Tag Archives: kahrmann

What I wouldn’t give to be in a conversation with…

What I wouldn’t give to be in a conversation with

Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Haydn. Hell. All of them.

Add John Steinbeck and James Salter, Charles Dickens! Leo Tolstoy!  Edith Wharton, Shakespeare,  Dos Passos, Austen, Emily Dickinson. Hell. All of them.

And Lincoln, Washington, TR, FDR. Hell. All of them.

Dr. King, Mandela, Gandhi, Malcom, Sadat, Eleanor Roosevelt. Hell. All of them.

A short story: The grenade

How was he going to write anything if the bent corner of the notebook’s cover kept derailing him? It was pitiful. He was pitiful. He knew this perfectly well. No matter how he placed the notebook on the table, adjusted the light, angled the pen, the triangular shape of the bent corner was still there, causing chaos. 

He could not concentrate. His body felt like a clenched fist. Worse than that. A grenade. He half expected to explode into pieces. First, a bent corner. Then, carnage.

He drank come coffee. It occurred to him that the last thing a grenade should be ingesting is caffeine. Talk about adding fuel to the fire. The thought made him laugh out loud.

Outside his window his neighbor, Shirley, mid-seventies, maven of sweatsuits, enamored with the idea of bellowing absolutely everything she said, asked another neighbor:  “ARE YOU GOING TO THE GROCERY?!” 

It was a wonder the concussive impact of her voice didn’t catapult her neighbor to the grocery on the spot. After all, it was only a half mile away. The grenade heard no response to Shirley’s question. Perhaps the neighbor had been knocked unconscious.

He drank more coffee.

A boy watched from the corner of the room.

The grenade could not see the boy.

The boy was not troubled by the notebook’s bent corner. 

An old man sat in the corner opposite the boy. They could see each other. The grenade could not see them. Like the boy, the old man wasn’t in the least troubled by the notebook’s bent corner. A corner is a corner and a bend is a bend, nothing more, nothing less. 

“Matters of a small frame,” said the old man, in silence. 

In a third corner of the room stood a three-year-old girl. The boy and old man could see her. She could see them. The grenade could not see her. That a bent corner had gotten hold of so much of grenade’s decision-making broke her heart.

The little girl said: “I am his mother. I am stuck here. My mother died too soon. If he could hear me, I would say, I am your mother, you’re safe now. ” Her eyes were tears. She looked at the grenade. “I am your mother.”

The old man and boy watched the grenade. The grenade remained still, staring at the notebook’s bent corner, unaware of the truth surrounding him. He thought he would explode at any moment.

Let’m come

Sweet pulse muscle moves

me onward up hill

climbing days

let’m come

Leg churning piston drives

open sky breeze shifting

feather touching

let’m come

Powered legs raise me standing

unflinching unbowed vision

clear sighted I say

let’m come

 

 

 

 

My father at 100

If you are lucky in life, blessed might be the better word, you’ll have the experience of someone loving you completely simply because you are you. Someone with whom you can be yourself safely all the time. My father was that someone for me. He was and is the greatest gift my life has ever given me. If ever a human deserved a long life, it was my father. He died Saturday, August 16, 1969, at age 55; I was 15. When he died my ability to feel safe in the world died with him. It did not return until a few years of sobriety were tucked under my belt. I’d give up the rest of my life in the blink of an eye to hug him one more time.

My father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann, was born Friday, February 20, 1914, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Next Thursday would have been his 100th birthday.  I had hoped to drive the 400-mile round-trip next Thursday to visit his grave in Graceland Memorial Park in Kenilworth, New Jersey, but my financial realities will not let me do so. He would be the first to tell me not to worry about it. He is, however, always with me. Some years after his death it occurred to me that death does not take the all of someone away from us. My father is with me all the time. His presence in my life is alive and well.

