Odessa, Texas – My Father’s Hometown

I wasn’t really sure why I added #8: Visit my father’s hometown, until we were actually pulling closer to Odessa, Texas. It had always been he and my brother who spoke about visiting. But as we were driving down the 20 it suddenly became very clear.

From 1953

There were quite a few gaps in our relationship, some as wide as three years of silence. Others were smaller, missing pieces that you only come to miss when someone’s gone. It is the history, the connection to his past that I crave.

Based on what he spoke about I know exactly four things about his childhood:

  1. That any good dentist could tell where he was raised, because the water there was known for the stains on his teeth.
  2. That he moved away from his hometown and to Las Vegas when he was about 12 or 13.
  3. That he developed diabetes when he was 13 years old.
  4. That he and his friends used to cruise Fremont St before it became the “Experience”.

After he passed away, I found that he was born in Odessa, a bit of history he never really spoke about (he always just bragged about being Texan). I also found I had an uncle I never knew about (I searched all the Harold’s I could find and ended up meeting him and my beautiful cousin a day before the funeral; they never stayed in touch though). I also found a letter from his biological father just after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and a photo of him that I still own that looks eerily like my dad.

Directory

Odessa Directory

How strange is it to know so little of my dad before he was My Dad? My mom used to tell me stories about her and her siblings. I would visit her childhood home every summer until my grandparents finally moved. And I’ve watched home videos of her growing up. There is a history there, an ancestry I understand. I know my mother’s mother and grandmother and great-grandmother and their stories. But for my dad it’s almost as if he sprang into existence sometime in his 20’s.

So I went to Odessa, in hopes of drawing some map in my mind of who my father The Baby or The Toddler might have been. I guess in the back of my mind I was hoping to stumble across someone who had known my grandparents before they were grandparents, when they were still young and wide-eyed and bringing home a newborn baby boy. I was hoping to sit beside some old lady and hear stories of how my dad, The Baby, would cry or laugh or play with a toy truck while the adults ate together and drank ice tea in the heat.

The Archives

Sept 16 1953 Headline

Birth Announcement

Instead we found a directory that told me my grandfather was a truck driver, an address of where they lived when my dad would have been two, and a birth announcement with the address of his first home.

That home was gone, replaced with a concrete slab. The neighbors said it was a boarding house torn down in the 70’s, giving me more questions than answers.

The second home was there, though, and I tried to imagine my dad, The Toddler, playing in the yard. I tried to hear some child laughing or see some ghost of history there, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t picture what he looked like before the age of 29 or a grandmother who wasn’t in her 70’s.

1121 Texas Ave

Foster

Did I mention my grandmother died in June? No one called me to tell me. My other grandma found the obituary and my mom broke the news to me. And all I could do was sigh with the sadness of it all as that ancestral gap widen in my heart.

I didn’t know until now that I didn’t know the man I called Dad. I loved him and he loved me. But there was always something missing. Connection. History. Maybe he couldn’t give what he didn’t have.

But I can. I can love my dad for who he was, even if I’m not sure who that is. I can love the family I didn’t understand. And I can take what he didn’t give me as a gift, one of understanding just how important it is for your child to walk through the streets of your hometown and know where you once stood.

They all did the best they could with what they had. I have the chance to do better.

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17 Comments. Leave new

Tara,
very fitting. I am on a vigil with my sister for my father who has been dying for 7 yrs of cancer and on Monday took that turn for which he will not return. He has been slowly declining since Monday and is predicted to pass any day now. We had a great relationship especially once I grew up, but there were so many things we did not do or talk about and I wish there was more time.
In Frith,
Devin

I always enjoy reading your posts – though typically from more of a, “I hope I can parent like that”perspective.

I can relate to this sense of loss – the wondering about how a part of your family could be. For me, it was my mothers family – her separation from them (and never talking about them or her childhood) made me so incredibly curious that I actively sought them out as an adult and learned a lot about myself in the process.

I’d like to give you a thoughtful comment, one that could lead you to a new path of inquiry and discovery – but I’m at a loss for how to articulate it. You will have to excuse my rambling, I hope you find something in it that connects.

In recent years, I’ve gone through extensive self discovery. I find I relate a lot to your stories about learning to parent, about wanting to be a better person and partner. I see you rejecting the institution of education, formalized learning and I really respect that. Me, I rejected the institution of family – at least the one that I was raised within. While you work a lot at what education means, what learning really is – me, I work at discovering what family means, what relationships with meaning really are.

I don’t know how to describe it – reading about your family experience while you seek out meaning in your heritage – well, it really makes me think hard about the biggest challenge I think I will have when I become a parent (and probably the number one reason I wait to have kids). I no longer have my parents in my life – of my three siblings, only one talks to me. I know that my kids will grow up not knowing their extended family and I often wonder how I will navigate that path.

Like your father, my mother never spoke about her childhood. I doubt she remembers much of it (as children that suffer abuse rarely do) – I doubt she sees the cycle of abuse that she has created within her own. Now I find it hard to talk about my own childhood (ah the secrecy that abusers breed into their children), part of talking about it always feels like a betrayal. To be totally honest, I don’t have a lot of memories. Through all of this I’ve come to realize the importance of an open dialogue with my kids – I hope I will have the strength and patience to talk to my kids and partner about everything, I will tell them what I do remember. I will encourage them to seek out their extended family when they are adults. Hopefully the cycle ends with me – but who knows?

