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October 28, 1991

Julie in the Afternoon: Julie Bridges' Long Journey Home

This article on the late labor leader Harry Bridges' daughter,Julie,was originally scheduled to run as a cover story on July 6,1990 in the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday supplement section. Shortly before publication the article was killed.

Julie Bridges died of cancer two weeks ago at Ralph K. Davies Medical Center. She was 48.

Just as I'm concluding that Julie Bridges has had second thoughts about keeping our appointment on this Saturday afternoon before Mother's Day, she shows. And her excuse, as it turns out, is aptly in keeping with both the spirit of the weekend and with what this day will ultimately disclose. Her nine-year-old son Kevin had had a mid-morning baseball game that had run long. "We were five runs down and came back and won," she says excitedly as she settles into a deck chair on the rear patio of a 16th Street cafe.

Comeback. The sports expression is a succinct, made-to-order capsulization of the last few years in the life of this tall, striking 46-year-old daughter of the late labor leader Harry Bridges.

A month earlier, at the commemoration ceremony for her father at the Longshoreman's Hall, she had upstaged the assemblage of politicians and labor heavies with a short, unsparingly-heartfelt speech that held the room spellbound. By the time she took her turn at the rostrum, the stormy-petrel saga of her father's years had been unrolled again by the others for the better part of two hours: the twice-shipwrecked Australian-born seaman's arrival in San Francisco in 1921 and his subsequent organizing of the West Coast's longshoremen 13 years later after the only successful general strike in the nation's history; his three-decades-long fight against government surveillance and accusations that he was a Communist; the constant Red Scare vituperation he endured from a government-handmaiden press; his four deportation trials, which spanned the years from 1938 to 1955 and ultimately required two Supreme Court interventions before he would gain a measure of public acceptance in this country.

It was the sort of rousing recitation the standing-room crowd had come to hear, and only something out of the ordinary could possibly top it. It remained for the daughter of mystery, the one people had speculated about and spoken of in hushed tones over the years when discussing the life and times of Harry Bridges, to provide the unexpected. She had returned. Returned and made a point of bringing out into the open one of the city's best-guarded ledgers of family turmoil. There had been a great deal of ill will between her and her father, she said. She had treated him very badly, caused him great pain for many years before they managed to make peace during the final stages of his life.

"That was the first time those things had ever been mentioned publicly," she said over the phone the following week, and now as she warms her hands around a cup of coffee on this windy-bright afternoon she glances warily at the people at adjoining tables, enclosing her conversation the way her hands encircle her cup.

She suggests we wait until later to eat, and we start walking over to Dolores Park. She is wearing a winter coat and a skirt, a silk blouse and heels. A workday outfit, understated and circumspect, at one with the concerns she is voicing to me as we walk. She had needed these past few weeks, she says, to make a decision about whom she would finally choose to talk to. "As you can understand, I inherited a very healthy paranoia." She says it emphatically, but with a soft pursed flicker of a smile, her eyes wide and brightening, and it's the first of many times that day that I will be reminded of the man who made that same look his internationally-recognized trademark.


"I was born out of wedlock," she says evenly in response to a question about whether or not her parents had been secretly married in 1942 when Harry was still married to his first wife, Agnes. Agnes contended in their 1945 divorce proceedings that Bridges, under the name of Alfred Fenton, a "California leather salesman," had fathered a child in May of 1943 by New York dancer Nancy Beredico, the wife of a Bolivian-born artist. Moreover, Agnes's attorney, in an off-the-record interview with a reporter, maintained that Harry had married Beredico before she left for New York in January of that year. "I can't imagine that they would have even thought about getting married at that point," Julie says. "It would have been too dangerous. As it was, it was difficult enough to even get my dad to change the birth certificate later on. My mom used to yell at him all the time about it." She pauses and then, with a wry grin, adds: "After he finally got around to it, he would sit back and proudly say, 'It's all in the record!'--one of his favorite phrases."

The park is busy with the rituals of sunshine but uncrowded, and she appears relaxed and relieved to be out of anyone's earshot. We speculate on what might have happened if Nancy and her father had in fact been secretly married. She laughs at the thought that, after all the endless trials and the hounding her father had undergone, he could have been deported for something like bigamy.

