East Of Eden

"A curious mix of the relevant and reverential"


Larry's Daughter.

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About twenty minutes after leaving the graveyard where we laid my father to rest, I stood in line at the nearby Starbucks. It's "my" Starbucks, the one I spent hours studying in during college, where I took part in Bible studies, discussed matters of importance and frivolity with Joscelyne, and of late, just go to get my order and split.

 

When it was my time to order, I got my usual- a venti soy white mocha- along with a frap for my nephew Justin and a chocolate milk for Zoe.  When the friendly barista asked my name, I said, "Larry's Daugter". She repeated it back to me with a slightly quizzical look on her face. 

 

"Yes, 'Larry's daughter' is right. Larry is... was my dad. We just came from burying him. And today, I am... his daughter."

 

The barista immediately began to say she was so sorry for my loss (while looking me directly in the eye, which gave her words sincerity). I thanked her as she set about making the frappucino. A couple of minutes later, a fellow barista brought over my mocha while she finished the frap. Barista 2 turned the cup and read it, then said with a little laugh, "Larry's daughter? Don't you have your own name?". Barista 1 looked horrified and launched into apologies while quietly saying to 2 the circumstances of my unique moniker. 

 

I quickly told 2, who then looked like he was going to be sick, "Look, it's okay, it's okay! I know you didn't know! But today, to answer your question, Larry's daughter is my name. Yes... especially today, it's my name."

 

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Between the Viewing and the Homegoing Service, my dad's funeral lasted four hours. It was the longest memorial I've ever attended. Even by Black Church standards, it way very, very long.

 

As my best friend Gigi's mom Ronnie put it, it was a lot like my dad himself- loud, flashy, and long-winded. Add in full of music, and I'd say Ronnie's description is spot-on.

 

Numerous speakers got in front of the mic to talk about Pastor Larry. The mayor of the city of Linden, Derek Armstead, where my dad lived since his teen years, and where I lived most of my life, presented a plaque to my stepmom, Kathy, proclaiming that day, March 27th, 2015, a citywide day of remembrance of my dad. Pastor friends recalled stories of his work in the NJ district of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, of which his church is a part. There were stories of my dad as an organist and music director, his favorite chords on the keyboard and the demand he placed on fellow musicians to strive for the best. Others talked of his skills in coordinating the tri-annual statewide conferences, getting contracts signed with hotel administrators, booking blocks of rooms, and arranging service schedules.

 

There were remarks from a few family members, too. My Uncle Curtis tearfully spoke of how his big brother had modeled leadership, ministry and personally, forgiveness. My cousin John testified how Dad had showed him how he could be a big man and still dress with style (this is very true; both my dad and cousin have a mean shoe collection, and John's scarf game puts mine to shame). John's older sister Velvet read a beautiful poem she wrote for him (I'm a blogger. She is a writer.) My ninety year old great-uncle broke down when he spoke of how he would miss "my favorite nephew". 

 

Many of the speakers offered condolences to Kathy and my grandmother. Far fewer gave a passing refernce to "the children". Only a couple mentioned my brother Joe and me by name.

 

By happenstance, I sat in the third row, behind the rest of the "immediate family". An usher was all too happy to squeeze me into the front row next to my grandmother, but there wouldn't have been enough space for K and Z, so I declined. It somehow felt wholly approriate, though. I sat with K to my right, and Justin... Justin who in the past two and half years lost his mom, moved in with my dad and Kathy, only to have to lose him, too. Yes, I needed to be with my Justin.

 

But in terms of that part of my dad's life, the Pentecostal/Holiness church part, I was seated appropriately, too. 

 

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I never fit in that world. I was a painfully shy child, so shy that my dad would at times grow angry with me. When his church friends would greet me with a hearty "Praise the Lord!", I'd respond with a simple "hello". I didn't shout, catch the Holy Ghost, or sing with soul. My father remarked I had a soft little singing voice like my mom, more Disney princess than Shirley Caesar.

 

Unlike my charismatic siblings, I darn near faded into the pews. Some of the church people misread my quiet for conceit and made their dislike obvious, but most seemed to plumb forget I even existed. When I attended a statewide conference after graduating from college (I hadn't been to one in about four years at that point), a number of people, despite having met me a number of times while I was growing up), actually said, "Oh my, I didn't know Reverend Larry had two girls!" Yes, I exist. 

