My friend Gabi Birkner just wrote a memoir of her father Larry Birkner, who was my boyfriend in Portland in 1972-73. Through Larry I became friends with his mother Eva, who I have written about on this blog. Larry and his wife were murdered in 2004, leading Gabi to create, along with a friend who had also lost her father through violence, the site ModernLoss.com, to help younger people cope with such loss. Here’s a link to her site:
This has inspired me to do the same for my father, Rudolph Esau, who died far too young, at 57, of a massive heart attack. Here goes:
1. He had spinal meningitis when he was 2, his eyes crossed briefly, and he had to learn to walk all over again.
2. His mother was Norwegian, his father German, and so both spoke what was then called ”broken English.” When he started school, he spoke ”broken English”, too, so was held back in kindergarten. The only remnant of this as he grew up was the word ”under”, which he pronounced as a German would.
3. At 11, he got mad at a kid in a baseball game, and punched him, knocking him out. He was so appalled by this that he never again got in to a physical fight with anyone. He was always a very gentle soul, although he liked non-violent practical jokes.
4. He was sent to the Aleutian Islands for his military stretch at the very end of the war–this California boy who had never seen snow!
5. From the time he was a very young boy, he knew what he wanted to be: a grower of plants. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, from Cal Poly in Ornamental Horticulture. He hated pretentiousness of any kind, and always called himself simply ”a grower.”
6. He met my mother on a blind date. He was 22 when I was born.
7. He was the foreman for a chrysanthemum nursery in Southern California, which grew a million dozen mums a year. They provided lots of them for the Rose Parade floats.
8. He liked to go deep-sea fishing, but didn’t like to eat fish.
9. Because of his love of plants, he had a war with 1) spiders (he really didn’t like them); 2) insects of all kinds (we never had a bug in the house, because he sprayed them to death); and 3) gophers. He used to round up the kids in the neighborhood, and go after the gopher fields, hosing them out and then whacking them over the head with a shovel. It was a different era, folks…
10. He was great at bartering–he traded his services, landscaping friends’ yards, for new flooring, plumbing or electrical work. When we went on a trip back East to see my mother’s family, he surprised us by building a whole dining ”bar”, the rage at the time.
11. Our garden was the showcase of the neighborhood. We had some 43 varieties of mums in the front garden beds.
12. My parents were great card players, and had friends over nearly every weekend. But my father hated smoking, and would always get up and open the windows and breathe deeply and conspicuously.
13. He was really a big kid at heart. He used to go to Mexico and buy tons of firecrackers for the Fourth, and then he would make firecracker rockets on the street, which shot way up in the air; we all loved it. When the police would come because it was an illegal activity, he would run in the house and leave us to be scolded by the cop. He also loved to make us kites; he would then take all the kids in the neighborhood to the park and fly them very long and high.
14. While we always had cats in our house, it was my dad who became closely attached to a dog, his beloved Bego, when we were in our teens. They were inseparable.
15. When my mother divorced him, because of years of alcoholism, he finally quit drinking. The final ten years of his life were without the grog, and he began his own growing business. He looked after his mother and got her into a nice nursing home in Ojai. He died three weeks before she did.
16. My mother and my father remained good friends, and actually went on vacations together.
17. He loved to barbecue, his favorite being tri-tip steaks.
18. I saw my father in a suit maybe twice in his life. His standard outfit from his teens on was a white t-shirt and Levis. Then in the 80s he went through a jumpsuit phase, as can be seen in the photo above of him watering our yard in New Orleans (one of his most iconic poses).
19. He used to sing ”Ramona” in the shower every night. And he had a favorite nonsense word, something like ”Skrittenninefort,” which he said whenever he didn’t know the answer to something.
20. He taught us to play poker, using matchsticks instead of money.
21. He once told my sister that we were his life. I never had any doubt about that. And he was so delighted to have a grandson. That photo above with Max is the last photo I have of them together.