Unlike her half sister Jackie, whose schoolmates had taunted her because Agnes and Harry had married only a few months before her birth, Julie's illegitimacy never came up as an issue outside the house. "The other kids never mentioned it," she says. "And in fact, those years between 1943 and 1955 were wonderful for me. Almost idyllic."

"I grew up like a normal kid; somewhat sheltered, actually. I was aware of what was going on to some extent, but my mom never made a big deal about who my dad was. Oh, there were always worries. There was a gang of neighborhood kids on Willard Street who I was afraid of. They hung a hangman's noose over the door one day, and we had reason to believe they vandalized the house another time while we were away. I know my mom slept with a hand-siren under her pillow because she was deathly afraid of a kidnapping attempt. My dad didn't believe in bodyguards, although he did see to it that I was picked up from school every day. And we just always assumed the phone was tapped. We were very careful about that kind of thing, and my brother and I were always instructed to answer 'I don't know, I don't know' if the FBI ever came to the door.

"Other than that, and the time my dad went to jail for three weeks in 1950--I remember being worried that they wouldn't feed him--I recall only the good things from that time. Going over to Kentfield to visit with the Hallinans. All those people around, always this incredible din. There were a lot of other families around as well. Lou Goldblatt and a couple of the other union officials lived near us. I don't remember those days as being anything but warm and friendly. And, no, even at school the kids never paired off into any kind of 'class' groupings. I was accepted by everyone. 'Better off trusting people,' my dad used to tell me. And he was right."

She looks at me for a few seconds after saying that and continues. "I guess what I remember most about that period are the times my dad came up to school with his cartoon shows ." She smiles widely and then breaks into a short laugh and says, "One year he won the prize for the best spaghetti sauce. God, he talked about it to his dying day."


We move off the bench to the ridge at the top of the park. Over the tuft of rooftops, the container cranes on the southern part of the waterfront are visible in the distance. "I never knew there was trouble in their marriage," she begins. "Never even saw them fighting. And then suddenly it was over."

She talks about her mother's reaction to hearing that Harry was having an affair, her accusation that he was married to his job and had "become a ghost in the house." Her mother, Julie concedes, had entered into an affair around the same time with the man who would become her next husband, "but knowing her, I don't think she would have done it if she hadn't felt my dad had stepped out on her first," she says flatly. "She had heard things; enough to make her decide to leave him. Still, the general perception was that she had been the homebreaker, and eventually she blamed herself, bought the guilt trip."

Harry hadn't wanted the divorce, and a bitter custody battle began after her mother took her and her brother back East, ending up in the New York Supreme Court in 1956 with a decision in Nancy's favor. Later that year her mother fought to include Julie in the child support payments her father was making for her brother Robert, and won a decision in Superior Court here. The relative sense of shelter Julie had hitherto known was crumbling, yet she remained shielded from the worst of the publicly-paraded acrimony. "All I can remember is that my mother was constantly complaining about lawyers," she says.

She and Robbie shuttled cross-country for the next three years, spending summers with their father. And though she felt her primary allegiance should be to her mother, she looked forward to her visits with Harry. The emotional juggling act she later endured was still a few years away, and with the residue of self-securedness she still enjoyed during those years, she was able to talk openly with her father about what had happened. The young girl who had once kept her small blue trunk packed in hopes her father would take her with him on his frequent business trips, retained enough adolescent equanimity at that point to be able to say to him of the divorce, "Dad, I'm really glad you didn't take us away." Their relationship remained intact, and Harry continued a regimen of long-distance supervision, enrolling her in the exclusive New Lincoln School in New York.

"He was really impressed with the place, thought it would be good for me. And he came to my graduation."

"Things began to change the following year," she says, the tone of her voice shifting noticeably. She had come out to Berkeley to attend college, and for the next three years she saw her relationship with her father begin to alter drastically. This period also marked the onset of what would be a drawn-out and stormy relationship with Harry's third wife, Nikki, and a solid sisterly relationship with the couple's infant daughter, Kathy, which developed into full-blown sibling rivalry a quarter-century later. She would grow increasingly resentful of Kathy's proximate relation to her father, of the accusations about herself that she heard Kathy carried to him, and of the subsequent "double standard" she felt her father applied toward the two of them. Of Nikki she says: "It was the classic thing of her being the usurper of my mom, the 'other woman.'"

