It’s great that my mother thought so highly of my father. Makes me feel good in some ways. But she did more than think highly of him. She kept him on a pedestal as if he were somehow better than human. The fact that he was a doctor just added to that belief.
What bothers me is that her worship of him started with a sense of not feeling worthy herself, which goes back to her childhood. When we discussed the incident in South Carolina with the gnats, it was difficult for her to express any anger at Leon. She knew that she was upset and felt as if she would cry, but she apologized for his behavior, rather than saying he was wrong. She compared him to her father, saying that Leon was so much kinder than my grandfather that she couldn’t be angry with him.
I didn’t know my grandfather all that well. I was the second youngest of eleven grandchildren, so by the time I remember him, he was retired, crippled with arthritis, and spent most of his waking hours in front of a canvas, painting scenes from photos or copying other artist’s’ works. I thought he was very old at the time, though I realize now that he was only in his mid sixties. He seemed harmless to me.
Not so to my mother. He controlled her very closely, from childhood on, reprimanding her in her fifties for being late for dinner with him when she unexpectedly had to work late. That control took many forms, but one of the most harmful was that he instilled in her a tremendous fear about discussing his work with anyone, for he was a gangster.
She always preferred the word “racketeer,” pointing out that all he did was run a numbers racket, something that eventually became legal. As far as she knew, he never carried a weapon or hurt anyone. In retrospect, though, it seems somewhat farfetched to believe him innocent of any violence. When there’s money involved, someone was protecting the investment, even if it wasn’t him personally. Next week, I’ll post what my mother wrote about her discovery about her father’s shady activities.