Sam Shovel is my father. My father’s name is not Sam Shovel. My dad is one of those characters who had a different name in every circle he ran in. I suppose he did this for anonymity’s sake, but regardless of the reason, it has always been something I enjoy about him.
One of the other qualities which has been a source of intrigue for me since the time I was a wee thing is his ability to tell stories. Not only is he a good story teller, but he’s done some of the most outrageous things and had some of the most outlandish experience that a story teller could hope to have.
As a kid he would make up the craziest stories… or at least we thought they were made up. Now a days I wonder if at least most of them weren’t true. As we grew older we’d get more and more of his stories, but they’d come reluctantly. That was his story telling downfall – my father is very selective in the stories he’ll tell, and quite secretive when he wants to be.
As he gets older (we celebrated his 61st birthday last month) he allows himself more and more leeway in his story telling. I think part of that is because it begins to flood back to him when he’s in a lot of pain and he thinks he’s not long for this earth. Other times it’s because he knows there are things he can tell us to make our lives easier, to share experiences he knows we’ll one day face. And then of course there’s the times when he’s had just a little too much rum. (He’s by no means an alcoholic – he’s just a lot less inhibited when he’s had a few drinks in him.)
Regardless the reason for the story telling, they’re always quite intense. Like the time he was making a road trip with a friend and they saw a bear in the woods, so they stopped to see if they could get a picture but the bear was gone, so his friend posed pointing to where the bear was, and as my dad was taking the picture the bear reemerged from the trees much closer and started hurdling towards them at a high rate of speed. Or the time he was on a tour of Hemingway’s house in Key West and he nearly blacked out on the floor because he was laughing so hard because his friend wouldn’t stop detonating ferocious farts. Or the time he got kicked out of the Navy because he put ink in his superior’s coffee and made him very sick. Or the time as a kid he watched one of his best friends get his head blown off right in front of his eyes…
The stories are endless. They are a veritable gold mine, mostly untapped but not in the least bit devalued. He’s a good writer too, when he wants to be, but he thinks it’s all crap. I keep encouraging him to write, and he knows his real life stories are just crazy enough to be published as outlandish fiction. But he won’t start writing again, even for his kids if not for the public. He says there’s too much he’s ashamed of to try to sift through to find the permissible stuff. He wrote journals when he was younger, and boy would those have been great to read (he wrote poetry too from what I hear). But he burned a whole suitcase full of them once, just to prove to himself that he was unattached.
(That sounds entirely too much like something I would do. I must be my father’s daughter.)
But it has occurred to me that maybe from time to time, with his permission, I can share some of the stories he’s shared with me on this page. Maybe that way at least some of them will be preserved and seen and acknowledged and will live on more than just in his memory. I think that that’s what I’m going to do. I think it’s the right thing to do.