My Father the Editor

It’s hard not to think of my father this week,  since he had both his aneurysms on the day after Christmas,  three years apart, and died three years after the second one, on New Year’s Day.  Since my Aunt Martha died a few years after he did on today’s date, December 27, in my family we tend to hold our breath for the last week of the year.

I recently came across a set of photographs belonging to my Dad, and they include a series of high school reunion photos.  The Westerly High School Class of 1943 always reunited during the summer, so everyone looks remarkably tan. I believe this is 1973.  He’s the one with the whitest pants, crouched in the first row:


My father had only a high school education, but I always considered him a well-educated man.  He read a great deal — mostly popular fiction — and I never knew him to make a grammatical error, misspell a word, or express himself with anything less than care and precision.  In his life as a salesman, though, I’m not sure he had to write much more than a purchase order.

I was the one in the family who was thought to have a way with words, so I wasn’t surprised when, some years ago, when my father was asked to serve as the emcee for his 35th high school reunion, he asked me to write some opening remarks for him.

I was tickled at the assignment, and set myself to drafting a few pages of jokes for my Dad.  Not as funny as I might be, of course — I had to try to write in his voice, and keep in mind the audience of old people.  (Who would be, now that I think about it, 53, or two years older than I am now…)

I worked on it on and off for a few days and mailed it off to him.  The next time I talked with him on the phone, he thanked me for what I’d written and said he would practice it a bit before Saturday’s reunion.  The next time I spoke with him, I was eager to learn how his performance had gone.  “I think they liked it,” he reported.  “I made a few changes.”

Over the years, I got a kick out of telling people I had been the ghostwriter for my father’s reunion speech.  In my story, my father was the insecure public speaker, not a man of words, who shines at his big moment thank to his clever son’s efforts.

After my father died, I found the text of the speech among his things, and boy, did I have it wrong!

Here is the first page of his marked-up copy of what I sent him:


He re-ordered the paragraphs, crossed things out, added material, and marked each line for emphasis.  Obviously he was just using me as hired help — and free, at that! —  while remaining in complete control of the occasion and the material.  Clearly he was in the wrong line of work — or maybe I was/am…

Dad went to three more reunions.  Here is the picture from the last one, the group diminished in size, if not in energy and enthusiasm, by age.  He’s the one on the far right, with the Bono-like tinted glasses, still a little thin from the aneurysm he’d suffered the year before.  Still the white pants, very dapper as always.