BETWEEN THEM: RICHARD FORD REMEMBERS HIS PARENTS

In Between Them, Richard Ford’s tender narrative of memory and parental love, the author notes that “most everything but love goes away.” 

“As I record these events, I realize that like many renditions of childhood, mine—under time’s ruthlessness—might seem incomplete or lacking…I can only intuit what was [my father’s] effect on me. But if I had to I would say that because I was his son, I can recognize now that life is short and has inadequacies, that once again it requires crucial avoidances as well as fillings-in to be acceptable. Most everything but love goes away.”

Ford will appear at Capital University’s Mees Hall on April 23, 7 pm, as part of the Bexley Community Author Series, hosted by Bexley Public Library in partnership with Gramercy Books, along with Bexley City Schools, Bexley Community Foundation, Capital University, Drexel Theatre, and WCBE 90.5 FM. Writing since the 1970s, Mr. Ford is recognized as one of America’s greatest living authors, having received both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Prize for Independence Day, one of the series of novels that began with The Sportswriter, in which he created the indelible character Frank Bascombe. Pieces of Ford’s own life—the abiding sense of love and family, of guarded hope and loneliness—find their way into Ford’s fiction, particularly the novel Wildlife and the short story collection, Rock Springs.

Between Them is presented in two sections as the author views first his father, then his mother. These segments were written thirty years apart, the one reflecting his mother’s life written in the near aftermath of her death in 1981. “The act of considering my mother’s life is an act of love,” Ford says in the memoir. 

“I loved my mother the way a happy child does, thoughtlessly and without doubts. And when I became an adult, and we were adults who knew one another, we regarded each other highly. We would always say ‘I love you’ to clarify our complicated dealings without pausing. That seems perfect to me now and did then.”

The earlier section about his father Ford wrote more recently, fifty-five years after his father died in 1960.

Ford admits he only recalls “pieces of life” and refers to his own being a life filled with small events.

“But pieces can stand for the whole well enough. Though each must make a difference to me or I wouldn’t remember them so well.”

He remembered a neighbor’s words about his mother as they were the first time he thought of his mother as someone else, as an individual separate from his mother. 

“It is, of course, a good lesson to learn early…since one of the premier challenges for us all is to know our parents fully—assuming they survive long enough, are worth knowing, and it is physically possible. The more we see our parents fully, after all, see them as the world does, the better our chances to see the world as it is.”

This last statement made me think of a small plate, a memento, that I held onto after my parents died. Etched on its face is a black and white photograph taken when my younger parents had the opportunity to travel to China on vacation. My dad’s expression is of someone carefree and curious; my mother, too, seems unburdened and open. I liked it so much because it is an image of my parents that offers me another sense of them than what I, the child, viewed from my perch in our small house on the east side of Columbus, or even much later as I became an adult. When my sister and I were present, they were our parents. We held our limited sense of them while they assumed their role as parents, a bit more encumbered and restrained. Yet, we were also able to observe moments when their deep love and affection slipped through that framed boundary.

Ford says that in difficult moments, long after their deaths, he continues to experience the purest longing for his parents, “for their actuality.” Writing about them in this stirring memoir gave him a way to imagine them near and had been a source of immense and unexpected exhilaration for him. An enduring truth of life is that the world often doesn’t notice us, Ford says. This understanding has motivated much of what he has written over the past fifty years. “Mine has been a life of noticing and being a witness…The fact that lives and deaths often go unnoticed has specifically inspired this small book about my parents.” 

“Though when I turn to regard life—my own or others’—I now never fail to be struck, amid the onslaught of all that’s happened and still is happening, by how much that’s gone from me. Absences seem to surround and intrude upon everything. Though in acknowledging this, I cannot let it be a loss or even be a fact I regret, since that is merely how life is—another enduring truth we must notice.”

I had dinner with my sister the other night. We agreed that we both had thought a lot about our dad on his recent birthday; he would have been 96 on March 9th. Remembering our parents is something all of us who have lost our parents do in varying degrees. Perhaps the less that parents reveal of themselves and their own thoughts, the more children are left to imagine those thoughts, to wonder, to consider. To yearn for more.

 

Written by Linda Kass

About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications and am now an assistant editor for Narrative, an online literary magazine. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War. It won a Bronze Medal for Historical Fiction from the Independent Publisher Award Program and was a 2016 Foreword INDIES Award Finalist. I am also the proud owner of Gramercy Books, serving all of central Ohio!

Learn more about me on my personal website.