"I always felt approved and loved by my father until I went to college," she says. "But then he began to be critical. Grades never good enough, a lot of other little things. When I'd go over to San Francisco on the weekends, I would also overhear Nikki talking to him about me, and he to her. I'd always thought he was in my corner, and this was completely alien to me."


She was back in New York by 1964, finishing up at Hunter College with a degree in history. "He didn't attend the ceremonies and didn't really believe I had graduated," she says. She shakes her head, and there is more than a trace of dismayed irritation in her voice. "Didn't believe it until he had the transcripts sent to him years later."

After graduation she embarked on what would be an ongoing series of low-level clerical and secretarial jobs, and worked for a time as a waitress in a Manhattan after-hours club until a shooting occurred there. A co-worker pulled her aside afterward and told her she had no business being in that type of environment. "It was true," she says with amused incredulity. "I mean, a part of me enjoyed the idea that I could move within the circles of 'fringe'-type people, but that really wasn't me." Prophetically enough, the concern the man showed for her proved to be an example of the way people appeared in her life and helped her at crucial moments in later years.

"I came back out here again in 1968. The 1960s? Well, I did the same sorts of things everyone was doing. I drank. And I must say I drank a great deal. And used drugs. Actually, I liked them, but found I couldn't tolerate them or liquor very well... As for politics, I was concerned generally about what was going on, wasn't unaware. In 1965 the FBI was worried enough to ask the company next door to where I was working about me. But for Harry Bridges' daughter, I wasn't very active."


The accelerating post-divorce drinking problem her mother had acquired peaked in that year, and Nancy went to AA for counseling. ( Julie herself entered AA in the 1980s.) "It worked," Julie says. "She rarely drank after that, but the years of drinking had taken their toll. She had chronic lung problems, emphysema, bleeding ulcers. She was not well, and the following year came out here and found a place near my brother."

Julie's life remained on much the same plane she had become accustomed to in New York: catch-as-catch-can work, ever-present financial problems, the growing burden of requisite expectations that went with having to live in the shadow of a father who had assumed deservedly mythic stature. "He began to criticize me by comparing me to my brother. 'I wish you could do as well as Robert,' he would say."

She talks drily and generally about that period, is quiet momentarily, and then says almost unaccountably and with a sudden burst of pensive girlishness, "I've always had these very romantic notions about life." She gazes down at the children in the playground below us and then out toward the docks which have constituted such an incalculable part of her history.

"Old movies, music, dance. You know, my mother was well on her way with the Martha Graham troupe before she married her first husband."

Only a couple of times during the day will she make reference to her own romantic involvements prior to her marriage, and, in this instance, she touches on them in the same straightforward but cursory way, averring also that she has indeed been attracted to men like her father. Listening to her, it's apparent that her prominent origins colored her dealings with potential suitors through the two decades she was single. "I would never tell men who I was when I first met them," she says. "And I wouldn't tell them until I had gotten to know them better." I'm not surprised to hear her say this, and as she talks about her life in her twenties it seems to me that there is a larger import to the subject eddying detectably just below the surface: the conflict between the pressure she felt about having to make some kind of mark upon the world consistent with her lineage, and her need to be accepted as her own person, with her own realistically-set objectives. Later on in the day I will get a better sense of that disparity when she allows that in some ways her father had been something of a feminist in his relations toward her. "He never asked me about about marriage and children," she will say. "It was always, 'What do you want to be?'"

She alludes now, in passing, to a major "personal problem" she had at one point during the 1960s, and her eyes cloud over somberly. I sense that it has nothing directly to do with her father or anything relating to their clashes, and decide not to pursue it. Whatever it was, its dimensions are clearly a portent of what will follow.

