Helga’s Post #29 — Weaving real people into a novel can be an awesome treasure trove for us novelists. They can be quirkier than anyone we manage to invent. Just like small events we remember from school, family stuff, friendships gone sour, they can be milked for some fantastic scenes in our manuscript. In fact, I would find it difficult to invent some of the events, the characters and my emotions around them that I experienced in real life.
Case in point: My Dad’s anniversary of his death just passed. He was over 96 years old. Just short of 97. This post is about him.
Nobody would have thought Karl would live that long, having returned seriously injured from the war, still a young man, suffering from tuberculosis, stomach ulcers, and shrapnel wounds all over his body. He weighed 110 pounds when the war was over, after he walked back from the Russian front to reunite with his wife (my mom) and his baby daughter (me).
Add to that he was a chain smoker. Rolled his own cigarettes. But I stray from the story I want to tell, the one that relates to writing fiction. I remember him best from his twilight years. He and my mom often visited me in Canada. He used to joke he was using my inheritance on flight tickets from Vienna to Vancouver. A total of 33 flights since my immigration to Canada. He said he wouldn’t accept losing his wayward daughter. He was intent on staying in my life, the separation of continents be damned.
My Dad was one of a kind. Among many things, he was a collector of stamps when everyone else in the universe had given up on that hobby. Mom complained. Why don’t you buy gold coins instead? (Footnote: that was in the seventies, when gold was around $50 an ounce). Dad continued buying stamps. In volumes you cannot possibly imagine. All bought with money he earned from a second job, selling life insurance after he came home from his main job.
Fast forward to the early years of the millennium. Dad loved going to Las Vegas. (Mom suspected his real reason for his trips to Canada was less to visit his daughter in Vancouver, than getting said daughter to take him and Mom to Las Vegas).
He had a gambling streak. Big time.
When we got back from Las Vegas (where by this time we never had to pay for the hotel, best room in the house, as well as all meals and incidentals being comped), his favorite pastime was to calculate how he wanted his wealth divided after this demise. So, 50% would go to me, and 25% to each of my two sons. He calculated this on the basis of five million dollars. A respectable inheritance. It became the focus of his daily dinner conversation.
The fly in the ointment was that he didn’t have said five mills. Not yet. That was the money he would win in the lottery. Soon.
With this in mind, he asked me one early morning, while visiting in Vancouver, to please take him to the Park Royal shopping Centre in West Vancouver. That’s where at his previous visit a year ago, the kind grey-haired lady at he Lottery kiosk dispensed $500 he’d won at 6/49. I recall how the people in the lineup behind him to buy tickets applauded loudly as the kind lottery lady dispensed his winnings in $20 bills, piling it up until it was a tidy bundle. A year later, my dear Dad figured, easy enough. If he bought more tickets, his winnings would increase accordingly.
I should mention at this point, that for years, back in Vienna, Dad had worked on devising a mathematical system that would almost guarantee winning the lottery jackpot. I recall my Mom complaining to me about the money he spent on oversized plotting paper on which he meticulously graphed his formula with pencils, spending many hours each day. Hundreds of pages. Thousands of hours.
Back to the lottery kiosk. As luck would have it, the kind gray-haired lady was on duty again. Kindred spirits. She remembered my Dad from a year ago, which was easy enough. There weren’t too many men who made long passionate speeches to her in a language she didn’t understand.
This time around my sneaky Dad had a different agenda. On the way from the parking lot to the lottery kiosk he said, just don’t tell your mother about this. I only have little time left on this earth and I want to make sure you get that 50% of the five million dollars I promised you.
My crazy Dad plunked down 1,500 dollars to buy 6/49 lottery tickets. I tried to talk him out of it, to no avail. To put it into context: my parents didn’t own real estate. They lived in a co-op housing project in Vienna. While comfortable, it does not compare to North American standards. No dishwasher, no freezer, no garage. Mom dried her laundry on the balcony. Towels feel like 2×4’s, void of the plush softness we take for granted. Not that Dad needed a garage, as he didn’t own a car. Dad never learned to drive (we tried to teach him once when he visited, but after he rammed the car into a tree it was clear Dad was not a born driver).
Again, I am losing my thread. I kept my word, remaining mum to Mom. I checked the winning numbers online the moment they were announced, Dad at my side.
He had several winning numbers. A lot of three’s out of six’s. Bottom line: He won three hundred dollars for $1,500 worth of tickets. He thought it was great!
Just gotta be patient. I’ll get those five million dollars for you. I’ll try again, he said, patting me on the back. Just don’t tell Mom.
Dad kept his marbles to the end. He was a gambler but also a formidable opponent if anyone was on the wrong side of his political beliefs. He passionately and convincingly debated against wars of any kind. He opposed American foreign policy as well as the stock market, and he was a staunch and vocal opponent of the Vatican (those parasites, never worked a day in their lives, scaring the poor with hell and damnation). He had many friends and not a few enemies. The staunch support of his friends more than compensated for the feathers he ruffled with people who didn’t agree with his style.
If I manage to write my Dad into my manuscript, even in a minor role, I will create a character that is truly larger than life. A character I couldn’t possibly create in my mind. Because he is way too crazy for fiction.