|Oregon 1989: I had just finished a short course triathlon (photo J. Windus)|
My father really hated to have his picture on any online sites. He felt it was an invasion of his privacy when strangers could look upon his image without his consent. He made a few concessions to the modern era but did so grudgingly.
When he died in June the family had a memorial and tried its best to honor the spirit of his life.
Now that his passing is less fresh, my father’s memory, I realize, is kept by the living in the manner that best suits them. With that thought, I will become less restrictive and share material I find meaningful.
Below is what I shared at his memorial.
Dudley Flamm 1931-2021
What can I say? Dudley was an unfiltered soul. Such can have a negative connotation, but I mean it in the best way. When I was a little kid, he would have no compunction about making up whimsical ditties and laughing with my brother and me as we watched our cartoons. He even could imitate some of the voices of our favorite characters. When we went through the cowboy phase in our development, he would spin tales around a made-up town plagued by cattle rustling and desperados. Later he would invent a planet and create details about the inhabitants there. He gave me a love of stories and literature starting at childhood and continuing into adulthood. Later in life when I lived abroad, in the time before Amazon, I would ask him to send books. He would always read them and comment before sending them on.
Part of being unrestrained for Dudley was the rock-solid belief that people should live their lives as they best saw fit and everyone else could just keep their wrong-headed opinions to themselves. When I was a teenager, he gave me a jalopy of a VW bug and helped me repair it and paint it multiple colors. It was either an art car inspired by Alexander Calder or something for the circus, depending on your point of view. When I wore my hair in a Mohawk, he offered to trim the sides with his electric clipper. So I sat in the driveway on a stool, with Dudley’s vintage barber’s smock around me sporting the words “shave and a haircut two bits”, as he worked. One of Dudley’s friends rode by on a motorcycle and stopped to comment. “No, Dudley you’re not supposed to be doing that! You’re supposed to be telling him to grow his hair out!” The friend said this as if Dudley was unaware that anything was out of the ordinary. “The kid gets to wear his hair anyway he wants,” Dudley said, apparently puzzled why he would actually have to speak these words out loud.
His energy, love of adventure, and confidence that he could triumph in any crisis, was always something I admired. We would often drive from Minnesota to Montana in the winter in a blue van that in later years was not completely reliable. Dudley took these drives very seriously, bringing extra gas, spare parts and tools, food, sleeping bags, and everything needed for a serious ski safari. Generally, he was a good mechanic, and the van ran without incident. One time the radiator’s thermostat broke. Not only did he know the problem and carried a replacement part, but he also had a basin to drain the coolant into and all the tools. At the time I wasn’t impressed as I thought everyone did this. Dudley’s inclination was to repair the van at the side of the road but as the temperature was below zero we drove to a small town where he asked a garage owner if he could repair the van inside. Dudley expertly replaced the part and offered to pays the man for the use of his space. An offer that was gracefully declined.
The love of the outdoors was another gift he gave to me. When we had one of our last conversations, that in retrospect I now understand was a goodbye, he recalled the times when we climbed up Mt. Hood and skied down. On that same trip we paddled whitewater kayaks in the surf of the Pacific and went crabbing. He also recalled when we hiked and camped on the Sinai peninsula in Egypt, the majority of our gear schlepped by camels, our guides Bedouins and Israelis.
Part of why I sought international travels as a young man was inspired by Dudley’s stories of his Navy years in Panama and his wandering in Europe. He was proud of speaking foreign languages and would regale me with tales of when things went right and wrong. When I lived in Israel I saw his fearlessness in foreign tongues when he dusted off his 1940s Yeshiva Hebrew and took a shot and the local lingo. He learned the phrase “I’m a pensioner, give me a discount” when we went to various attractions. I was impressed with his moxie. The Israelis were familiar with this sort of thing and didn’t always acquiesce the way he might have hoped.
When Dudley became a grandpa, no maudlin or saccharine visions of cardigans and folksy wisdom changed his behavior. He was going to tell it like it is. At our kids’ school on grand friend’s day, he was invited to read to the third graders a storybook. He took to the task like a cat to catnip and soon had the third graders entranced. As the story progressed, he said, “You don’t need to hear these pages, they’re boring!” He then skipped ahead so as not to lose his rapt audience. I love that he wasn’t shy about making editorial judgements, even for little kids.
These past years every Friday I would call him in the morning and we would talk. Now when Fridays come I acutely feel his absence. Usually I would start the conversation with “How goes it?” And the words would flow. Never at a loss even when feeling crappy. He always had something to say, and an expressive manner in which to say it.
The things I will miss most:
· Fatherly advice delivered in a plain-spoken manner with plenty of expletives.
· Various random admonitions about Cesar salad and fettuccine Alfredo — this was his go to example of how American culture was based on overproduction and derivative of some more authentic experience;
· I will miss your stories about the Brooklyn of your youth;
· I will miss your energy to set the record straight.
Dudley I will miss your wit and wisdom and unshakable confidence.
A life well-lived.