Words, the tiny assassins

Image Credit: “Hellhound Train” from Savoy Brown

When my father died in 1975, Vernon Jordan spoke at the funeral and I still remember what he said that so much emphasized the power of words. What he said was, “Sebastian Owens could tell you to go to hell in such a way that you looked forward to the journey.”

So I guess you can see why that one stuck with me.

My dad was someone who didn’t say a whole lot most of the time. As a matter of fact sometimes it seemed like he could go entire days at home with out uttering a single syllable. Mom had to break him of his habit of going straight downstairs after getting home from  work to put on his headphones and listen to his jazz. He would do this before he even said ‘hello’. It wasn’t that he didn’t love us, because he loved us madly, as Duke Ellington would say. It really didn’t occur to him that this might matter to a kid, but then that’s what Mom was there for. He just wasn’t always the best at expressing himself.

Or at least that’s what I thought until Vernon Jordan spoke about the man he knew, who was  a man I don’t think I ever met. And that was when I learned the lesson that the parent you know at home is oftentimes not the individual navigating the world on your behalf when you aren’t around. Parents fight battles that their kids don’t even know anything about, which is probably oftentimes as it should be. You only have a small window to be a kid, and if that gets interrupted by trying to shoulder the burden of your parents’ struggles then that childhood just got shortened.

But that’s not where I was originally headed with all this. What I wondered later, as I thought back to what Vernon said, was how often Dad told somebody to go to hell (in that apparently inviting way of his)? What did someone have to do to get him to that point to where he felt compelled to usher them into the furnace with a smile on their face? And what were the words he used? How do you tell someone to go to hell and make them smile gratefully at the same time? Where did he find these words?

Because I need them now…


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Writer and musician.

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