Saturday, October 13, 2012

Neal Family Archive Letters
California Trip 2011

To:  John P. Neal
From: Kenneth W. Neal

May 2, 2011

Dear John Patrick:

I write this after reading your father’s well-written account of the 5,900-mile western odyssey of grandfather, father and son. 

I can’t add much, if anything, to his account, but I will take this opportunity to tell you a bit about your father. 

But first, I ask a few favors of you: When you read this many years hence, perhaps when your dad is 75, please make snotty remarks about how older drivers should be kept off the road! 

Secondly, make fun of him because his hearing is failing. Finally, in general, treat him like your dullard child. In fact, he will be acting as if he is because in addition to his hearing, his health and memory will be in decline. 

And above all, watch his turn signal indicator like a hawk, and if he leaves it on an instant too long, jump his old skinny butt like a chicken on a June bug. 

For good measure, you might laugh anytime you get a chance at his skinny legs. As matter of fact, they are pretty skinny right now. 

And, you might laugh at his pot belly, his gray hair (if he has any) and his inability to walk very far. And you might show your boredom when he tells his stories. 

I am not sure what advances in electronics and other devices will be around when he is 75, but be sure and laugh at his efforts to operate same while simultaneously putting on his reading glasses with semi-crippled hands. 

Do these things for me and you will help me get even with your father. He deserves it. 
Now seriously: 

I hope you have some knowledge of the Neals (there are a couple of Johns back there) and specifically my father, Fred Neal. He and I had a marvelous relationship and I truly flatter your dad when I say he reminds me of my father. As you probably have figured out by now, underneath all the joking and griping is a deep love for your Dad and I know you two will have a wonderful relationship as both of you grow older. 

As your dad told you in his account, you behaved marvelously on the trip. It was an ordeal for you. Circumstances, and the federal government, dictated that you remain strapped in place in your seat and even with movies, iPad and a carload of toys, you sometimes got a little bored. I peeled oranges and bananas until my fingers were sore and paid you a dime for every swallow of water because you were sick and we didn’t want you to get dehydrated. 

Above all, you talked. And talked. And talked. Even when no one was listening. Remember, grandpa’s hearing was bad and he only heard an occasional word over the roar of a car doing 85 mph, which was your father’s cruising speed while texting and surfing on the internet. 

Now he implies that grandpa was a little terse with you at times and to this, I plead guilty. But you should have heard your father try to get you to be quiet while he was trying to thread his way through Los Angeles rush hour traffic while trying to reach to find a toy car you had dumped unceremoniously on the floor, or to explain why we couldn’t stop on a dime to let you pee. 

But here’s a secret that you have by now long since discovered: Your dad’s bark is worse than his bite. In fact, I don’t believe he has ever done more than threaten you with a spanking. 

He is a far gentler soul than your grandpa, and a far more patient and gentle man. 

I must tell you that it was heart-warming to see him take you on ride after ride and answer your every daily need down to daily consulting you on what you wanted to wear and wiping your bottom. I never knew a 5-year-old could be so demanding on what he wore until you came along. 

However, I do remember that we couldn’t get a baseball cap off your dad’s head from age 3 to 13. Nor would he eat anything but a meat and bread hamburger (nothing else) until well into adulthood. 

I confess that I had not spent much time with your dad in the 15 years since he left home with your mother for New York. 

Still, I am repeatedly shocked at how mature and competent he is. He runs circles around me on the computer, the cell phone and anything electronic. But he is my little boy and I am obligated to tell him what to do. He doesn’t mind much better now than when he was a kid. 

My father (your great grandfather) was a shrewd negotiator with auto salesmen and your dad reminds me of him. In fact, much of your dad’s mannerisms and actions remind me of my father. He is meticulous where I am pretty slam-bang; he is a perfectionist where I am a “good enough” guy. He thinks through matters and makes a calm argument where I get angry and start calling people obscene names. 

He shies away from people where I talk to a fence post. 

I tell jokes and laugh too much. He smiles a lot. 

Nevertheless, you can tell he’s my boy. I think I did a pretty good job raising him. He would like to disagree, but he can’t, because to do so would be to admit he didn’t turn out well! John, I think he will be a better old man than I. You must help him to accomplish this. Get on his butt to take care of his health, get a lot of exercise, and eat right. That gets much harder as you age. Right now, he has only a glimpse of how hard that will be. 

And remember: Some day you too will be a father. I hope you and your dad and son repeat the trip we made. I saw many of those sights 60 years ago with my dad and so our journey was a really pleasurable, nostalgic trip for me. 

I wish I could see your dad as an old man but that’s not part of life’s plan. You do it for me and keep him humble! 

Papa Ken

California Trip 2011 Photos and Videos:

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