In the Celtic tradition, so many centuries ago, children were fostered. Young boys and girls were loaned at an early age to other adults responsible to instruct them in the practical skills necessary for living.
My dear old dad Frank J. had an older brother named Jack. They were pals, and were fostered every summer of childhood out to the wilds of their grandfather's dairy farm on the south shore of Long Island. Partly to get away from the heat of the Bronx, but mostly to get out of their mother's way.
Like the old Celtic working class, the bluecollar brothers learned how. To milk cows, scythe hay, clean barns, herd some wandering animal. And they were taught to love the story, to comprehend the way to use it right. Their Irish grandfather had talked his way, without passage papers, off a ship straight through the halt of Ellis Island, and found employment as a laborer in New York City until he had enough to buy land near the water for a buck an acre. So the farm became encouragement; life's rules set in dirt, not city stone.
The Celts believed a man, through fosterage, could rise above his father's experience. I suppose some of the important things we learn aren't necessarily what our parents teach us.
Frank and Jack went on to different lives. Uncle Jack became a warrior, tied to the U.S. Army in Germany during WWII, returning safely to work the rest of his life for one corporation as photographer and darkroom expert. My father, undraftable due to an accident where he lost an eye as a young child, became fostered to Fordham University, where he earned a degree in economics and philosophy, then went on to finish law school.
The two had one similarity. Each had two daughters.
I spent last week with my cousin Maryann and her family on Hilton Head Island. We too have been pals since childhood. Like our fathers, we are not the same. Maryann is frilly; I prefer plain. Maryann doesn't like to get dirty; I am always in the mud. Yet ruffled or not, Maryann has always had that spark of spirit that will try anything, and that is where we have always merged. And most of our time together is spent talking. The stories of our fathers delivered, sometimes new, sometimes shared once again for the hundreth time.
It is my theory that a daughter who is fostered by a father with the belief that she can do anything has a better-than-average chance of succeeding. In retrospect, over more than 50 years, Maryann and I have done OK, despite the common experiences we all have with death, memory, rejection, resolution. We are still here...looking it square in the eye.
She married a fine man, and after a long administrative/management career, is now earning her MBA. Her daughter, already so accomplished at the age of 25, has married a talented young man of integrity and bright smile. As for me, my job now is fostering others: in a classroom, through a speech, online. Creating stories in computer code, and traveling when I can to sit in some new silence, watching, listening, putting words on paper.
I made the journey back from the southern point of South Carolina yesterday, a 9-hour drive, gas prices rising near each big city along Rt. 95. Paul Simon tunes were on the Bug's sound system, music about baby drivers, complete with burping sax. As I drove over the Cape Fear River, I passed a lumbering RV, its name clearly marked on its bumper: TRADITIONS. Methinks the driver simply saw a blue blur zip by, some spirit heading north, that color slipping behind some other "rabbit" car going way too fast, and bound to get caught.