Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Own Personal Superhero

Dear Dad,

You probably don't know this, but when I was little, I thought you were magic.

Ok. It's not terribly surprising. I had, as you know, what might be termed an "overactive" imagination. I was sure there was something that lived behind the woodpile in the basement that would jump out and grab my ankles if I had to go down the stairs in the dark. I thought that Lucille Ball was actually Grandma Diane, and that everyone else had just forgotten to mention that to me. And I knew, just knew that you had magical powers.

I suppose lots of kids think their parents are in some way, magical (mom could definitely see through the back of her head, for instance) but this was different. This went beyond the preschool belief that the coin dad pulled out from behind my ear really came from my ear.  This was not blind belief that my father could solve any problem. You could, of course. But there was more. Because you, dad were not far off from Superman.

Not only could you do amazing things like ride you bike with no hands and fix broken toys and find my missing, precious, blanket when it went missing. There were several indicators at your work that you were, in fact, a superhero.

For example, the fat, waxy pencils that magically sharpened themselves when you pulled on the string that protruded off the side, causing layers of....something that was not wood...fall away to reveal bright red or deep black lead. Or there were the machines that turned a full sized, pasted up version of the newspaper into a tiny metal version of the newspaper which were then turned, somehow, into the newspaper. You could type on a typewriter with a cat balanced on your shoulders. I had seen the photo! And the line tape, although not really magical, was really cool. I'm not sure if you ever noticed, but I plastered the underside of your desk with it every time I spent visited you at the paper.

And then there was the magic portal. A tiny round room into which people (sometimes you!) walked, sliding the door shut behind them and then they were gone! It was better than a magician's trick to see you evaporate into the darkroom, especially before I knew it was just a light block to keep the photos from being exposed during processing. Although even after I realized what was beyond the magic door, I still thought you had superhero like powers. After all. YOU COULD TURN A PIECE OF WHITE PAPER INTO A PHOTOGRAPH DAD! No matter how hard I tried, I could never replicate the spell in the sink of my toy kitchen. (That is how, you might recall, I almost torched the house, trying to recreate the powers of the darkroom by draping Strawberry Shortcake's red dress over the bare bulb in my closet. The red light, after all, might have been the missing ingredient to make the spell work.)

There came a point, inevitably, when I realized that these mysterious and wondrous things were standard newspaper procedures. That the door revolved, developers and negatives were responsible for photographs and those awesome peel-away marking pencils were, well they were still pretty awesome, but not magic.

It didn't change the fact, however, that you still had superhero-like qualities. That you still DO have superhero qualities. I mean, you should listen to your grandson tell other people about the GIGANTIC fish his poppa can catch or how you once rode in a car with that guy who made chili and fast engines and he drove so fast that your face nearly peeled off (except it didn't, because, duh, even Carroll Shelby couldn't peel the face off a superhero. By the way, did you tell him that story? Because he tells it to EVERYONE).

So Happy Father's Day, Super-Dad (aka Super-Poppa) Not everyone get's to have a superhero for a dad. We all love you so much, me most of all.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day thanks

Dear Gillian,

The Hallmark people got Fathers Day all wrong. Instead of getting gifts, I should be sending thank you cards to you and your brother.

Garrett, me and Dad
Women enjoy a physical and intractable bond with their children, something of which all men are secretly jealous. We instead must cultivate our connection with that squirming little bundle of life.

But you make it easy. I earned my “Dad” the first time you looked up and smiled as I held you in my arms. I’m forever blessed that neither you nor Garrett ever stopped smiling. Thanks to you, happy Fathers Day to me!

Biology being what it is, I’m not only a father but also a son. So I’ve puzzled through the Fathers Day gift from both sides. Mothers Day gifts were always easy – something pretty, something clutzy I made myself or just flowers. Hugs, kisses and joyful tears guaranteed.

But what to get Dad?

If flowers are the default for Mothers Day, tools are the norm for Fathers Day. But you’ve seen Dad’s shop. Buying another tool for him was something like buying another reindeer for Santa.

Not that he minded. An extra screwdriver or pair of pliers can always find home on the workbench. He was a Dad, after all. The real present was the smile and gleam in his children’s eye.

Some of the best presents you and Garrett gave me were the little trinkets you made yourself. And I actually love getting ties. My favorites are the two you made for me with handprints of your own children. Grandkid chic. Those ties also marked my graduation from mere “father” to “grandfather.”

Son-to-father-to-grandfather. Some men never make it or don’t appreciate it if they do. But I find it wondrous. My dad’s genes became my genes, then yours and Garrett’s genes, the Briton and Evie’s genes. Garrett is next in line to move up from sonhood.

Fathers Day reminds me that I have a responsibility to the future and a legacy no one can take away. I see my dad now only in photos and the Bentley nose. But I feel him in the things I do and the words I say. Sometimes it is the way I stand or the way I walk. The Father of All Fathers Day gifts is catching those same mannerism in you, Garrett or even Evie or Briton.

So thanks, Gillian. You made my (Fathers) Day.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Gardening: or, My Favorite Bedtime Reading


Dear Dad,

It wasn’t until I was almost an adult that I realized not everyone had John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Sufficiency read to them as a bedtime story. It came as kind of a shock when I realized my error. Other children didn’t daydream with their father’s about how to turn a 1-acre plot of land into enough food to feed a family of four? (or better yet, a five acre plot, because then, as you know, you can grow enough food to also feed your cow instead of having to buy in hay. Or resort to having a goat for your milk-producing needs). Really? They just read Narnia? I mean, we read Narnia and loved it. But how did other kids learn how to double-dig a garden bed?

I was fascinated by that big brown book, which always seemed to be hanging around our house. I’m still fascinated by it. I keep my copy on the coffee table. You know, just in case I want to re-read for the hundredth time his witty commentary on the lost art of basket making, or how his kids ate all of his home grown poppy seeds hoping (unsuccessfully) to get a buzz off of them.

Or if I have a pig butchering emergency. It could happen.

I can close my eyes and see the charts about when to start growing what, which only apply if you live in his particular part of England but which I still look at every spring. I can picture the pages about weaving a skep for keeping bees and the different layouts of garden beds for maximum food production.

That book has led me down the crazy path many-a-time. And I’m sure it

Monday, June 8, 2015

Gardening: Thankfully, there is no cure for the Green Plague

Dear Gillian,

It would be overly polite to call the place where my father grew up a “dirt farm.” Dirt, yes. Farm, no. It was more of a divot in the vast forest of northern Idaho with enough bare ground that you could coax cabbage, potatoes and other hearty vegetables through the brief mountain summer.

The 10 Bentley kids did the vegetable coaxing at the end of hoe handles, but only because my notoriously stern grandfather had and used a bigger stick. There was no way in the world he was going pay good money for undistilled consumables.

Dad, then, had a hard time seeing gardening as a hobby. It was a chore that put food on the table. He planted gardens during the leanest times of my boyhood, but treated them a small farms that would ease the grocery budget. He even tried to introduce us to a frost-fighting, north country favorite – Swiss chard. My brother and I drew the line there. We would hoe the weeds, but not eat something with the culinary appeal of pond scum. Or kale.

But when I was in about seventh grade, I caught the Green Plague. I was a voracious reader who became fascinated by stories of farm life, huge vegetables and loan between your toes. Dad thought I had gone mad when tilled and planted a plot near the house. I’m sure he chuckled, however, while I was learning that pulling weeds and