Driving my son home from school today a discussion of his father arose. Primarily because I told him I was gonna have lunch with someone soon who's husband suddenly, unexpectedly passed away, and they had a few children, who, like Alexander, will now grow up without a father.
Alexander said this: "I can't really miss my dad because I didn't really have him as a dad. We don't miss floating around in space because we've never floated around in space. Maybe an astronaut misses floating around in space. But we don't miss it if we've never had it."
Alexander doesn't remember him because his father, Paul Williams, began the descent into dementia when he was 2 1/2 years old. I told him before that, he was a very good father, who would walk him around in a sling (when he was a baby), feed him spaghetti dinners when I was at work, and take him to the park.
I can't say that I personally, remember anything from the age of two and a half.
When I was three we lived in Manhattan Beach, CA on a sandy mound over looking some oil wells and smoke stacks of El Segundo. I thought they were amazing to look at. Sometimes the local kids and I would take cardboard boxes and sled down the sandy mound our houses were perched on to the street below. Eventually, I got in some big trouble with that.
We moved to Hermosa Beach by the time I was three. I remember losing my stuffed animal and crying and spelling the word STOP at every stop-sign. When I was five we moved to central California, a small town, Delano where my father began a job working as an administrator for the school system. Delano was surrounded by miles and miles of grape crops.
Cesar Chavez founded his National Farm Workers Association in Delano. Being a young kid I missed the whole hullabaloo happening right under my nose. Ours was a life of plastic kites, stealing loose change from parents dressers, learning how to ride a bike while standing up and putting a matchbook on the wheel so the cardboard would hit every spoke going round, making a bbbbbb noise. Every one was white skinned in this neighborhood. And I saw alot of the people inside the houses because I'd go door to door with my wagon selling dinosaur drawings for 5 cents a piece. Money for candy or turtles or goldfish.
When I was five my mother moved away with my baby sister. Sometimes I'd live with my mother and grandmother but mostly I lived with my dad in Delano. I often wonder, now, as a mother, how could a mother move away from their child. But she did, so she could get a degree and teach and make a living and possibly divorce my dad.
We never got to find out what her plan was, she died after an operation to remove cancer from her system, she never really 'woke-up'.
The day before she went to the hospital she came to stay with me and my little sister (by now four years old), we were living at my dad's mothers house this school year. She was laying on her side on the living room couch watching us play. It was October a week or so before Halloween. I tried talking to her, asking her questions but my gramma kept telling me to "hush, leave her alone, she's not feeling well". She'd always been so busy, but here she was doing nothing staring at me. It was eerie. By the next morning she was gone.
There was always something aloof and unapproachable about my mother. Beautiful and inward leaning. She'd spend hours pouring over her school books, underlining things of great importance. Shuffling through the multitudes of little cardboard squares with fabulous rocks glued to them. I wanted to be like that.
I suppose, I knew what it was like to float in space. It was not a perfect thing. You still have to pee and stuff. Maybe really I only had a taste of it a few times, unlike other astronauts that went up all the time. But I knew I liked space and I missed it when it wasn't there.
Sometimes when I was with my father I'd think "gee I wish I was with my mother" and when I was with my mother I'd think "why is it that when I'm with my mother I wish I was with my father and when I'm with my father I wish I was with my mother" I never actually connected it up to think 'why aren't they together anymore', that was some kinda advanced thinking.
After she died I made up the idea that she'd succumbed to Valley Fever while digging up very ancient Indian bones as an anthropologist, (I'd just watched a show on Dr Leakey). I really believed it. For several years in fact.
I think I was fortunate to have had that little taste of having a mother (later I had a step mother that adopted me and my sister, but that's another story). Knowing what it was like to have her bathe me and tell me how skin gets sloughed off every 7 years like a snake. Or take me to The Pike at night in Long Beach. Or buy me encyclopedia's at Lucky's Grocery one book at a time (within which I found my beloved Chesley Bonestell's astronomical art). Or lose me in the snow for an hour in the woods and I navigating on my own-found my way back to her and the rangers. Or pull me back in the car when I opened the car door while moving and she grabbing my arm, saving me from certain peril. Or making me the prettiest dress ever, one that they later had to sneak out of the closet for fear of my great upset.
At least I had those times. Those imperfect times, of floating in space.
All there is left of my mother are about four photos, this one below, being one of them. My son Alexander however, someday, will browse through his fathers books, he having written more than 30 of them...and get to know what it's like to float in space, maybe just a little bit.
A little better rendering of the photograph. My mother was modeling at Haggerty's on Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles at the time.