Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lawrence Bruce Crosby - Daddy to Me

I have always thought of my father with a hint of sorrowful protectiveness. This is because he had a paralyzed right arm which ached in something called "phantom pain" and it  worsened as he aged.

As a child I noticed this defect of course, his very slender bony arm which swung helplessly unless he rested it across the small of his back. I recall that posture and felt great sympathy toward him on that account  from a very early age. I remember with some regret that I sought to "make it better" by insisting he submit to my ministrations. The one I remember well was placing his clawed hand in a round tin cake pan and surrounding it with marbles. Then the final cure was the application of moistened Kleenex tissues as a sort of poultice. He would endure this occasionally but in a rare display of crossness with me, his oldest child and only daughter, he would extricate hand and limb from my tender attentions. I would ask, "Is it better?" and he would mumble, "Yeah."

Poor Daddy!

The injury defined the man I knew as my father. I think it gave me a very deep sense of empathy, which was a good thing. I never made fun of anyone for an imperfection - ever. I never ever wanted to cause him any further hurt. I was always concerned about him. Maybe it was also because he was 43 when I was born, so rather like "an old man." One with a grave handicap dealt him at age 19 as well. Someone to be very tender with.

The man who was to be my father was born into a family with few resources. And lots of grief. His  parents lost two baby boys before he was born. A younger brother died of measles at age five. An older sister was blind and of abnormally short stature.

 The oldest sibling was spared any of these defects or ailments but died very suddenly and shockingly in his 40's of a heart attack.

My father never said the words, "I love you" to me. And yet I never had the slightest doubt! He demonstrated his affection by buying us treats and I was always dismayed when he would direct us with that beautiful movie star grin to "Go look in the ice box." There inevitably would be a can of peaches. He truly believed that this would  be a finer joy to us than candy! I knew to act thrilled and this was our somewhat off-tilt little love language - his "surprise" treat and my loving pretense of delight.

As I grew older and he realized how much I loved green seedless grapes the ice box surprise changed.  And finally when I grew up and brought my babies home to visit "Papa" he would tell me to go look on the kitchen counter. There would be an array of Gerber baby food jars arranged in a long row.

Just imagining him standing there in the grocery aisle with that peculiar posture developed by long decades of resting his useless arm on the small of his back filled me with immeasurable love.

As a young man he was very athletic...ran the "100 yard dash" and enjoyed the nickname "Lightning" . Was captain of his high school football team at Milby High School in Houston. Courted a pretty red-haired girl named Audrey Dozier. Earned a scholarship for both athletics and scholarship to the very prestigious Rice Institute (now University) in Houston. The summer he graduated from high school spun out like a golden gleeful anticipation for Lawrence Crosby. In fact, he was so jolly and full of fun that he even volunteered to be an extra onstage in the vaudeville shows that preceded films in the cinemas in those days!

His uncle Allen Wynn Crosby owned a drilling company and hired both my grandfather and my father to work on an oil derrick that summer. The structure called "the Christmas tree" needed some kind of maintenance and my father climbed the very top of it. Suddenly as I understand the story, it began to lean to one side and clearly was going to topple over. The men on lower segments managed to jump off to safety but my father fell the 40' with the structure. Somehow he was not crushed but part of it rolled over onto his back and then off again (I am assuming). He was knocked unconscious and vomited black-eyed peas (his lunch) all the way to the hospital. He remained in a coma for three days and the young student nurse assigned to his case was horrified but assured, "Don't worry - he won't make it through the night."

But live he did. His lung was penetrated by broken ribs and there was a deep gash under his handsome chin. Worst of all, his right arm was paralyzed. Somehow he did not realize the gravity of this permanent injury as his arm was in a sling. One day the doctor came in and my father asked if the wound under his chin was going to be a scar.

"Young man, " the doctor gravely replied, "You have a lot more to worry about than a scar."

My father was, I suppose, very much an eighteenth century kind of a man. Very modest and reserved. If during the night a call came to him and he had to answer it on the only telephone we had in the house - on the kitchen counter - he would put on his slacks before venturing down the hallway.

Most remarkably of all, in our green Ford Pinto on the way to the church for my wedding, as I sat the backseat with my wedding gown across my lap he suddenly turned to my mother and asked, "Olga, have you TALKED to Penny?"

Her curt reply was, "Of course!"

Ah, my goodness. Glad we didn't have to take a detour into the Walgreen's parking lot for  Mama to give me "the talk" while my father paced outside the car!

Daddy was compensated with three gifts - a keen intelligence, an enormous sense of duty and honor, and truly extraordinary good looks.

His mother would watch him grooming himself to go out and say, "Lawrence, you look like a collar ad!"

Think of the old sketches in newspapers in the 1930's  and those chiseled chins in the ads for the shirt collars which were sold separately from the common round-necked shirts.

That was his look.

Manly perfection.

When I was in college he came one evening to pick me up from a play rehearsal. One of the snobby pretty girls in the play came to tell me,"There's a handsome man waiting outside for you. Is that YOUR FATHER?"

I was overcome with a soaring pride I can feel to this day.  Naturally I told him about that but he acted unmoved.

But that evening I caught  him admiring himself in the wall mirror!

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