mister phoenix

You could often find my dad sitting at our kitchen table, reading a book of historical significance (he especially enjoyed re-reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire), sipping on hot, mostly hot, or completely cold black coffee.

He had a particular way of clearing his throat that was unique to him: a cough up and then a cough down, usually followed by a small rub of the nose with his right index finger - mostly for emphasis, I think.

My dad was a lover of place and time.  He savored things.  He was a careful listener and an even more careful speaker.  He used to say things like:

Larry Fleming   (pretty sure the smally fry trying to climb the giant train is teeny tiny me)

Larry Fleming

(pretty sure the smally fry trying to climb the giant train is teeny tiny me)

"When in doubt, don't."

He also used to sing the Cream of Wheat radio jingle (from the 1940's) to wake us up in the morning ...

He was a child of the Depression and therefore avoided canned anything during his adult life.  He took great pleasure in shopping giant warehouse stores where he'd usually buy very little, but would walk every aisle.  He hated cucumbers.  He loved transportation, my mom, law and food.  He was especially passionate about trains and trolley cars.  

By the time I was born, he had acquired a real live trolley car and founded a small, non-profit museum to restore it and share the former City of Phoenix street car with our community.

He liked ringing the bell of Car 116 with his foot - a lot.  He enjoyed the fare box particularly.  Flipping the seats when the car got to the "end of the line" was another thing that gave him great pleasure.

Every Saturday morning at six, my dad headed off to the Trolley Museum.  He'd take his big thermos full of coffee and he'd wear his overalls.  Every Saturday, for as far back as I can remember, he went; he went until he couldn't anymore.  He went because he was a life-long student of history.  He went because he believed that trolley cars were incredibly efficient and he couldn't understand why they had been intentionally replaced with busses in the 1960's.  He went because of his dear, precious memories of being a young boy and riding the street cars through Phoenix.  He went because it mattered deeply to him. 

A book was published.  Articles were written.  A #legacy began.  My dad was THE GUY if you wanted to know about the history of street railway in Phoenix, Arizona; and certainly he could rally with the best of them when it came to all things train and trolley.

"Where's your dad?" my friends would often ask.

"At the trolley" I would answer.  

Didn't everyone's dad have their own trolley car project?

Me, circa 1992, at Lakeside - might be a Snapple in my hand ... the '90's were fun with all that Snapple.

Me, circa 1992, at Lakeside - might be a Snapple in my hand ... the '90's were fun with all that Snapple.

Another principle character in my growing up  ~Fleming~  story was our family "cabin" in Northeastern Arizona.  I put the word "cabin" in quotes because, while we have always called it "The Cabin," the place bears absolutely no resemblance to an actual cabin in the traditional sense.  For starters, it is made of concrete cinder blocks. 

Also, we call the place Lakeside, which is wishful thinking because the closest lake is about fifteen miles from the house.  The land is flat with brave and persistent oak trees, ponderosa pines and lots of tall grasses that help to hide the occasional rattlesnake (Welcome to Arizona!)  The Cabin is in a pretty spectacular part of the state, bordering the Mogollon Rim, which is an especially cool work of geological wizardry.

Lakeside was one of my dad's top favorite places.  

Love him.

Love him.

He made waffles (or pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse) and covered them with butter and hot syrup every morning when we were there.  He sat by the outdoor [cinder block] fire pit in the evenings with his AM radio and a glass of red wine and he'd take it all in - the landscape of the high desert, the setting of the sun, the sound of the crickets and the crackling of the fire.  He was chill, my dad.  He'd close his eyes and just sit, which was a wild act of non-conformity in those days ...  It was the 80's, people were busy and the hair was bold.  Women wore shoulder pads, and no one, no one, just sat and listened to AM radio ....

Lakeside was a place he revered above many others.

Lakeside had a well-meaning sun porch with big glass windows where he would sit and read Clive Cussler novels.

Lakeside was a respite for him.

Lakeside had squirrels.  My dad loved squirrels.

Lakeside is held together with duct tape and bailing wire.  It was the perfect kind of place for a well-meaning tinkerer like Larry Fleming.  Heck, I took great pleasure in the fact that I could hammer nails into pretty much anything on the property.  One of my favorite pastimes was filling up a pocket with an assortment of nails (safe, I know) from the big blue dresser filled with Everything You Need For Tinkering, and heading out to the woods to find something to hammer.  #Truth.

My dad loved it there.  He loved everything about that place.

Fast forward to the other night. 

I had this dream that Lakeside had been turned into one of those horrible, small-town kind of awful theme park + random attraction kinda places.  The whole property had been graded and now there were streets and hills and through-ways created by industry, where before there were only tree houses, wood piles, and forts made by children.  There were vendors everywhere selling all manner of plastic crap.  Big lights on poles were buzzing at me. The place was littered with plastic to-go cups.  One of my brothers was walking me around, showing me what had been done and explaining to me where different things were now.  It was heartbreaking.

I awoke from the dream knowing it was subconscious commentary and fear about defaming the sacred and replacing it with the not-so-sacred (the consumable, the quick and dirty).  This dream came to me in December - the month when my dad's legacy - his beloved street car museum - was being dismantled, moved, donated, picked apart and found "historically irrelevant" by the City of Phoenix, from whom my dad had leased the land for nearly thirty years.  (They're putting in a skate park, y'all.  #StepAsideForProgress)

It's an interesting experience, being witness to a dearly departed someone's most personal dream getting picked apart by people who didn't even know him.  Watching the remains move to a new storage location, hopefully to be re-assembled and utilized some future day.  Knowing that the name "Larry Fleming" isn't really spoken anymore among those who shepherd the remains.

What does remain?

The trolley museum is gone as he knew it, as I knew it...

Thankfully Lakeside is still there - I suppose that's one of the benefits of building with concrete cinder blocks.

Beyond that, and a few select belongings my mother hasn't donated to Goodwill, his memory is what's left. 

The memory of how my dad was, how he was just walking around in the world as a human person.  The way he rescued ALL of the animals.  How he loved us.  How kind and considerate he was.  How gracious.  How gentle.  How generous and classy he was.  How funny - so funny.  How smart and prepared he was.  The way his eyes would twinkle.  His talents.  The way he looked in a cable knit turtleneck.  The way he conducted himself without fear or hesitation.  The way he gave, and gave, and gave, and gave to those in need and to those he loved.

I want to remember.  

I want to keep on remembering.

In honor of his legacy (and to help with the remembering), I'm posting a photo a day, of my dad, over at instagram.  He would have been eighty-six this July, so I'm posting #86DaysOfLarryFleming.  Please join me if you have any photos to share, and be sure to tag any posts with #86DaysOfLarryFleming so we can find them all.

Love you dad.  Miss you fiercely.  Thank you for being a dreamer.

“If you are a dreamer come in
If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar
A hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer
If you're a pretender com sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in! 
Come in!”

- Shel Silverstein