She made a decision in 1969, she says, to move to Los Angeles and attempt to become an actress--a decision that Harry, in his conversations with his closest union colleagues, remarked upon with immense pride. The result for Julie was the commonplace complaint of the star-struck, the closed doors and disappointments in her case adding a ponderous weight to what soon became the worst phase of her life.

"My mom's physical condition was worsening, and I was in denial about it. I would call up and listen to her, and I knew I wanted to have her with me. I couldn't see abandoning her." She talks now with the weary precision of someone who has been back and forth over a distasteful subject too many times. "She came down in 1974 and stayed a month before returning to San Francisco. It was really rough. I was working as a waitress in a deli and was living in a one-room apartment. While we were there was the first time my father came down to visit. He was appalled by the place and the way we were living. He still had this idea that my mother was somehow immoral. 'She's sick,' I would scream at him,'not immoral !'"

Somehow, amidst the worst of what would eventually ensue, Julie was able to keep afloat. The influence upon her of a Pentecostal minister who worked as an attendant in the parking lot across the street, the understanding provided by a childhood friend of her mother's who had moved to L.A. and looked them up, and the concern of an assortment of other people who came to befriend her enabled her to get through it.

Her mother came back to live with her in 1975. The cancer Nancy had developed was quietly progressing, and in late 1976, when she was diagnosed as terminal, Julie surreptitiously began purchasing laetrile for her. "I had moved to a larger apartment and was working full-time and we were relatively comfortable. But the medication was very expensive."

It was almost two years after his first visit before her father visited them again, she says, and this time it was a fleeting stopover one afternoon while Julie was at work. Julie's feelings about Harry's attitude had already crystallized by that point, and she says curtly: "I felt that he shouldn't have abandoned her."

Her furtive laetrile purchases continued another couple of months, and when the strain became too much for her she wrote to him. "I told him, 'You come down here and give me some support or I'm through with you as a dad.' I'd never said anything like that in my life."

"I wasn't asking him for money," she says. "That was later. I wanted, needed, some emotional support from him." They met shortly after that at the L.A. airport between flights on one of his business trips, and she did not press him again on the matter until a month later, when she was forced to ask him to help out with the medical expenses incurred from placing her mother in a Mexican hospital. "Yes," she says with a very faint but nonetheless detectable hint of disgust, "he came up with it. Said he was very happy to do it, but said he didn't think much of that type of treatment. He gave me a lump sum. Several hundred dollars."

Her mother's confinement in the hospital marked the final month of her life, and with the bills mounting Julie drove up to San Francisco twice in that month. On the second trip she confronted Harry: "I told him straight-out, 'If you don't help me out I swear I'm going to go out and work the streets.'" I glance over expecting to see her looking amused, but she isn't. Her head is lowered and her face is set in a tight smile, determined and without a bit of mirthfulness to it.

"I didn't know how to take the space to talk to him," she says then, more chagrin than anger in her voice. "I mean, I only learned that in these past four years." She pauses and then says softly: "I tried to love my dad, but it became more and more difficult for me."


She says she is getting hungry, and we decide to head back to the cafe. She talks as we go, speaking deliberately, and in the exactness of her words I begin to sense the inventory-taking and making of amends associated with the 12-Step process of AA. The remarks she had made at the commemoration ceremony the month before, when she shouldered the blame for the conflict with Harry, now assume a context. "I came back up here right after my mother died in 1977 and moved in with my dad and Nikki for three months. I had no money, nowhere else to go, nothing.

"I was expecting the worst, but in some ways it was the best, most harmonious time I had ever had with them. Prior to the time my mom died, Nikki had taken an EST course up here, and a few months later at her suggestion I took the course in L.A. My father wasn't much for that type of thing, but he had gone, too, and it gave us some basis upon which to be able to converse when I returned.

"They were very helpful to me," she says of that stay. "Paid for dental work I needed, and my dad helped me find work. But by the time I moved out, a tension had developed between us. It was time to leave."

We pass a building she had pointed out to me earlier. She once lived there. She doesn't look up. "I began to feel independent again for the first time in a long while," she says. "I started going out dancing, to clubs, with Robbie and his friends. And before long I met Michael, the man who would become my husband."

