Many reports of the recent cruise ship tragedy off the coast of Italy have drawn parallels to the Titanic. 2012 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. That made me think about my dad’s obsession with the Titanic. The ship was built in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was a source of pride for the working-class people of that city. The Titanic set sail on its ill-fated maiden voyage on April 10, 1012; my dad was born April 10, 1932. Of course, the ultimate tragic fate of the legendary ship has been recounted in numerous books, movies and documentaries. While my dad of course mourned the massive loss of life, he could still appreciate the mystique of the story, with the lavish accommodations, the eclectic mix of passengers, the feeling of adventure those must have felt embarking on such a trip.
The Titanic leaves Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York City, April 10, 1912. File photo.
If there wasn’t a massive tome about the Titanic on my dad’s bedside table, then he was watching a PBS documentary on the subject. He loved to relate the details of the voyage that he learned about, as if he had been a passenger himself. I think it was like a fantasy world he delved into, long before his mind was ever crippled by dementia.
And how do I know that my dad didn’t retreat to a fantasy world just like that once the dementia did take hold. Maybe the real world increasingly became an irritating distraction to this alternative world he was slipping into. If so, I hope it was all champagne and caviar and song and dance, with no icebergs in sight.
As I write this, part of my dad’s ashes are soaring across the pond, headed to Belfast, Northern Ireland. He never made it back for a final trip to his homeland, so this will have to suffice.
Dad with his sister and nephew in Ireland, circa late 1960's.
His last trip back to Ireland was well before I was born. He was recuperating from a life-threatening illness. It was the last time he saw his mother alive and I know he was happy he made the trip back for that reason alone. I’m sure he talked about this trip in detail many times as I was growing up, but the specifics are hazy for me now. I wish I could remember more details, where he went, who he visited and what he thought of his homeland after he had spent time living in New York City and Los Angeles.
He always talked about going home when I was growing up, but he never made it back. He hated flying, and the expense of the trip was daunting.
I did find this photograph of my dad as an adult in Ireland, standing along the coast, with his sister and her young son. He looks happy, confident and at home. I hope he feels that way now.
Yesterday was a dreary, rainy day, so I put on my ‘Three Stooges’ hoodie as I headed to work. It was the first time I’d worn it to work since I had received that fateful phone call from mom during the middle of my shift, telling me through tears that my father had died. So I couldn’t help but think about dad and how “The Three Stooges” was another bonding moment for us, much like those college bowl games were, but this bond was deeper and longer-lasting.
Every Sunday afternoon, “The Three Stooges” would air shorts for an hour on a local network affiliate in L.A. It just so happened that it was the time my dad would sit down for a cup of coffee before heading out to church. I don’t remember how it started, all I remember is that for years, watching “The Three Stooges” together was a Sunday ritual that had more meaning to me than any church service.
As a kid, I enjoyed the zany hijinks of Moe, Larry and Curly. They are like children who never grew up. For dad, they held a key to a bittersweet time in his childhood. Having been born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he was subjected to the aerial bombings delivered by the Nazis before he was a teenager. He remembered running to the bomb shelter with his family. And in between the fear of another bombing and the fear of another lashing across the hands from the ruler in Sister Mary’s iron fist, he and his school pals would escape their miserable childhood by going to the movie theatre. There, they would watch all of the movies that we consider American classics today. But each film would start with a ‘Three Stooges’ short, and I think that may have been the kids’ favorite part.
My love of the Stooges has not dissipated as I have become an adult, if anything, I appreciate their comedic talent more than ever. I’ve been watching the shorts over the past couple of months, as dad declined and passed away, and they offered me much needed levity and made me feel close to my father. Maybe dad is enjoying a few good “nyuk, nyuk, nyuks” and pies to the face with the Stooges wherever he is now.