Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

Author:Tom Ryan [Ryan, Tom]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins US
Published: 2013-08-21T16:00:00+00:00


The Spell of Agiocochook

My father always had a difficult time being happy. He was witty and charming in public, with the cashiers at the local pharmacy or supermarket, or with the people at town hall, but alone it was a different story. He was hard on himself and critical of his children. He was good at many things, but intimacy wasn’t one of them. What he and I had shared that first summer Atticus and I were in the mountains was as close as we would ever get. But when Atticus and I returned to hike them our first winter, my dad built a wall between us. He was back to being distant, to pushing me away, and to at times acting belittling.

I didn’t understand it, but my friend Ed Metcalf did. He was from my father’s generation and offered me the following perspective: “Your dad was thrilled when you hiked the mountains in summer because he could see himself doing them. Lots of people do them. But in winter you were going someplace he couldn’t go. He couldn’t see himself doing that. You were overshadowing him.”

I knew Ed was right—I just didn’t want him to be.

Toward the end of our first winter, when it was clear we weren’t going to finish all forty-eight, I was disappointed and called my father to let him know.

“I didn’t think you could do it,” he’d said. The words were not tinged with emotion; they were flat and matter-of-fact, but some arrows don’t need to be dipped in poison to kill.

There was only one way to love him, and that was through a buffer. That’s why when I visited him in spring or summer, it was during a Red Sox game. Or during a Patriots game in football season. He felt comfortable conversing for half an hour before or after a game and was happy that one of his children had come for a visit—provided we didn’t stick around too long when the game ended or talk too much during it.

Another buffer was the Undertoad. He enjoyed getting every issue, even though he often went to great lengths to point out the misspelled words and would count the ads to see how I was doing financially. He would never admit to it, but he was proud of me.

There was a time he’d wanted to be a newspaperman, and he went through his life as a frustrated writer. His eloquent letters to the editor, which were often the highlight of the local newspaper, were the closest he came to being published.

When Atticus and I began our Winter Quest for a Cure, my father and I hadn’t talked for months. Our last conversation had taken place right around the time I let him know our goal of ninety-six peaks in ninety days. But I wrote to him, every two weeks. He liked getting letters. As he grew older, the only personal mail he received was from his daughter-in-law, Yvette, who wrote wonderful, flowing letters, and from me.


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