 

While I listened to the speakers reminisce at my dad's funeral, so much time was given to his style- his love for a well tailored suit, matching ties and hankies, and embroidered robes. Every title he had ever garnered, from "Pastor", "Doctor", "Elder" (and one he hadn't, "Bishop") was layered atop his name like thick frosting on a cake.

 

As some of the speakers praised Kathy for her endurance and faithfulness in caring for Daddy, I skimmed through the two page long obituary included in the funeral program and noticed Kathy had included his pet name for her, "M.U.W." or "my ultimate woman". Kathy embodies, without a doubt, Dad's ideal. She's beautiful, quite noticeably, still, despite being in her sixties. She's tall, never, and I do mean, never, leaves the house without makeup. She coordinates from the top of her well-stitched and studded hats to the soles of her patent leather high heeled pumps. The daughter of a well known and highly regarded midwestern pastor (and her late husband, who actually was a bishop), Kathy is like P.A.W. royalty. 

 

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It was clear to so many at that funeral, that she and my father, married fifteen years, were something of a power couple. And as that became more and more clear, so did the realization as to why I always felt like an alien in the orbit of his world. It also clicked in as to why I always felt that my dad didn't like me. Because in so many ways, he didn't.

 

Oh, please don't misunderstand, my father loved me. He worked 16 hour shifts to put me through private school, ferried me to countless doctors appointments, made sure I always had the corrective shoes and glasses I needed. He bragged about my "straight A" grades and the full academic scholarship I was awarded to attend college. He repeatedly said, like my mom, that he didn't have to worry about me. I was like a bit of calm in between the tempests of Joe who dropped out of high school his senior year, and Joscelyne, who graduated on time at 17 but with a six month old.

 

The few times that I deviated from the script he had mentally wrote for me, he lashed out with disapproval. He hated that I switched majors from Education to English. He saw me as a teacher. He just knew I'd be one. Writing? Why? There was no security in that. When I had a few stories published, he never read them. 

 

He didn't understand why I wouldn't "come home" to his church, preferring to attend a nondenominational church for years. He visited and thought it fun, but felt it would be a phase. When I left there and wound up at an Anglican/Episcopal church, with it's liturgy and catholic-lite traditions, he was baffled. I'd try to explain, but my words were pretty much gibberish to him. 

 

My nose ring, cutting my hair, how I dressed... all wrong. My drawings and paintings didn't garner a response, all but one that is. We both loved Langston Hughes and The Beatles, but those conversations quickly fizzled.

 

What is it about me that he didn't like? There's no simple answer, I suppose. Maybe it's everything or nothing, but just saying that makes for a pretty unambitious blog post, so I'll profer my best guess.

 

My dad had a vision, a vision of excellence for his life that was centered on ministry. He saw his small church, the size of a chapel really, through the eyes of that vision, and believed wholeheartedly it would grow to be at least triple that size. He conducted Sunday morning services with (surprisingly) more formality than my Episcopal pastor, as if there were 300 present instead of 30.  He dropped hundreds on suits to look the part of blessed pastor, complete with matching tie clips and cuff links. It was all part of that vision.

 

I once reminded him of the Langston Hughes' poem " Harlem (Dream Deferred)" with a warning. I told him not to let his vision obstruct his view of reality. I felt the vision had gone from "syrupy sweet" to "heavy load". "Don't let it explode, Daddy." He quickly grew angry then defensively dismissed my words.

 

I understood the vision, but didn't see it. I guess I'm not prophetic that way. I didn't fit into it anyway. So maybe it's not that he didn't like me as much as he couldn't totally see me. At some point, I had faded for him, too.

 

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There were times I feel I did come into focus, namely when I had Zoe. He even preached a sermon about living a "zoe" life, or an abundant life. When he presided over her Dedication, he was brought to tears.

 

The day we buried my Daddy, I came to an uneasy, but solid place about our relationship. He may or may not have liked me, or perhaps, really even knew me, but he loved me. And blessedly, that is far more than enough. 

 

So on March 27th, 2015, while Linden observed, and many mourned, I quietly reveled, and sipped my coffee, knowing I am Larry's daughter.

 

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