Happy Birthday Jonah

Happy Birthday Jonah

My father would have been 92 years old today, August 3, 2011.  He didn’t quite make it to 92 though; he passed away last January 2.  He lasted only about 40 days longer than my mother who died the day before Thanksgiving last year.  It made the Holidays interesting.

I always thought that my father was not a happy man.  But I’m not really sure.  You see before Jonah assumed the role of dour Baptist Deacon, he was a poker player.  Not just a poker player, he used to run poker games in my hometown of Greenfield, California in the late 1940s. Jonah had learned to play poker in the army during World War II.  He had just finished basic training when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and didn’t muster out until 1946.

Jonah was the oldest son, one younger brother and eight sisters, in the family of Jasper and Melvina Clark in Newton County, Arkansas.  I think my Dad had to become a full time farm hand at the age of 9 or 10 in 1929.  I don’t think there was much choice, but I don’t think it was a very sweet life.  He spoke of it little.  Poker players don’t reveal their emotions.

Jonah had come to Greenfield to see to his younger brother Norman who had been injured in a car wreck.  Norman had been too young for the war, or to lighten Jonah’s work load as a youth.  Norman was musician, like my Grandfather Jasper, and I hear he was quite good.  Norman was staying with Maymee and Elmer Padgett at the Greenfield Hotel.  He was in a full upper body cast with a broken neck.  The Padgetts cared for Norman and took in my father in as well.  That’s when Jonah put the main skill he had acquired in WWII to use and ran poker games around town.

Jonah had spent most of the war in Little Rock, at Camp Joseph T. Robinson.  I’m not sure if Jasper had enough pull to keep him there, but his luck had run out.  He got shipped to the Philippines and saw action at Leyte Gulf.  His unit was preparing for the invasion of Japan when Truman ordered the Atomic Bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  My father seldom talked about politicians but always expressed gratitude to Truman, because he had seen how the Japanese fought. To the death.  Which would have been the death of many Americans as well.

So instead of invasion Jonah and his fellow soldiers just steamed on into Japan and occupied it.  He stayed for a few months and could have stayed more, but he was dog
tired of the army and he mustered out.  My father had a wife in Little Rock and so he headed back there.  His wife was killed in a car wreck two weeks after he got back, something about which he never said much, poker players seldom do.  So when his parents asked him to go to California to see to his little brother, he went.

Jonah’s poker playing and drinking days have a very vague crossover with my conscious memories.  The Greenfield Free Will Baptist Church was the center of his and my Mother’s lives by the time I was really aware of the world.  The fact that I had any memories of it at all was a source of discomfort to Jonah.  That I could remember him drunk and was able to describe how I remembered it was something we never laughed over.  We avoided it.  A poker player does not like other people to be aware of their weaknesses.

As I grew up in Greenfield I always wondered why all the local farmers and business people knew Jonah, but they did.  And it was from poker.  The late 1940s in America was one big party, and it lasted for years.  It did end, but not without a hangover.  My mother landed in Greenfield in 1946 as a young war widow, with her niece Lily Mae.  My parent’s relationship was cemented in a car wreck on a foggy Highway 101 at the south end of Greenfield.  Maymee and Elmer ended up caring for the other Clark brother and my mother helped and they were eventually married 1n 1949.

It was a few years later, my older brother Leon and myself being additions, that my mother had packed us up and was ready to head to her friend’s house in Los Angeles.  Jonah
promised to change his ways and he left the party and he settled down into the person I knew.  He was the steadiest man I ever knew.  He was reliable beyond belief.  And he kept it all to himself.  He never tipped his hand.

And so I had to learn to live my life without parental approval, because if that was what I was looking for I was in for a big disappointment.  If I was going to do the right thing, I better do it for the right reason.  And the right reason has nothing to do with parental approval.  Just as providing and caring for my brothers and myself was never about the affection he received in return.  Because that love and affection waned over the years.

My father  became increasingly distant from his own family.  In later years he took to griping, but his gripe was general.  He didn’t like anything, or so it seemed at times.  But I think it was the poker player in Jonah that just refused to let anyone have any emotional leverage on him.  He had survived so much hurt that he just couldn’t survive any more.

So I can look back at my father and be truly thankful for the things he was, a dependable, faithful, rock solid provider.  Or I can look back and wish for a little more fatherly affection and approval.  Maybe it is a sign of some maturity and I see the first as a gift that so many people would trade just about anything for, and the second as the grousing of an infant.

So as I walk the beautiful streets of San Miguel de Allende and people see my watch and ask me for the time, it is with great pride and affection that I give them the time from Jonah’s watch.

World Meet World

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