My grandfather, Daddy Boots, has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve written some about him in these posts.
A Tuba Named Boots: The Audition
Today, a memory returned to me about something that happened very soon after his death. Daddy Boots was a computer enthusiast. You could call him an early adopter. He bought a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer when I was a small boy. 1979? 80? Not sure. He was also a stock market enthusiast. He retired early and he had money to invest. Perhaps if he had put it in a mutual fund instead of playing the market he would have been a multi millionaire, but it wouldn’t have made him happy.
He loved to watch tickers and read journals and buy and sell stocks. Perhaps it is what kept him alive so long after his wife’s death. He was very clever, too. He’d become so knowledgeable about the stock market and about computers, that he developed software based on his investment algorithms. He used it to do his business every day, first thing, in slippers and ancient pajamas.
He took the time to show me. He would put me on his lap and teach me how to navigate the operating system so that I could play the simple games which he taught me to load from floppy discs. His computer room was up the stairs from the laundry room above the garage. It was not connected at all to the rest of the house. The best word to describe the room is “den”, not in the living room sense of the word, but as in an animals den. It had all the things that were important to him stashed away in it. It had a strong smell which I had associated with the room, but when he moved to Norman and I visited his apartment I realized that it was him. Not the room at all. His smell is a vivid living thing in me. Not just a memory. If I choose, I can put it right into my nose as if he were here.
In a day where men and women his age are still struggling to use phones and email, he had already been using computers and modems and faxes and printers for 30 years or so. I marvel at that to this day. Perhaps I am a computer programmer today because of him, and perhaps I am a musician today because of him.
I remember during a visit to his and Granny’s home that he sat down on the couch with a clarinet case in hand. He’d kept this clarinet since he was a very young man in high school. He had taken it in to get it recorked and cleaned up. He played in dance bands in high school and when he enlisted, I believe he brought his clarinet with him. He told a story about playing in the barracks at night with the window up, and how he’d been called in to see the commander of the camp to be recruited to play. And once again, I marveled. He could only squeak out a few notes in the living room, but at one time he had been good enough to be a small time professional musician. I liked to imagine how he must have sounded. It was on a stage at a high school dance playing Moonlight Serenade that he first saw Dellalou Morris. He fell in love with her on the spot and loved her till his dying breath.
All of my life, I loved him very much, but I only saw him once or twice a year. I treasured those moments, but as an adult I did not know him very well at all until he moved to my town to live his last days. I became much closer to him in those years.
A few days after he died, I had a dream. I was in a dark room fill with TRS-80s or some such. They were all “green screen” monitors like you may have seen in a bank or at an airline. They are black screens with green words. I could smell something very familiar that seemed to ride on the a low hum from all of the little fans in the computers keeping the heat down on the processors. Then the hum changed. Something was emerging from it, I could make out word: “David”. It was a distant voice, modulated in some way, perhaps by the technology it was being emitted from. I came closer to one of the computers and a face emerged with old glasses, familiar bushy eyebrows, and a striking nose all in the form of a green outline. It was peering at me; alive
He didn’t say anything else, but a beautiful sound came forth. It was a clarinet playing low and smooth.
When I woke, I pondered the dream. I thought about that face and glasses and eyebrows and nose. Without doubt, I concluded that it was Daddy Boots. This was a Daddy Boots I hadn’t seen in a long time. This man was at last content. The death of his wife, my Grannie, froze him some way. I’m not really sure that his mind ever left that year. I knew him to be a man living with the ghosts of people long gone, the ghosts of bomber planes and flight jackets. He was restless and he missed the one person who perhaps kept him living in the present: Dellalou, his beautiful bride.
Maybe it was just a dream, but I like to think that if his soul continued on to a better place that this would be his heaven. Living and breathing computers and playing clarinet for his wife to dance to. I can never be certain, but I like to think he was playing their song.