After reading the blog post “Collecting Memories,” Joe Ford of Louisville, Ky., shared these memories of his father. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
I’ve been thinking about family “artifacts,” especially those that surprise rather than merely remind. My father was of the same generation as Pud Goodlett: he, too, interrupted his studies to go to war, returned to eventually get a Ph.D. (his in philosophy), taught college and engaged his students (in and out of the classroom), raised a family (eight of us), and like Pud had an impressive breadth of interests.
He lived a long life, but even so there are these artifacts that surprise. I knew some of them existed, but never learned the story that would lessen the mystery of how they fit in with the fabric of his life. They are photos, physical items, even stories. I encountered them, new and old, known and unknown, after his recent death.
A photograph of my father with Thomas Merton, John Howard Griffin, and Jacques Maritain. A pilot’s license. A hunting shotgun we kids would surreptitiously pull out of the attic and admire. A trumpet in a case lined in red velvet. A small box containing the relics of three saints. Every “Calvin and Hobbes” book ever published. And an oft-repeated story from his good friend Jim Henry describing the first time he met my father: he came down the steps of a Navy ship and there sat Jack Ford at the bottom, reading Aristotle.
Yes, yes, I knew he rubbed shoulders with those Catholic thinkers, had a sense he flew before I came along, had a vague notion he hunted (there was that gun in the attic, after all). But a trumpet for a man who was seemingly tone deaf? No idea. The relics—with authentication records, no less? Total mystery.
But what are the stories behind the artifacts? Why did they all come, those men, that day, to Merton's hermitage? How did someone of such modest means learn to fly and why did he give it up (other than those students in our basement throwing up after a flight)? Who taught that city boy to hunt? What did those relics hold for a rigorous, philosophical mind? And how does it all weave together for a man who lost his father at an early age and had a difficult childhood, yet found deep satisfaction in his life and family and students? We look to artifacts to bring meaning, to fill out memories, to explain. Some do. But some only give a sense of the richness and inherent mystery of a life.
In The Last Resort, Sallie Goodlett Showalter took a rare opportunity to explore and understand at least a part of her father’s life. She could have pointed to the fly rod in the garage and remarked that he had a fishing spot with some buddies on Salt River. End of story. Just some stuff, some artifacts. Instead, she and David Hoefer have brought his journal to life, a journal that touches and reflects many lives, and I am sure the research and conversation and countless artifacts have enriched her far beyond what she expected.
For all of us, in all of us, there is still mystery. Go, surprise.