Anyway – your “I didn’t know the man I called Dad” got me thinking about all of this. Maybe my story can shine some light onto his?

Beautiful post and message :)

Thank you for your deep post. I love your honesty. I think it’s great you went on a mission to learn more about him, most people don’t seem to care. I also feel very sad, I have a dad who is 70 and I love him very much and have chosen to live with him ever since my parents divorce when I was 13. I preferred our relationship to my mom’s relationship-she just didn’t have the time for me -neither did he though but he always made me feel like I was a light to his dark life. My dad means so much to me and it’s weird because it wasn’t all awesome -he was an alcoholic from my age of 13 until I was 19, the biggest years of any child- but I still adored him, I guess because I knew what to expect from him. Thank you for bringing up those feelings in me, I’m teary :( but happy :)

Also, I should add, this makes being a parent so real, important, and effecting. It means the world to a child to be a parent.

My motto is always live in the moment. Our moments are defined by our past. Our past consists of our parents. I love my parents but I strive to never define them. I don’t see the purpose. They are who they are, as we are who we are, because of choice. After sometime we cannot keep our parents as the reasoning to who we are.
But I know my parents, their parents, their childhood homes, and thier influential circumstances. Perhaps I would crave the reasoning if I didn’t know why they who are they are. Or not….

Tara,

I did a similar journey with both sides of my family when I was a teenager. I wanted to know why my family had ended up like it had and I wanted to make sure I did not pass some of that to my own children. I had questions that needed an indepth look into to get answers. It took a few years and several dead ends but in the end it was so worth it. I didn’t get every question answered and still today I will find little clues that add another piece to the puzzle.

Good luck if you continue to search more about your family.

Great post!

Jamie

yeah, Dad stuff here too and i have no wish to carry his/their bagage any longer. it it their stuff – not mine – my life/reality/dreams are bigger than their sadness, illness, and disability.

glad you had the chance to travel this path and delve deeper. sometimes we need to go deeper into other’s nightmares in order to see better our own good dreams. kwim?

Freely Living Life
September 24, 2010 9:18 pm

Absolutely beautiful post. Some of it I can literally relate to.

Thank you for sharing this heart felt post with us.

{{hugs}}

beautiful post, and how wonderful to be moved to make such an effort to connect with him, and to live your life in a manner that enables you to do so.

Your post has given me much to think about, as I can picture my daughter saying exactly the same thing – my parents live half an hour from us, and I am always telling the children stories from my childhood (or my parents are), we go the places I went as a child. But my husband grew up in New Zealand and both his parents have passed on. He never mentions them, nor any of his other family (either here or in NZ), never relates stories from his childhood to the children no matter how much they ask and draws a complete veil over the past. I know, in part there are some unhappy memories for him, particularly in relation to his parent’s early deaths (he was only a teenager) but it has made me realise that I need to speak with him about opening up some of his past and allowing the children to obtain a sense of self and history from both sides of the family.

Inspirational as ever – Have I mentioned how many times your posts have touched my life, or transformed the way I think and see things. Thank you for being You, much love, light and peace x

Love the closing line – it’s what gives me peace each time I feel the stress of my relationship with my mom creeping into my consciousness………..they did the best they could and I have the opportunity to do better. to learn and grow always!

Enchanting post. Thank you…

It’s beautiful that you are doing this.

PS – went back and read the entry you linked to this one again – we live an hour south of DC if you want someplace to crash when you visit the Smithsonian. We could give you guys a ride to the Metro (we’re about 45 minutes from the Branch Avenue station).

About a year ago I got to bring my husband to where i grew up in Phx. When I was in my early 20s my parents retired and moved to northern AZ and sold the house we grew up in, which my dad had built. I went to show him the house and I got confused and thought I was on the wrong street. The new owners changed so much, i didn’t even recognize it. Sometime I almost wish I never went back. I wanted to run to that house and yell at the people.

But the house i lived in when I was 6-8 outside of Chicago that looked like a gingerbread house is still there and exactly the same and thinking about it makes me smile.

I really enjoy for Jack to see the places we grew up. I’m also not super close with my birth father and some of my cousins live 3 hours from me but we don’t talk to or see each other. It’s weird.

Beautiful story.

I gave you a blog award on my site. Please stop by to claim it.

http://kathishippiehaven.blogspot.com/

Kathi

Lisa from Visionary Mom
September 27, 2010 12:03 am

This is so beautiful Tara and made a difference for me with all I am struggling with right with Don.. wanting my kids to know him, wanting to protect them at the same time.. confused about where that line is.. how much to trust and just put out there and believe that him being in their life is the most important thing, even if it doesn’t look like what I had hoped. But, family IS important.. those roots, those connections and I so appreciate you sharing this, reminding us that this stuff does matter.

What an experience for you huh?? That is something that, I think, will stay with Zeb and shape his growing up. big love to you.

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