Unexpected ArtifactsRead Now
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.
2/4/2018 04:34:52 pm
What a marvelous post, Joe. It makes me wish that your father had left behind, among all his artifacts, a journal of his own…
2/5/2018 08:26:19 am
Nice post Joe. Interesting to think about artifacts as at times only giving a hint of the complexity and mystery of a life. I wanted more, to have it all make sense, rather than accept the mystery.
2/6/2018 10:06:13 pm
Great job, Joe. I liked the use of artifacts. Jack was interested in so many things. That sharp mind liked to play with complexities with abandon. Perhaps that is why the loss of some freedoms, part of the aging process, was so difficult for him. We are left to ponder the mystery of it all and to value those opportunities for growth and enlightenment which come our way. Thank you!
2/11/2018 01:10:11 pm
Pud Goodlett was a friend, fellow Boy Scout and classmate of my father George McWilliams. As Sallie has mentioned, my dad camped with Pud and others at the Last Resort.
2/11/2018 02:17:37 pm
Bob, I can't thank you enough for sharing these memories of our family and of The Last Resort artifacts you uncovered. Just when I think these memories are so faint they are about to disappear, you describe a scene so vivid that it could have happened yesterday. I ran into Bobby Crossfield last fall in Lawrenceburg. I hope you've shared this book with him.
2/11/2018 11:59:48 pm
Bob, you are a wonderful story teller. You tell your account in such detail and precision, and with such a sense of place and characters, that I think I could just go tomorrow and find that board and those twigs still lying on the front porch.
2/12/2018 12:01:48 am
Whose got the machete?
2/12/2018 04:12:42 pm
Interesting to hear that TLR was still being used as a camping spot at least as late as 1964 (or thereabouts).
2/12/2018 05:35:14 pm
By happy coincidence, I just received a photo from Bob Cole of his family camping there in 1966. I hope to share that soon.
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