Fives and Zeros: Significant Markers, Remembering My Dad and Why I Can Never Forget D-Day


Dad, right front, with his younger brother and parents, about 1942.

We memorialize significant events with numbers ending in five or zero. The 30th anniversary. The 15th birthday. The 40th year of service. Not a 23rd birthday or a 7th anniversary or an 8th year.

This year, we mark 50 years since The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a half-century since Thurgood Marshall was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but we probably won’t pay much attention to the 33rd anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye or the 186th birthday of “Lemonade Lucy” Hayes, U.S. first lady and wife of President Rutherford B.

On June 6, if it is a slow news day, some commentator will note in a 15-second piece that it’s the 73rd anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by the Allied troops in World War II, an event commonly referred to as D-Day, even though there are, militarily speaking, lots of D-Days. This D-Day is the one we remember.

I remember D-Day because twenty years ago on June 6, 1997, I got a frantic long-distance phone call from my sister telling me that our father had died.


Age 21. Dad loved the navy.

This was not something I was expecting. He was 67 years old. The doctor had just given him a physical and pronounced him in perfect health. I had a long conversation with him on my birthday just 10 days prior where he described in detail the painting he had just completed for me. He was planning a trip to a reunion of sailors from the ship he served on in the Korean War. He told me a story about taking my four-year-old nephew Colin to the soda fountain at the drug store. I told him about the show that we had just extended at the theatre where I was working. He thought it sounded like fun. He wished me happy birthday and told me he loved me. I said thanks and that I loved him, too.

I never spoke to him again.

Twenty years.


Dad and me.

I’ve thought about him on every single one of the 7,300 days that have made up those two decades. I wasn’t ready to have my father die when I was barely in my 30s. I still had too many questions to ask. I still had too many hours to while away listening to stories of his childhood. I still had so many experiences that I would want to tell him about.

I wanted him to share in my successes. I wanted him to tell me that whatever may have failed or whatever terrible experience I might have had wasn’t the end of the world. I wanted to talk politics with him. I wanted to watch him get frustrated at building something once more because that was the best. He was a funny man, but he was at his funniest when he was cursing at an inanimate object that wouldn’t bend to his will.

I wanted him to paint me more paintings and make me more goofy birthday cards and take photographs of random things and mail them to me with a little note because he thought I would like to see them. Most of all, I wanted to introduce him to the man I fell in love with and married.


Self portrait.

I suppose I came into my own as a human being after he died. I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to figure a lot out on my own. I wasn’t too thrilled by that, I have to say. Still, a few years later, I met Lee and after falling in love with him, I had the opportunity to fall in love with his parents, too, so I promptly did that, because I could. And because I got lucky. And because you rarely get a second chance at great parents. And you should never discount the value of luck.

My dad, like all of us, had lots of flaws. Often we tend to look at the dead through rose-colored spectacles, but I try not to do that. He was far from perfect. He made choices that I never would have made. He sometimes did things that left me scratching my head in bafflement. I’ve often wondered how I could be so different from him in so many ways. And I wondered how we could also share so many interests.

The only thing I do know, 20 years on, is that he loved me and I still love him. And that’s about the best gift a parent can give a child.

Here’s to D-Day, Daddy. Wish you were here.

Auld (and New) Lang Syne

This is the house.

IMG_2001I lived in this house for six years and seven months. I moved there when I was 26 years old. It has been nearly that long since I was 26 years old.

Last week, a group of people that I hung out with back then got together for a reunion of sorts. Then I helped my cousin move. Then I flew home on a cushy first class ticket; pampering I needed after the grunt work of previous days. That’s not the story.

Here’s the story:

We named this house after its address. It was never “my house” or “the brown bungalow on the corner” (it used to be brown, if you’re confused by the picture of a white house that accompanies this post) or “the place where they throw the epic parties” or “Tara” or “Twelve Oaks” or any other damn thing.

This house was “Sixteenth Street.”

And everyone knew it.