They married in 1980, and Kevin was born a year later. Mike had first gone to Harry and told him of his intentions. Harry and Nikki disliked him intensely, Julie says of that initial meeting, and never really accepted him. One of five children of a family from New York's Hell's Kitchen and one of the founders of the Scared Straight program for juvenile offenders, Mike had shot and killed a man in an altercation having to do with Mike's then-wife, and had spent time in prison. It was a checkered past that would continue to bother Harry, and the nonpareil democrat who could never abide outside criticism of the foibles and peculiarities--political or otherwise--of the loyal men he led, remained unable to overlook it in appraising his son-in-law. As Julie tells the story, the intensity fades from her face, and she breaks into a giggle when she says, "But of course I heard my dad fume any number of times about how he'd like to kill Julian Hicks, the man my mother later married!"

"I owe a lot to my husband," she goes on. "Whatever I've been able to eventually accomplish with my dad I couldn't have done without Michael. In spite of my dad's feelings about him, Michael understood my father's spirit. They're alike, the same street-sense, the same compassion, whether it's workers or prisoners. Over the past few years he pushed me to make it right with my dad. 'Julie, you've got to do this,' he kept saying."

I discover we've gone three blocks out of our way. I'm suddenly conscious that she is in heels and offer to slow down. But she keeps up the pace, matching me stride for stride, her legs obviously inherited from her mother. She clicks along with the easy bearing and carriage of the dancer she too might have been had the liaison of chance and circumstance been different, her conversation modulated and in pitch with her stride. "It hasn't been easy for Michael and me though. We've been on-and-off for the past ten years. And that stuff certainly didn't help my relationship with my father. He thought I was blowing it, blowing it again , and when I finally got up the nerve and told him that I was sick of trying to get his approval it made it worse. There was never anything my dad could hold onto, grab onto about me, and he couldn't stand that."


The young Swedish woman behind the counter has difficulty understanding our order. She returns four times before she gets it right.

"Growing up the way I did helps when it comes to being patient," Julie is saying as we wait. "Respecting working people was drilled into me constantly. I almost bow and scrape in front of the driver when I get on the Muni."

She alternately eats and talks. Talks about herself and Michael, Kevin, Harry and Nikki, Nancy, a disparate group of other people. The Pentecostal minister in L.A. who was there for her when her mother was dying. A woman -- the parent of one of Kevin's schoolmates -- she knew in a New York. An acupuncturist in Santa Rosa. All the other people who had unexpectedly appeared in her life with advice and aid at key moments. "

I grew up an agnostic," she says, pushing the rest of her sandwich away. "My dad was an atheist, and although my mother had a pantheistic sense about life, religion just wasn't discussed at home. But I realized I'd always been searching for something, and too much of what I'd experienced made me think there must be something more.

"During the troubles Michael and I were having, I had reached a point of isolation that brought me to my knees. I was, literally, brought to my knees by my own situation. Here I was, a woman living alone in Oakland with an infant, and I knew I had to find some comfort from the pain. I started wandering into Catholic churches. I'd had Buddhist and Jewish and evangelical friends and I had learned from all of them, but Catholicism felt right, fit with me. I had a need to have it in my life. Gradually, I found myself learning the prayers. Mike and I reconciled, and I had him ask a priest to bless the house. In 1984 we had Kevin baptized.

"As it turned out, Mike and I split up shortly after that and I was out on my own again. In 1985 I took Kevin with me to New York. I stayed with my cousins. They were wonderful, spiritual people. I should have gone there after my mother's death, not to my father's house."

The room, thinned out considerably by the time we had returned, has now refilled. She doesn't seem to be bothered by the encroaching noise around us and continues volubly. "I went to work for the Maryknoll Fathers as a secretary. Oddly enough, they were an order my dad admired. He liked the work they did."

Over the years Harry wrote to her fairly regularly, she says, and he did so while she was in New York, their correspondence full of the same old contentiousness. "Around that time, something happened to me," she says. She stares past me, though her eyes are cast inward. "The only way I can describe it is as a 'vision.' Literally, a flash, a picture. I could hear my dad relating to me in a way a father and daughter should. I began to write letters to him from a ' whole other place.' For a year-and-a-half I called and write to him. Laying a foundation that was workable. I talked about the future, Kevin growing up, that sort of thing. Nothing that he used to call 'stratosphere' stuff."

