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Lessons of Life She Learned From Dad

June 08, 1986|ZAN THOMPSON

I spent my first summer on the apron of the 18th green of the Portland Golf Club. Or at least just off it in the dogwood trees and Oregon maple and Douglas firs surrounding the course. I have a picture of myself seated in a bassinet, smiling aimlessly at whomever was behind the camera.

I don't remember it, of course, but it must have been a marvelous place to learn to sit up. My father was a charter member of the club and my mother and father spent that summer living in a tent with a floor on the edge of the course. Daddy liked to play in the long twilight of the Northwest and Mama played in the daytime, paying a caddie to sit with me instead of to carry her golf bag. I have a picture of mother somewhere taken with her arms at the top of her swing. I can't judge her swing because I don't know enough, but with her white, full-sleeved blouse and her ground-length skirt and her bracelet-sized waist, she is winsome evidence that ladies have been at the game as long as men, at least in Portland.

Daddy, a lawyer with an office in downtown Portland, had as his partner a cautious Norwegian boy who thought golf was too expensive. He was an excellent lawyer but he didn't have much fun. He and his wife were so busy squirreling away the nuts for the winter, they forgot to listen to the music heard down the hidden paths of the main highway to amplitude and security. Daddy worried about him so he bought him a set of golf clubs and paid for his membership in the Portland Golf Club.

He became an excellent golfer, going on to win state tournaments clear into his 70s when he was playing as a senior.

My father had style and grace and he believed in joy as a perfectly respectable end in itself. He used to smile and say, "Sufficient unto the day."

The entire Bible passage is from Matthew 6:34, and goes like this: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

I do not mean my father was profligate. He worked hard all his professional life, which only took him into his 57th year.

He went to Yale University and to Yale Law School as an Irish kid from a farm in southern Oregon on the Smith River. He earned his tuition and expenses working in the logging woods. He must have hit that school like a piney breeze. He had a marvelous time, was invited to all the parties with the pretty young women from the Seven Sisters and to three parties at the White House. He had a dress suit, a top hat and a Malacca cane with a silver knob on top. It was slender as a rapier and when I was growing up we used to play dress-up with the top hat and cane. Even the case for the top hat was elegant, rich, golden leather with Daddy's initials, J. M .J. for John Michael Joyce tooled on top.

Then my father was driven out of Portland by the Ku Klux Klan. That sounds like something from an ancient and brutal time. It was. Daddy and his partner dissolved the firm because Daddy said there was no reason for the partner and his family to suffer for Daddy's Catholicism. The partner, until the last day, wanted Daddy to change his mind but the practice was eroding daily so great were the economic pressures from the Klan.

Daddy took us back to the woods. And my father, a young, successful lawyer who hadn't had any exercise but golf for 11 years, worked as a whistle punk. That was the man who crashed through the brush and trees ahead of a newly cut log hurtling down the mountain. He blew a piercing whistle to warn of the onslaught of the deadly missile. This is all probably done by computers now, if it is done at all.

At the end of summer we came to California and Daddy opened a law practice. Then there was the Depression. And one terrible year, when I was 18, my mother died and Daddy was in an automobile accident and hospitalized for months. Of money, there was none.

Daddy's old friend and partner came to California for a golf tournament with his wife and son and, of course, they stayed with us in our large comfortable house as they always had.

Daddy took them out to dinner at the most elegant place in town and I went to work at the theater where I was an actress seven nights a week.

The next morning at breakfast, before our guests were up, I asked, although it was none of my business, "Who got the check last night, Daddy?"

"I did."

"But, Daddy, so much money," I said.

"Might as well be hung for a sheep as a goat," Daddy said.

And so you might. If there's nothing left for bread, buy a flower. And when the partner and his family left, Daddy waved from the doorway and his old friend never knew how close to the wind Daddy was sailing.

Improvident? There wasn't enough money to use such a big word. Gallant, maybe. A little noblesse oblige for the cautious Norwegian boy whom Daddy had taught that fun is not sinful.

Have a Happy Father's Day next Sunday. And be sure that your father does too. And laugh a lot. Sufficient unto the day, baby.

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