The Ghost in the Machine

He passed without fanfare, with those he loved by his side. There was no funeral and certainly not a will.  My only inheritance was the small, tan box of cuff links my sister retrieved from his Florida apartment, the same leather box that sat on his dresser when we were growing up in Pittsburgh.   That house is far away in time and distance.  The dresser is gone, too, lost in the fire that cremated my brother’s possessions.  But I have that token of my father’s existence, the contents of the box memorized  years ago. A political button. Silver cuff links. A pair with his initials engraved, a wedding gift from my mother.  I recalled that a heavy lead bullet was tucked in among the jewelry and when I opened the lid for the first time in forty years, there it was.  Ignorant of much having to do with guns, I assumed it was from World War II.  My son corrected me, saying it was from the Civil War.

I wish I could ask my dad how it came into his possession.  But I can’t.  Not ever.  

I long for his voice, the conversations we had, the jokes he always told at the end of every weekly phone conversation.  My battered, ancient cell phone contains a precious voice message he sent after our last visit together.  Efforts were made to retrieve the message but it proved impossible.   The phone is an embarrassment to me each time I pull it out of my purse to take a call, chipped and scratched and hopelessly quaint when compared to the smartphones others are carrying.  But his voice is in there, when I need to listen.

Where did you go, Dad?

“Faith is a gift,” he once stated to me when I was eleven and doubting everything.   We both fell away from our Catholic upbringings, which failed to provide either the solace or the answers we demanded.  Two apostates, one left behind to wonder about the ultimate mystery.

No funeral, no wake, no memorial bench in a park or commemorative brick outside a stadium to note that my father lived on this earth.   Nothing tangible, besides a few photographs and a box of cuff links that wouldn’t fetch twenty dollars at a pawn shop.

Is it disturbing to crave contact with the dead? I seek some message, some hint, some bit of remembrance.   Sitting at the computer, trying to find any tidbits of my father’s oft mysterious life, searching court records, property documents, websites of the companies where he was employed in a futile attempt to reconnect with the person who died, the dad I loved.

The internet presented a gift.  Newspaper archives.   The Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  Glorious day! He was a reporter and I combed page after scanned page looking for his byline.  

There it was.  And there it was again.  He covered fires.  And movie stars.  Politicians and projects.   He even was the subject of several articles himself.  

Russell Baker once wrote, ” Serious journalism not not be solemn”.  Indeed.  I found one of my dad’s entries. “386 Degrees In The Shade”.   He reported it and it was true.  Students were matriculating on an overcast day and he was among them, both as reporter and a journalism graduate.

He was old school until the end, convinced that newsprint and ink would never pass.  He railed against online writing, although I think he’d be more astonished than I was when I discovered in the google archives that his old columns resurrected themselves in electronic form.   He died, but his writing refused to do so.


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