My father fancied himself an outlaw and those of us who knew him experienced his unconventional and oft times above- and outside the law ways. His favorite characters of all time were fictitious outlaw heroes like Josey Wales and the real-life Beat poet Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac's friend and inspiration for the Dean Moriarty character in On the Road.
From the time my father was a kid, he thrived on make-believe worlds introduced in stories like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and Mutiny on the Bounty.
English: "Copyright © by Warner Bros. Inc." Photographer unknown., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Daddy wrote to one of my brothers that he went to the movies once with his father as a child and the memory stayed with him. “Thunder Road,” circa 1958 starring Robert Mitchum.
“Pop and I saw it at a Drive-in theatre. It was about a man hauling illegal ‘moonshine,’ which was a vital part of the James City County GNP where I lived. About a man breaking the law with dignity. Mitchum - cool as a cucumber.”
When he was a kid, Daddy proclaimed he wanted to be any number of things, but specifically, he wrote:
Garbageman. Fisherman. Minister. Hobo (now called homeless person). Professional guitarist or musician. Bum. FREE (above all). Actor. Teacher. Shipmaster.
Post-mortem poetry: Finding father fodder
Not all of my father's poetry is worth sharing. He himself didn't think most of it was all that great. But he put down a lot of that brilliantly mushy alcohol-drenched mind of his in writing and sometimes the essence of him shone through.
As I've been writing this memoir, the words come through a bit louder and clearer, with greater context and clarity after reading dozens of letters and poems and memories collected over the span of more than 50 years from my own missives saved to those written other family members and people close to him.
Here's a poem that surfaced in a beat-up leather satchel recently handed over to my brother after 25 years of safekeeping in the unlikely hands of an old family friend.
"Your dad gave me this bag full of letters and poems and thought it might help me. I don't know why I saved them but here you go," the guy told my brother.
Little did he know the content came at such a good time.
Me and Josey Wales
by F. Edward Clay, Jr. (circa 1990)
We are but we are
slim - humble
(Want ya' to have
this her' ring.
My grandmother giver to me;
long time ago.)
I will blow head off entire if necessary.
Civil War blues
in one fucking day.
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Tuned in, turned on, and writing about things that matter to me.