I’m delighted to welcome Robin Stafford Sorrentino as a guest blogger today. I’ve known Robin for years — we met first online and then in real life at a writing conference. She’s one of the Imaginary Internet Friends who think it’s perfectly sensible to drive down from points north to meet up for a five-hour lunch, and then drive back the same day. She’s a dear friend.
Robin is also one hell of a writer, one of a handful of prolific writer friends who, inexplicably, remain unpublished. She writes both romantic suspense and paranormal romance and her stories are flavoured by the influence of her time spent “at the Bay” in the Tidewater region of Virginia. I’ve been fortunate enough to read and critique some of her work over the years and stand in awe of her talent and voice. She is that rare thing: a natural storyteller.
I was flattered when she asked me to give feedback on a piece she’d written about her Dad, who passed away on Friday. It’s a beautiful and moving tribute to a remarkable man. I loved it so much that, once I dried my tears, I asked whether she’d be willing to be a guest blogger and post it over here. Because writing this good, writing that tells a story of courage and optimism and a life well lived, is meant to be shared.
Please give Robin a warm welcome. I hope one day, very soon, you all will be able to enjoy her stories in published form.
by Robin Stafford Sorrentino
Life doesn’t always go as planned. I guess that’s why there are so many clichés like: if life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and whenever a door closes a window opens. When life slammed the door on my dad and showered him with lemons, he not only found the window, opened it and made lemonade, he did it blindfolded.
Once when I was struggling with some complicated long division homework in elementary school, Dad helped me figure it out. But while I was using page after page of paper, he worked the problems in his head. I said I guessed he’d made straight As in school. He said he hadn’t been a very good student. Not because he was lazy, one of his cousins told me later. It was during the depression and he had to work before and after school to help his family out. This didn’t leave much time to study.
He dreamed of being a mechanic, joined the National Guard and applied for training in the air corps. He was accepted, but before he could get his training, his unit was called up in WWII. Instead of working on or flying planes, he became an army medic. In April of 1945, just a few weeks before VE day, the jeep he was riding in hit a land mine and shrapnel destroyed one eye and severed the other optic nerve. He was 24 years old. And he was blind.
When I was in high school, I found some newspaper articles written about him and one included a picture of him in his hospital bed. Grinning. Knowing Dad, he’d probably just told a joke or teased one of his nurses. A childhood friend of his once told me that he and another friend went to see Dad when he came home on leave from the rehabilitation hospital. He said they dreaded seeing him, didn’t know what to say, how to treat him. Dad answered the door and said, “Paul, boy it’s great to see you,” and put them right at ease. I imagine he was grinning then too.
With his dreams of being a mechanic dashed, he decided to take advantage of the GI Bill and go to college to get a business degree. He figured, why sell pencils on the sidewalk when you could sell them and a lot more running a store. A course in business law fascinated him and he applied to and was accepted at the University of Virginia Law School. He completed his last year of college and his first year of law school at the same time.
Dad and Mom met one summer over a jetty on Stingray Point. They married when he finished law school and he returned to his home town and opened a private law practice. A few years later, he ran for Commonwealth Attorney and won. I can’t imagine the courage that must have taken. He served in that position until he retired at age 73.
My dad taught me more than long division. He taught me how to fish, steer and dock a boat, drive a car, decipher all sorts of instruction manuals, and drag creosoted pilings with a huge set of ice tongs. But the most important thing he taught me was not to be afraid to dream and to try to make those dreams come true. He taught me that if a window doesn’t open when that door slams shut, all I have to do is grab a putty knife and shimmy the lock open. And if it still won’t open, break the damn window. Take a chance. Work for what you want. Crawl under, climb over, but never, never stop trying. Add sugar to those lemons and grin.
When my dad died Friday morning, I didn’t lose him and I never will. All day I’ve seen him. Dancing in the living room with Mom to the music of the Tijuana Brass. Wearing his Frank Buck hat and steering the boat in the Chesapeake Bay. Rubbing his head after I walked him into another tree. Grinning. Working on the boat motor, rewiring the fuse box, digging up the septic system. Listening to me read a book to his grandsons on the porch of his cottage. Holding my children in his arms. Grinning.
And I hear him. Singing “C’mon over to my house and I’ll give you candy.” “I’m Chiquita Banana and I’ve come to say…” Laughing. And saying “I love you.”
I love you too, Dad. Thanks for teaching me to make lemonade.