We had a great group. That was my cousin’s doing. She was, we laughingly called her, our “cruise director.” We hung out, saw bands, drank, danced, partied, loved, lost, worked, traveled, solved the world’s problems, and lived our early adulthood as it should have been lived — with verve, with passion. Or as Thoreau might have said, we sucked the marrow out of it.

It wasn’t all fun and frivolity. During this time we watched helplessly as another of my cousins — and a roommate — died of cancer before her 28th birthday. It changed all of us. Irrevocably.

We were poor. So poor that I can’t even imagine it today, yet we managed because we had no other choice. Poverty often breeds necessity which is, as you know, the mother of invention. We were extraordinarily inventive.

Every year we cooked a massive Thanksgiving dinner on the Friday of Thanksgiving week and fed all of our friends who could not, would not or should not spend the holiday with family. We were each other’s family back then. Forty or 50 people ate at Sixteenth Street on those holidays, dubbed the “Feast of All Blackmons” by one of our gang.

The plumbing was laughable. And don’t even get me started on the “Hooterville Phone.” (Don’t ask.)

But we didn’t care. No one cared. The furniture was mostly cast-offs or trash pile “finds.” No one cared. What we did all care about was that no one was ever turned away. I learned about respect. I learned tolerance and acceptance. I learned how to love and be loved. I learned humility. I came out when I lived there. No one cared. There was some ribbing, to be sure, but no more than with anyone else with a new boyfriend. I learned how to be an adult on Sixteenth Street.

I also learned how to thaw pipes, prime oil pumps, perform minor plumbing repairs, and how it’s not a good party until someone (usually someone you are closely related to) blows something up in the side yard.

We got back together for a reunion concert of a band we used to see all the time. It has been about 15 years since we all hung out together. It was quite astonishing that it worked out in everyone’s schedules. And that everyone could travel. Most of us live, as my grandmother used to say, “hell and gone” from there these days.

The show was good, but not life-changing. The awkwardness that comes when people haven’t seen each other in so long lasted only a short time. We all fell back into our old roles, wearing them as a comfortable old sweater and reveling in the camaraderie, which was far, far more important than the music.


My cousin Jennifer and I on the side porch at Sixteenth Street. This was Spring 1992. She passed away a few months later. She was fantastic fun.

We told stories about the old days and laughed until we cried and could not breathe and then we laughed some more. More than once someone begged for us to stop because they feared the laughter would unleash that scourge of middle age: the weakened bladder!

When we said our goodbyes, my cousin and I headed south to pack up her house. She’s going through a divorce, so it was more of a pain in the ass move than your normal pain in the ass move. Also, we did it ourselves. Did I mention that if you combine my age with my cousin’s you come up with this number: 100. We should have bought stock in Advil.

With a little help we packed the truck, said our goodbyes and headed out. We planned to stop halfway, but didn’t. We planned to stop three-quarters of the way, but didn’t. We just kept going. Sixteen hours straight in a rental truck. We may be old, I tweeted at a refueling stop, but we have stamina, dammit.

After a quick few hours of sleep we began unloading the truck. A shower and a power nap later and it was time for a family dinner, more stories, more laughter, and finally bed.

My cousin is set up now in her new house. She is close to family in a place she wants to be. I have promised to visit often. She’s excited about her new life and I’m excited about having an excuse to visit a warmer clime.

Life resets itself sometimes and you begin to look forward to the memories that you will make in the future, that you will look back on in some past that’s still in the distance.

I’ve thought a lot about how I showed up on the doorstep at Sixteenth Street nearly a quarter of a century ago and how eager I was for a life in the city, surrounded by important people and doing important work. I’ve had great experiences since then. I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I’ve made a lot more money than I ever dreamed about back then. I’ve worked hard and I’m still working hard, but I feel more content and more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have. I owe a lot of that to the years on Sixteenth Street that so intrinsically formed my adult values and personality.

We always did call the place Sixteenth Street and never called it what it really was.

It was — and remains — home.