In July of 1986 she wrote to tell him of her plans to visit San Francisco at Thanksgiving. "His next letter was a beaut," she recalls. "Nasty. He had assumed I needed money again and answered, 'Will send you some money under these conditions: Don't plan on staying here. And don't think about returning here and interfering with our lives. Forget about a car. You better get a bicycle.' He signed it, 'With Some Regrets.'"

As it happened, the Thanksgiving visit was something of a turning point between them, she says. Once again, he told her not to get any "notions about moving back" to San Francisco, but the admonitions she got prior to her trip from a friend, the mother of Kevin's soccer teammate in New York, seemed to have had a salutary effect. "Tell him you have absolutely no intention of staying with him, no intention of interfering in his life," she had told Julie. "But tell him you're going to come back if you think it's in your best interests."

"I wrote to him and said exactly that," she says. She lowers her voice and leans forward and says: "I made that trip knowing he wasn't well. I didn't know if I'd ever see him again. It was now or never. I thought about what the therapists I'd been seeing had told me, what Mike had constantly said to me: 'Tell him, tell him.' And I did. 'Dad,' I said, 'I love you. I know I've angered you, hurt you. I know I wasn't the daughter you wanted me to be."

She looks away, and then in a voice I almost have to strain to hear, says: "And it was then that he said to me, 'You were better than most. You were better than most.'"


We move back out onto the empty patio and she says: "I came back permanently again in 1987 and got my own place, but it was still a very tense situation. I continued to get professional counseling, but any thoughts I had about the one-on-one dealings I wanted with my dad still had to go around Nikki. He couldn't accept the fact that I didn't feel like a member of 'the family,' that I could have individual needs. 'Nikki loves you just like you were her own daughter,' he would say. 'Don't be quarreling with her. She leaves every time you come over. Be the bigger person.'"

She confronted Nikki, she says, so her father "would know" that she was willing to try and work out their differences. "I told her that I didn't want to interfere in their lives, that I was very appreciative of the help they had given me, and that I would be more than willing to start paying back the money they had sent me over the years.

"The acupuncturist in Santa Rosa I mentioned? I met her after I returned in1987, and she had been adamant in saying, 'Don't let anyone interfere with what you have to do.' I knew she was right, but I began to realize I was going about it all wrong. I admitted as much to Nikki, and apologized to her. I didn't know how to tell her that I needed some special, private time with my dad. It always came out all wrong."

Despite the fact that, as far as Julie knows, Nikki "never passed on" the details of their conversation to her father--"and I don't know why"--Julie had reached another turning point with him. " We began talking at length about things," she says, "covering the old ground and getting it out of the way. I'd told him a few years before that I'd never gotten the feeling that he would stick up for me, and I mentioned it again. 'I stopped trusting you at some point,' he said. I asked him why, and when that was, and he said, 'Aw, I don't remember !'" Her voice, rising steadily as she recounts the moment, softens again, and there is a sudden serenity to her eyes as she says, "All he had really was the memory of an attitude." She touches the necklace Harry bought for her in 1971 on his only return visit to Australia and then says: "You know, what made him a great negotiator was that he recognized limits, knew how far he could push someone. I only remember him really praising me three times in the past thirty years, and each of those times was when I needed it most. He knew how to push all my buttons, but when we made up he also knew how to do that. 'That was yesterday,' he'd say. 'Let's start over from today.'"


"In his last six months he was bedridden, "she says, drawing her coat around her. Shadows cover half the patio, and the wind snaps sharply against us. "I would go over and talk with him in the evenings. 'I want to ask you a few things,' I would say. I wanted to pick his brain, wanted to know about his life. All the things I'd never thought to look into when I was growing up, or even in college. Politics, history, things about him and my mom together.

