and sharing riddles, telling stories and inventing acronyms. It was my father who meticulously read through and proofread my first draft of The Petrified Christ, in awe that his son had such a skill with words, a skill that he rightfully felt he had cultivated. One of the only surviving pictures I have of my father in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is one in which he's holding a copy of that book in Barnes & Noble, grinning in profile as he admired the cover.

And such, I feel, was my relationship with my father. As father and son we were indeed opposites, yet forever in admiration of each other's abilities and motivations. Many life lessons were learned during those final years, some deliberate, and some acquired unconsciously though his spirit and task driven focus on the necessity of day-to-day life. It is his strength that guides me to this very day, his focus on work, and his protective "us verses the world" philosophy of family that insured I would keep it together and provide after what will more than likely go down as the most tragic year of my life, 2005, the year I lost everything.

And so, Pop, I'm thinking of you today up there in the blue, no doubt watching the clouds shift and morph in and out from one another to form those cloud pictures that we'd lie on our backs and spot, the ones that only you and I were able to see.