And there’s more. There is a large tree next to his grave. Some years after he’d died I was standing by his grave. It occurred to me that his body had begun to feed the soil and the soil feeds the tree and so the scattered of small twigs and branches the tree shed took on special meaning for me. I gather some up twigs and gather more every time I go. By having the twigs near me or on my person my soul says part of my father is with me. On very rare occasions over the years I’ve given one of these twigs to someone I love who has, because they are who they are, arrived at a sacred place in my heart.

My father taught English at Columbia University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He was a veteran of World War II, serving in the Army’s 20th Armored Division, one of three U.S. Army divisions to take part in the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp located about 10 miles from Munich. I did not learn about this until after he died. He never talked about it.

He was also my best friend. We built a tree house together, stayed in a cabin on Stokes Forest, New Jersey together, read books together. Once, at my pleading, he agreed to accept the non-dancing part of Herr Drosselmeyer in the Orange County Ballet Theatre’s production of the Nutcracker in which I danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince. He did beautifully and received wonderful reviews. One said his Drosselmeyer was the suave master of legerdemain. My mother gave him a box of matchbooks with those words embossed on the cover. He was little-boy happy handing them out to his colleagues.

My father also gave me the gift of reading. When I was about nine or 10 I went into his room. He was sitting behind his desk working on something. Behind him was a wall full of books. I said, “I’m not a reader like you and Mommy.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I can’t finish any of the books I start.”

“What makes you think you have to finish them”?” I was surprised by his response and it showed. “You’re thinking of school assignments. We’re talking about reading. Let me ask you, don’t you think the author has something to do with keeping you interested?”

I nodded.

“Okay then. Tell you what. Grab 10 books that perk your interest, forget page numbers, and read them until they don’t interest you anymore.”

Suddenly and gloriously the world of reading was mine. The first adult book I ever read was The Folded Leaf, by William Maxwell. I still have the copy from my father’s library on my shelf. To this day reading is one of my greatest loves and, when times get tough, refuges in life.

I loved and love my father my whole wide world. He loved and I suspect loves me the same.

Happy Birthday, Daddy. I miss you.

My father

This is not the first and will not be the last time I write about my father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann. He was (and is)  the greatest gift life has ever given me. Yes, he died way too soon at age 55 (I was 15), but his presence in my life for those 15 years and for every single day since (death only takes away so much) has made all the difference in the world for me.

I miss him on a daily basis and would give anything to be able to sit and talk with him for hours (and hug him). After he died I learned some things about his life I’d like to ask him about. When he was alive I knew he was in the U.S. Army in World War II and I knew he was in the 20th Armored Division. It was only a few years ago that I learned the 20th was one of the three American divisions to liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp. Like most war veterans, my father never talked about it.

All of us have relationships with our histories. Much of getting to a healthy place in life revolves around getting free of the damaging messages we received about ourselves when we were growing up, when we were too young to have any reference point to tell us what we were being told about ourselves was wrong. People (often family members) saying: You’re stupid, too fat, too thin, too ugly, too intense, the cause of all our problems…and then of course, the are those children who’ve been on the receiving end of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual, where your entire being gets the message that you are unforgivably inhuman, worse than dirt. Also damaging is the messages some get that they are smarter, better, superior than others. One’s self-image is badly skewed when on the receiving end of falsehoods like those.

Getting free of these messages may seem impossible. Not so. If you were (or are) lucky, you had someone like my father in your life. Someone who simply loved you for being you. All you had to do was be yourself to be loved and accepted, and in that, you got to discover that there is such a thing as being safe with another human being. It’s a helluva lifeline, I can tell you. Perhaps there is someone in your life who loves you like that now. I hope so.

At this writing I am 59 and I’ve been  on my own since I was 16. Were it not for the presence of my father in my life I would not be alive. Some have said it was an act of courage for me to get back to my feet after being shot in the head at point-blank range. Maybe so. But, if so, my father (and my then seven-year-old daughter) provided the ignition that allowed what courage I have its full rein.

I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to write about my father today. It may be because we are closing in on the end of a year and about to start a new one. I tend to get a bit reflective around this time of the year.