Monday, March 03, 2008

Five Years Gone

Vincent Joseph Palumbo
01-11-1927 to 03-03-2003
Remembering My Dad

(If you don't feel like reading all this, you might at least get a laugh out of the pictures at the end of the post.)

It was five years ago today that one of the most important people in my life left.

I've been sitting here struggling to find a good opening statement to introduce you to my father. I can't find it. So I'm just going to get to the point.

So much of who I am is because of Vincent, my dad, though I sometimes wonder how much of its inherited and how much of it is learned. I think my insatiably curious nature, my passion for learning, my love and interest in science and geography, my need/desire for a multitude of creative outlets, my natural musical proclivities and my rather keen sense of direction are innate -- and all are qualities I happen to share with my father. I also think that my dad, like me, was born to teach. Even if all of these traits are innate, inherited qualities, there's no doubt that my father helped nurture and develop them.

As a kid, I was Vincent's shadow. I went everywhere and did everything with him. I was my father's #1 fishing pal and his constant companion on every weekend outing. He made sure I was armed with field guides of every kind so I could identify whatever we encountered in the wild. I have so many great memories and stories from those outings.

One of our favorite destinations was Seller's Canal where we'd explore the marshes between the Pier 90 boat launch (on Highway 90) and Lake Catouatchie. Once we found a tiny marsh outlet blocked by a small, hand-cranked dam or lock (maybe 3 feet wide) off the bank of one of the side canals. Dad pulled our little skiff to the bank where we could climb onto the wooden platform. Dad told me to place the scoop net outside the lock while he cranked it open. As water poured through, the net became filled with minnows, grass shrimp, a few small crawfish and assorted pieces of aquatic plants. We examined the load more closely and found the most beautiful blue-topped minnows we'd ever seen, plus a handful of baby largemouth bass and perch. We filled a bucket with water and dumped them in. I remember finding the blue minnows in my field guide and we fished with some and caught largemouth bass like crazy. We took the remaining bucket of critters home and Dad set up a fabulous aquarium for me. I had fun teasing the bass to open his big mouth for the tiny harmless "lures" I made from melting bright-colored plastic on my Mattel "Jillions of Jewels" melting plate. (If I close my eyes, I can still smell the plastic melting and feel the burn on my fingers as I prematurely poked the molds.) I raised the perch and bass until they were too big for the tank. We took them back to Seller's canal and set them free. That was so much fun. Thanks, Dad.

My dad was extremely passionate about music. He had natural musical abilities and was a great singer and dancer. When he was a kid, he had an opportunity to develop his talents when a Loyola professor heard him play trumpet and was impressed enough to offer him free lessons, but my kinda lazy and spoiled only-child daddy said that riding his bike to Loyola's campus from my grandparents' house on First Street (probably around Claiborne, but I'm not sure) was too hard. All three of us kids have the rhythm and music genes (we couldn't help it- my Mom's a pretty good singer and dancer herself), but my brother is the only one of us to make a serious go of it, for years earning his living as a drummer. (And for years, he was the only one I knew of in this town who could actually read charts.) Now he's a pro photographer, just like dad was.

Anyway, Dad was all about music and I have fond memories of being forced to listen to jazz (especially Stan Kenton) and crying with him when we were both moved by the beauty of classical pieces. As a teen, I could never get out of the house with a date because my dad would take them in his room and start playing records for them. Pretty clever of him. I'm so appreciative of all the great music he exposed me to, especially the jazz that I couldn't appreciate at the time. I certainly do now.

Even though Dad never attended college, he never stopped his pursuit of knowledge. He studied advanced mathematics, physics and chemistry on his own and invented all kinds of clever devices to make his work in the darkroom easier. Dad loved to tinker with electronics in particular and to this day, I am still the only kid I know who had her own low-power FM radio station. I think my broadcast range covered a radius of about a two blocks. I know my grandparents had clear reception a half block down. I'm told my broadcasts were quite amusing, but I don't remember very much about them. Dad also loved maps and made sure I had plenty of them around and knew how to read them. I had them on the walls of my room and I would study them for hours on end. I can still get lost in a good map pretty easily.

I often wonder who I would be right now if my curiosity and love of learning had not been encouraged and nurtured by my father.

My dad sold electronic parts and then sold cameras at Maison Blanche and was a photographer "on the side" before it become his main source of income. I was his eager darkroom helper and his shadow on just about every photographic project. He had incredible skill in the darkroom and had an amazing eye for finding a stunning shot in a scene that most of us would pass right by. Through his eyes, I learned to see extraordinary beauty in people and places that others often miss. I've never quite been able to capture images the way he could, but my brother has and continues to make my dad proud.

Remembering My Dad Remembering My Dad
(Click the images above to see a 1991 promotional piece from Darkroom Techniques magazine featuring my dad. The magazine, like the darkroom, has disappeared.)

My dad gave me so many unique experiences that I don't think most kids had. And fortunately, he gave us all lots of laughs, too. He was a practical joker and King of the Play-on-Words. My siblings inherited their quick wit from him and I wish I could claim some of that territory, but I can only appreciate it more than I can generate it. And even though Daddy is gone, he left some laughs behind for us, probably without the intention to do so.

