So, what gives with all those dinners with me, my Dad, and my Grandfather ending in something less than a sweet goodbye? What were the nature of the barbs being flung wide and far, and why so often? Dad himself was a class act concerning his own folks; he never complained to me about them, at least not directly.
A clue to understanding these dynamics has come from my friend, Dr. Giedre Kumpikas, President of the Lithuanian National Foundation and host of the Lithuanian Radio Hour here in New York. She tells me that in the Lithuanian-American community, the eldest son typically occupied a special place of prominence and favoritism.
Michael and Patricia Olcott had two boys, Edward and Bernard, in that order. Was Edward openly favored?
For my entertainment, Michael would utter a few worlds of both Lithuanian and Russian. I would repeat and try to commit them to memory to dazzle my pals back in Florida whom, I was sure, had never heard any words of either. But it was impossible to remember. The only word I could grasp was the Russian word for pussycat — “koshechka.” He grinned widely at me when he said it.
After dinner and just before dessert, Michael would produce a fresh five dollar bill and present it to me, just as the Lord must have presented the tablets to Moses. And like Moses, I was transfixed by the vision of the prideful face looking down at me from the other side of the dining table. No one had ever glowed at me like that. All of a sudden, Dad would nudge me and ask, “what do you say?” He was a little annoyed as if I had no manners (or had forgotten them). Immediately, I would snap out of my reverie and say “thank you Grandfather.”
In order to understand my father Bernard Olcott the man, we need to turn our attention to a pivotal character in his life. Just like Andy Kaufman was the comedian’s comedian, Michael Olcott was my father’s father. And before examining my Dad’s relationship with his own father, let me start with my own direct memories of the man, Michael Olcott. He treated me very differently from the way he did his own son.
Michael passed in the late part of the summer in 1972 so my memories of him are as a little kid in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My point of reference from those times was as a 7 to 14 year old boy, whose life was split between school in central Florida (Mom’s house) and summers back in New York City (my Dad’s home). Of course, I accepted my bicoastal existence as normal but, looking back, it most definitely was not. I was shuttling between one of the most conservative counties in the USA (Orange County, Florida) and the most liberal (New York County, otherwise known as Manhattan). In the late 1960s. Need I say more?
Dad didn’t have an iPod, of course. But he did have a relationship with music.
When married to my Mom, there was a large wooden cabinet with french legs in the living room that was actually a large monaural speaker. On top was an amplifier which took a while to turn on (see “tubes“). It was connected to the speaker and a record player that had a deep and penetrating plastic-type smell that can only be described as “late 1950s turntable.”
Back in the early 1960s, there was no such thing as a “stereo,” of course, but there were high fidelity home sound systems, or “hi-fi” for short. So Dad had one. And what did he listen to? Well, I went plunging around on YouTube and found four tracks from Dad’s presumptive iPod — if he had one — with which to serenade you!