"All of a sudden he began to ask if I would sleep over. 'Can you stay here tonight?' he would ask. We started to talk a lot about religion. I would say, 'I know you don't believe, but you've always been in my prayers the last four years.' Mainly, we talked about Christianity and socialism, and how they could be connected. I know that deep-down he was a spiritual man. He always felt comfortable around priests, for example, and had become friendly with a couple of them during his life. The Sermon on the Mount was something he believed in very strongly, and we agreed on a few other things. But, then, something like Christ going before Pilate he could think of only in terms of the Fifth Amendment."

She chortles at the telling of this and, amusedly, goes on: "Toward the end I continued to bring Kevin over with me sometimes. From the start they had gotten on tremendously together, and now that he knew grandpa wasn't going anywhere Kevin would read to him, would insist upon it. If my dad was tired, he would try a 'Not today'; but often that didn't work very well, and the only way my dad could really stop him was to demand, 'Hey, c'mon , what's for dinner!?'"

She smiles, and with a tinge of gravity to her voice now, says, "I had started telling Kevin about my dad a few years ago. And in showing him the history, it had helped open it all up again for me. He was fascinated by my father, and wanted to stay with him right to the last. As it turned out, my dad seemed to understand that. The day before he died he lost his voice, and that night he moved his arm and pointed toward Kev as if to say, 'Should he be here?' 'Dad, he wants to,' I said, and he put his arm back on his chest."

She pulls her coat closer around her throat, shifts in her seat, and hesitantly begins to talk about her mother again. Her mother with her father--the couple they had been. She pauses then, and as she does I find myself thinking of something she said when I first asked about the way Kevin and Harry had gotten along. She had described an uncharacteristic occurrence in their relationship, an incident where Kevin asked her father what Grandma Nancy had been like, and Harry answered, "She was a pretty woman, and she left me for another man." Sitting there, I think about the enmity her father had felt toward Julian Hicks, and about Julie hearing her mother calling out her father's name in the boozy years following their divorce. I think of the Harry and Nancy of the pernicious McCarthy era, and of a time when the respective challenges of history and the heart could somehow still be arbitrated, imagining him and her as they were on a night in some fog-interred year in the early 1950s when they won the rumba contest at the old La Fiesta on Bay Street.

"I had all the photos of my parents, all the ones of them together," Julie resumes in a measured monotone. "My father had told me years before that he had made peace with my mother during that second visit to L.A., had told me how guilty he felt about her whenever her name came up, and denied ever having an affair while they were married. I reread all the letters he'd sent to me. Went through the newspapers he'd saved for me. Read around in my mom's unpublished manuscript... And I cried. I realized as he was going that I had reached a place, a juncture, where I could bring them forward together, with a total sense of me as their love-child, and with them at their very best."

She is visibly tired, has been talking for almost five hours. The momentary lull that follows seems interminable, and the pages of the notepad I've been unable to pick up for the last 20 minutes lift and fall forlornly in the wind. She leans forward then, looks down, and then up and past me and says, almost shyly, "I was with him his last night, of course. I didn't say much. Simply told him that it was only his body that was going, but that his spirit would always be here and with us. And then when he went, I had this tremendous feeling of peace come over me... It was complete. I had finally become my father's daughter."


I offer to drop her off on my way home. The cab coasts smoothly toward the Western Addition apartment she and Kevin have recently moved into. She speaks confidently of the prospect of her and Mike getting back together again, and then begins to talk about the way the city has changed over the half a century she has known it. The tremendous growth, the erosion of its industrial base, the high prices. She wouldn't mind moving somewhere up north, she says. "I'd like to go back to school, get a certificate or post-grad degree and work with disabled children."

"I have a strong sense of myself now," she is saying as we turn into her street. "I have his spirit. I speak up, I'm becoming more confident, and I like it."

She turns toward me and smiles, clasps my hand and whispers, "Thank you." A shaft of fading sunlight scours the building, as much a herald of this long day's close as-- perhaps-- the end of an era. I watch her half-skip, half-stride across the sidewalk and up the steps, her motions equally those of the dutiful young daughter thinking of the small blue trunk she has kept packed, and the wife and mother in the afternoon of her years who came to mediate the toughest of the many valiant battles the first man in her life ever fought.

Copyright John Hutchison 1991
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