DAD AND HIS NEST: FAMILY DYNAMICS, PART 1

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?

MY GRANDFATHER AND THE DOOR TO THE OLD WORLD, PART 2

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.”

MY GRANDFATHER AND THE DOOR TO THE OLD WORLD, PART 1

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?

FIVE SELECTIONS FROM DAD’S iPOD!

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!

SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 2: FREE PARKING

Above from left, my Mom, Gloria, and I.  Graduation Day at Tufts, May 1980. After everyone left the next day, I fell ill with German Measles and stayed in Somerville for a week to recover.

During Christmas break in 1979, a trip was planned to the family houseboat, which was permanently moored at the Hurricane Hole Marina, under the Paradise Island Bridge on Paradise Island in glistening Nassau, the Bahamas.  I had never been there before but had heard a lot about it from Gloria and Dad so I was looking forward to going.

A day or two before, Gloria went to the Shop Rite supermarket in less-than-glistening Union City, to shop for groceries to bring on the plane to the Bahamas.

“What?!  Bring groceries on the plane?  Are you sure we need to do this?” I asked.

She assured me that supermarkets in Nassau were both terrible and overpriced.  And this is what they had done on previous trips.  I suspected that this was my Dad’s idea but anyway she seemed to be completely on board.  I tried to imagine what a terrible supermarket looked like and immediately thought of Shop Rite.  Could it be any worse?  Besides, I was weirded out with the idea of lugging brown paper supermarket bags filled with chopped meat and such onto the plane.  This was just about the turning point when airplanes came to be thought of as buses with wings.  And board that flying bus we did, complete with our groceries from Shop Rite!

SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 1: THE ZINGER

Above from left, Dad, Addie, Uncle Ritchie, Me, and Gloria in the late 1970s.

1979 and 1980 were seminal years.  I was a senior in college and it was time to contemplate a career.  Of course, I had no idea what it was I wanted to do.  My roommate Dan, on the other hand, was feverishly interviewing at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.  He ultimately scored a great job and is now in charge of some place like Europe.  But for me, all I knew is that I wanted “something international” but was undecided between the public service arena (like the Foreign Service or the United Nations) or international business (I would land my dream internship at United Nations within 2 years to try it out).  My Dad had made many off-handed remarks to people over the years that I was to join him at Olcott International and “take it over.”  I think I was 6 the first time he said that to someone in my presence.  So I had grown up with this as a possible notion.  But now at 21 years of age, I was suddenly ambivalent.  There was something peculiar about Dad.

Over the last few years, things had changed between my Dad and his 4th wife Gloria.  When I first met Gloria in 1971, I was 13.  I was hardly mature but I could tell that they seemed to be happy together and the Olcott household was a cheerful one.  Gloria was funny, with it, traveled with Dad to Brazil and Japan, and even wrote me a poem for my 14th birthday, dedicated to me as the “stalwart lad.”  On top of that, they left me a stash of Playboys in my bedroom, though Gloria removed certain issues she felt were too racy.  It certainly seemed that just maybe Dad had turned a corner from 3 failed marriages and that the future was going to be more stable.  Hope had sprung eternal.  After all, Hope was Gloria’s middle name.

A NIGHT ON THE TOWN IN 1949

On November 17, 1949, Bernard Olcott and his dashing first wife Patricia Terry of Larchmont, New York spend the evening out on the town. It looks like the wide striped banquet seating of El Morocco but Pat tells me that no, they only hung at The Stork Club or 21.  In any event, this is one of my favorite pictures of Dad, earnest, engaged, and involved.  And looking sharp!

Pat was the first of 5 wives and 5 divorces.  The next wife was an import, a young lady from Quebec City, Canada, my mother Michele.  Number three was another import, this time Graciela from Guayaquil, Ecuador, mother of my sister Victoria.  Like Pat’s, that was another short-lived marriage, lasting about 3 years.  Dad returned to domestic varieties for the last two.  Gloria from Bay Ridge and Stony Brook, Long Island, mother of my sister Blair.  And ending with Rosemary from Washington Heights, NYC (and raised in Metuchen, New Jersey).  Dad was a romantic, to be sure, but he was worse than clueless after marriage.  In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that he was just plain misogynist.  For example, he never ever spoke about his own mother, a mysterious lady named “Patricia Regas.”  I use quotes because she was a Lithuanian immigrant (like his Dad) and I have no idea about what her real name was or anything.  At all.  But more on that later.