Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Quest, a Dragon, and My Dad

Yesterday, the alarm went off to start my day and I was exhausted. Not the normal morning tired of "get me some caffeine to get me started" tired, but "I really could sleep for another three hours and still feel tired" tired. But, I went through the motions of getting the kids up one at a time like I usually do. First, I make my way to Ryan and Timmy's room to wake Ryan up first. I turn on the closet light, open the blinds and try to get Ryan into an upright position.  Then, I move to Molly's room and do the same thing. Timmy and Shannon don't have to get up right away, but I always make sure there is movement before I work my way down the stairs. This year our routine is staggered. Ryan and Molly are up, dressed, feed, and out the door by 7:20. Timmy is my second one to leave and doesn't get his bus until 7:59. Shannon is the last one to leave at 8:34. 

Yesterday, once Ryan, Molly, and Timmy were gone and Shannon's breakfast was set out on the kitchen counter, I went back upstairs and lied down. I was tired. I probably could have gone back to sleep, but Shannon was still at home and I could hear her in my bathroom getting herself ready. So I grabbed my phone and started checking emails and checked Facebook. There was the daily The Nerdy Book Club Blog post and so I clicked on it, and it was about Freak the Mighty. Hey, I just posted yesterday on my blog that I was reading it. So instead of closing my eyes and going back to sleep, I leaned over to the nightstand, grabbed the book and started reading.

I love this little book about these unlikely friends. There is Freak, this little boy with a rare form of dwarfism that is very smart, reads the dictionary,  has an adventurous spirit, and a great imagination. Max on the other hand, is a physically large boy but is learning disabled. So there I was yesterday morning reading about this physically disabled boy and this learning disabled boy spending their summer together. Freak's energy is contagious. "...he's so full of eveready energy you can practically hear his brain humming..." One morning he starts knocking on Max's door and yells, "Get outta bed, you lazy beast! There are fair maidens to rescue! Dragons to slay!" I felt like he was talking to me. "Get outta bed you lazy beast! You have dragons to slay today!" But I couldn't put the book down. What were they going to do that day? "I propose a quest," Freak says. "We shall journey far to the East and see what lies there." 

Ah, a quest! Just yesterday I was saying how I love a good kid-lit book with a quest. Now we don't know much about Max other than his mother is dead, his father is in prison (Killer Kane) and he lives with his Gram and Grim. One of their many quests leads these two boys to rescuing a purse down a sewer drain and them wanting to return it to its rightful owner. This leads them to the poor part of town known as the Testaments. "It's this big, falling apart-place with a bunch of apartments, and it looks sad and smells like fish and sour milk." They find the right apartment, but you get this uneasy feeling as you are reading that something is going to happen. The woman, Loretta, sees Max and is trying very hard to place his face. She knows him from somewhere and she just can't seem to place his face. Then it comes to her...Killer Kane. 

She says to her husband, Iggy, "Kenny Kane! Remember Kenny Kane?"

"Sure. That's it. Kenny Kane. You're right, he's a ringer for old Killer Kane. Must be his kid, huh? Sure it is."

So as I'm reading this, I feel so bad for Max. Loretta and Iggy are asking him all these questions about his father and he doesn't know the answers. Freak is looking at his friend like, what the heck are these people talking about? I just wanted to scoop Max up, well, at least take his hand and lead him out of that apartment littered with beer cans and cigarette buds.

Why did this part of the story hit me so hard? And then I thought about my own father who passed away last year. He had his own dragon to slay, alcohol, and just was never able to do it. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone. My Dad had a part time job in one of the town bars, right in the dragon's den if you will, and there are many stories of his defeats against the dragon. My maiden name is Zoitl and there are not many Zoitls. I think my brothers may be the last two in the United States. Anytime I google the name, it leads me to websites in either Austria or Germany but none here. But just now I decided to google it again and came to this website, here. If you scroll down a bit it says, Zoitl relatives, Robert E. Zoitl, Emma Zoitl, Mary V. Zoitl. That's my dad, my grandmother, and my aunt. No one else is listed. Are these all the Zoitls in the US other than my two brothers? Who made this webpage?

Anyway, the point is, there are very few Zoitls and it was hard  to deny who my dad was. "Oh, Kathleen Zoitl. You must be Bob's daughter." I heard that a lot and when I heard that, I always wondered what they knew about my dad. I wondered what "dragon story" of my dad did they know and I really didn't want to be associated with those stories. I knew exactly how Max felt when Loretta and Iggy were questioning him about his father. Max was a dead ringer for his father. There was no escaping it and I could not escape my last name.

 My father wasn't a bad person, he just had this huge dragon that he just couldn't slay. At times the dragon would disappear. My dad had a number of jobs and his last job that he had before he retired was a custodian in one of the town's elementary schools. I think he really loved that job. He loved being around the kids, he would jingle bells outside the classroom windows and then ask the kids at lunch if the heard Santa's bells? He became friends with one of the teacher's who was a single mom. My dad would take her boys home after school since his shift ended with the end of the school day and help them with their homework until their mom got home. These are things he was never able to do for me and my brothers but was able to do with for other kids. Why? I don't know.

But after getting through about half of Freak the Mighty, I said to myself, "Get out of bed you lazy beast, we have a quest to go on!" So I pulled myself together and went to the Giant. Not exactly an adventurous kind of quest, but I set out to get the ingredients to a new crockpot recipe and as I gathered what I needed I thought of my dad and how he liked to cook. One of those many jobs that he had when I was a kid was a cook. It didn't last long, but he was one, none the less. When my brothers and I had to clean out his apartment last year, he had many cookbooks on his bookshelf.

 Last night's dinner was bacon-wrapped apple barbecue chicken. It was delicious and I think my dad would have enjoyed it. I even called Chris and asked him to bring home some beer because I thought it would go well with our dinner. I know my dad would have thought so. 

The recipe is here.

So, my last post was about why I like to read children's literature; one, because I enjoy a good quest story and two because I don't believe you get lost in a book. I think you will always find a piece of yourself that you have forgotten about or you never even knew you had. My dad and I certainly didn't have an ideal father/daughter relationship, but today I can think of my dad a little bit less as the father he wasn't, the one who couldn't slay his dragon, but a little bit more of the man that he was.

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