Dad had a fantasy of being a photojournalist for National Geographic, but I don't think he had any clue how to ever pursue something like that. So, he indulged this fantasy by fabricating his own version of some other place and time. Apparently, it didn't matter to him if the outcome appeared believable or not and I'm thankful for that, because how many kids have pictures of themselves like these? (The Jungle Girl theme was popular, but I saved my favorite for last.)

The famous Mexican Peasant Girl photo, a family favorite.
Burlap, Grandma's crocheted poncho and the sombrero from Mom and Dad's trip to Mexico in 1965.
Note the penny loafers.

Jungle Girl- Pacific Island Version.
I think I'm supposed to be looking at a shell.

Little, Wild Jungle Girl
I look more candid and pensive in the rest of this series, but I like the little smile in this one.
(They keep the lawn and the ligustrums pretty nicely manicured in that jungle, huh?)

Jungle Girl Gathering Kindling

OMG! It's a Little Hippy Girl!
The siblings are shocked!
I wish I still had those glasses.

And my personal favorite:

Hippy Girl
Little Hippy Girl with Cigarette Playing Guitar
Note the bongos and big, paper flowers, and those crocheted toe-ring anklet my grandma made for me.
Give Dad credit for his attention to detail!

One day I'll have to find and scan the super-cool staged shot of my sister "sneaking a smoke." I think she's bout six years old in that photo. Because it was not shot in a studio, it's actually more believable (despite how young she is).

Thanks, Dad, for everything. I love you and miss you.

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Blogger oyster said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful tribute.

4:18 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks for reading it. I hope to write a few more of the stories of my adventures with Dad, especially the ones where the "Vincentisms" can shine through.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Adrastos said...

Great post. I would have really liked Vincent. The pix are hysterical.

1:14 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Oh, Adrastos, you would have indeed liked Vincent. He could be funny as hell and had quite a bit of the Shecky in him. Sometimes it was just the pure spontaneous silliness that would crack me up, like any time he heard the word Armageddon and he'd start singing, Armageddon sentimental over you. (Just in case it's not obvious, Armageddon = I'm-a gettin'.) Now I'm the who sings it when I hear the word.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Schroeder said...

I'm speechless, really, in awe of the man you have only provided a tiny sliver of a portrait. I read it earlier in the day, came back to it in the afternoon, and find I'm finishing my day reading and gawking at the photos again. A spiritually powerful portrait of the first man who taught you to love. I'm impressed, but that's no surprise with you. I'm thinking this would be a fitting piece for radio. Let me know if you're comfortable with that.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

This is just so damned cool. Thanks.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Gary L said...

Awesome. Hopefully, my girls will speak of me this way...I'm trying.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Oliver said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:09 AM  
Blogger Oliver said...

What a nice, bittersweet remembrance. The photos were fun. Your childhood looks like fun. You are a rare person indeed who doesn't claim to have an effed up childhood. Whatever it is you got, bottle it. I'd buy a case.

2:10 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks again, y'all.

Schroeder, it would be an honor. Call me when you get a chance. Now that the week is over, I have a little breathing room.

Oliver, sometimes I'm amazed at what a great childhood I had, but I have a great family. No one smoked, drank, gambled, cursed or beat anyone. Everyone loved each other and got along well. There was always someone singing or whistling and there was lots of playfulness. When we get together now (me, mom and my siblings), we're still like that. I feel incredibly blessed!

9:26 AM  
Blogger Leigh C. said...

Oh, that IS wonderful! I love your entire portrait of your dad, pictures, writing, and all. Damn, now I'M sad that he's not with us...

Great to see you!

5:32 AM  
Blogger mominem said...

I wish I'd had a chance to know him. I think he and my father would have been great friends.

Thanks for sharing that.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Wow! Sounds like a wonderful man, but I suppose looking at you now, it should not be a suprise. It is always fascinating to get these glimpses into your life and backround, it just confirms how lucky I am that you stumbled onto my blog, oh so many years ago. I know I owe you an update email, but what can I say, I'm lazy. The pictures, especially Jungle Girl, were hysterical, you little vixen!

4:24 PM  
Blogger Loving wife, slightly hysterical mother said...

What beautiful photography! I love how non pc it is too :-) a proper sign of the times.

I wish I had had the same kind of relationship with my father, he sounds like a lovely man and it is obvious that you're a chip off the old block!

I especially love the Little Wild Jungle Girl because it captures the innocence and the precocious nature all in one.

simply beautiful!


6:45 AM  
Anonymous Karen said...

He loved you and you loved him, how wonderful..

6:56 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks again, y'all!

2:07 PM  
Blogger Oliver said...

I know I still owe you a music baton, and I'm going to get around to it, but for now, I'm tagging you with this:
1. Write your own six-word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post.
4. Tag five more blogs with links.
5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

All the kids are doing it.

5:58 AM  

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