an american childhood by annie dillard


“Getting ready for the trip one Saturday, he roamed around our big brick house snapping his fingers. He had put a record on: Sharkey Bonano, “Li’l Liza Jane.” I was reading Robert Louis Stevenson on the sunporch: Kidnapped. I looked up from my book and saw him outside; he had wandered out to the lawn and was standing in the wind between the buckeye trees and looking up at what must have been a small patch of wild sky. Old Low-Pockets. He was six feet four, all lanky and leggy; he had thick brown hair and shaggy brows, and a mild and dreamy expression in his blue eyes.

When our mother met Frank Doak, he was twenty-seven: witty, boyish, bookish, unsnobbish, a good dancer. He had grown up an only child in Pittsburgh, attended Shady Side Academy, and Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, where he studied history. He was a lapsed Presbyterian and a believing Republican. “Books make the man,” read the blue bookplate in all his books. “Frank Doak.” The bookplate’s woodcut showed a square-rigged ship under way in a steep following sea. Father had hung around jazz in New York, and halfheartedly played the drums; he had smoked marijuana, written poems, begun a novel, painted in oils, imagined a career as a riverboat pilot, and acted for more than ten seconds in amateur and small-time professional theater. At American Standard, Amstan Division, he was the personnel manager.”

Sigh, Annie Dillard is the master of description and this account of her father is one of my favorites. “Witty, boyish, bookish, unsnobbish, a good dancer.” Who could ask for anything more?

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