Thursday, April 21, 2011

Theatre of the mind

The photo shown here was taken sometime in the early 1900s. The man standing beside the wagon is someone I never met, but from what I know of him he worked hard all of his life... and what I know about this picture is that his wagon load may still be in the ground as part of the infrastructure that runs through Athens County Ohio.

This is Jacob "Jake" Minerd who died of a heart attack while picking potatoes in the 1930s, he is my great-grandfather and I would give anything to have known his grandson (my father) when he was a young man.

All I really know about him is what has been passed down by my mother and not a lot of what she knew of him was all that flattering. According to those stories and my own vague memories of him he was a hell-raiser and a free spirit when he was a young man and his experiences in life couldn't have been more different than mine. Aside from the blood in our veins and our last name not much else about us resembles the other.

But like I said, I wish I could have known him better, not so much as a son but as someone his age, maybe even hung out with him for a while if only for the chance to possibly understand not only who he was but why. I can only imagine the the type of men he may have called friends or running buddies. If a movie were to be made about him it would probably be one something like "Cool Hand Luke" about a guy who couldn't be tamed.

There would be a backdrop of dirt roads where he hot-rodded through the countryside in old jalopies, a lot of hard drinking in some rough Southern Ohio bars, some prison scenes and a lot of women who fell prey to his charms. Falling prey in the sense that he was a good looking guy with what has been described as a gift of bullshitting his way in and out of unsuspecting hearts, or as he described himself....God's gift to women.

Someone I would have found to be a very interesting man.

As I have often written I wish I could have been alive in the 1940s and old enough to take in all of what that decade was. To have had the chance to join the heroes who fought against tyranny in World War ll and to have experienced the culture of America during that time. My fascination with the big cars of that era as well as the movies and the music that were made then and the way people dressed and their attitudes toward one another has filled many pages of stories I hope to someday publish.

The man who married my mother before he was twenty-one years old was someone I am sure could have given me enough material for a great movie script, and if I could write such a script I would want to play him if that movie were ever made. Far be it from me to condone his early lifestyle but I have to believe the man had what he regarded as fun. Usually at the expense of others but I know that in his mind his life before settling down in his forties was one long joy ride that landed him in some very exciting scenarios as well as rivers of hot water.

And from what I think I understand about him he didn't mind... nor did he feel much remorse for the trials and tribulations he caused for anyone including himself.

I wish I could have peeked inside his brain when he found out that I grew up and became a lawman. I have often wondered if that made him proud considering that he spent a great deal of his youth running from guys like me. Petty offenses mostly, but offenses that did allow him to get to know life behind bars more than a few times.

Old faded black and white photographs of him show a cocky looking guy who seemed to enjoy showing that side of him in various poses. Pictures of him with a cigarette dangling from his lips or a bottle of beer in his hand and facial expressions of a man twice as big and way more important than he was.

He was guy who served in two branches of the armed forces during wartime, serving in both the United States Army and Navy, and his stock and trade after that was in iron works. A tough guy who wanted to be married and have children but one who never learned the ropes of either until after he was booted out of my mother's life and found his bearings with another woman and more children besides the ones he left her alone with. That's when I finally got to know a little more about him. By his own accounts he was the man my mother knew, one who made a ton of mistakes in life.

But how I wish I could climb into a time machine and go back and observe him as his equal. To see first hand up close and personal the things he did and how he behaved. If I could do that I would be right there in that era I only know from books and movies and from second hand accounts from those who were. I think if I could do that I might be able to change the course of this man's history. I may have been able to steer him away from some of the self destructive behavior that made his life such a challenge.

I know, that sounds like I may have more confidence in myself than I have a right to but I like to think that I could do it and I know that I would have found the experience worth it for us both.

In reality I know that any attempts to change who he was or how he acted would have been a frustrating endeavor in futility just as it was for my mother and a few others, but imagine being a part of something like that. To be with your father and see him as he was, not as a son but as someone who only knew him well...or at least as far as he knew your role in all of it.

To be there knowing that he's your father but being the only one on the planet who knew it and being someone who knew what he was going to do before he did it and having the chance to at least try to change his course in life for the better but knowing you would fail. Now that I have written these thoughts down and studied them I may indeed be onto a pretty good movie script.

And while I am back there I would want to look up the second man who married my mother and became my real dad. Totally opposite from Jacob's grandson. What Jake's grandson pretended to be my dad really was. My mother regarded him as a true gift from God and he was the best gift she could have given myself and my siblings. If I could go back in time and study both men before they married my mother and found myself in a position to pick one or the other for her the decision would be a no-brainer.

I can't think of a single thing I would change about my dad's life except to maybe make his work a lot easier than it was or to make his paychecks fatter than they were so he could have had more.

Here were two men who grew up in Southern Ohio approximately seventy miles from one another who couldn't be more different. And although I hold my dad in higher regard than I did my father his life wouldn't make a movie nearly as interesting. As far as I know he did everything right in his and by comparison to Jake's grandson a film about him just wouldn't be that interesting. Still I would love the opportunity to make one that had both of them in it.
Click the photo to enlarge

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