Monday, January 24, 2011

papa's sea stories

I sometimes think my grandfather died when I had the most to say to him. At 25, I've accrued some of my own "sea stories." My opinions and aesthetic sensibilities are perhaps more refined. Though still when I encounter a reference to a moment in history or a philosopher or poem I know little about, I instinctively think of him and yearn for one of his encyclopedic lectures (my mother has said that while many people may think they knew everything, Papa was one of few people who knew a little about everything), I continue to get a little smarter, a little better read.

I listened to him for 22 years, though, and I know all his stories. One of 9 in an Irish Catholic family from Detroit, born the year of the Sit-Down Strikes. His mother's "all-American boy." I know his first sensation of beauty (at 7, admiring a rainbow in a puddle of oil on the driveway). I know the vibrant Downtown Flint of his youth-- the Vernors and Kewpee Burgers, the chic department stores, the fire escapes begging to be clambered up, the movie theaters and the bread factory near the Ronan house on Newton Place, its luring smells. But his travel memories, his so-called "sea stories," were always my favorite. Water skiing in Lebanon. Black cabs, drizzle and post-war devastation in London. The Pigalle nightlife and the history and grandeur of Paris, and affording it all selling American cigarettes on the black market. The disappointment of bad spaghetti in Italy.

And of course, Morocco.

Pvt. Dennis Ronan, Port Lyautey, Morocco
My favorite. I love the stoic grace of the donkeys in Morocco.

Papa was a radio operator. I think that's him in the photo.

turbans and djellabas.


  1. It makes me sad that you know and remember his stories better than I do. It is good, though, because you will retell them better than I could--as well as stories of your own.
    He really does look like the all-american boy in that photo.

  2. It's crazy thinking how young he was there. 19? 20?

    For some reason I find the pictures he took more affecting. The idea of him behind the camera, observing the world and finding moments of significance.