I have commemorated this occasion before in other ways, but something happened yesterday that will make future remembrances effortless.
Years ago, I wrote a 3-voice poem, Forms of Blue (<–“clicking” will take you to an article that includes the text). Eventually, transformed into a recorded dramatic reading, it came to be presented in the late 1990s at various venues, including synagogues, during Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations . The piece was inspired by a particular encounter with the color blue. This was the closing verse in the coda:
The dead do not eat the bread,
smell the flowers,
raise their voices.
Yet they live, released from this room,
in every glimpse of blue
the open eyes cannot avoid.
I thought of this on Friday when a truck from a national lawn-care crossed in front while I was stopped at a traffic light. Emblazoned on its side was the name of the company: TRU GREEN
It was the company that had licensed and commercialized the process for which my my father was granted a patent in 1982. (The president of the company is also listed – with his name first for alphabetical reasons – though it was ALL my father’s work as chief chemist and bottle-washer for W.A. Cleary Corp. in New Jersey. )
My father was a graduate of both Tianjin Nankai High School, the elite western-style education school whose alumni include Zhou En-Lai (who succeeded Mao as Premier) and Wen Jiabao (the current Chinese Premier), and Tsing-Hua University, still the top science university in China. He majored in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering (Class of 1937), and became an expert in vegetable oil processing.
In order to provide me (both an only child and a son) with a better educational opportunity here, he gave up his role with the Chinese group in Brazil that made soybean there the major crop it is today. After our move from there to New Jersey, he spent the remainder of his career with W.A. Cleary, a small manufacturer of chemical formulations used mainly in the food industry.
Below is a family photo, late 1970s, the period when he was working on the patent. (Yes, I still had a bowl/Prince Valiant/Beatles hair-cut, though my hair was no longer shoulder-length…..) My father rarely smiled for photos, though he laughed easily, often from cracking himself up. (Naturally, it embarrassed me then as much as my doing it now has embarrassed Julia…) I chose this one because of the expression on his face is so stiff, even formal. And so different from how he could be.
Alas, while I did well in Chemistry courses (until Organic!), he was never able to instill in me either the interest or dedication required for a career. I know that it was a disappointment to him, though he never spoke of it once I took a different path. It’s why, as he lapsed into a coma following a massive heart-attack and I knelt bed-side in the emergency room talking and crying into his right ear as he expired, all my words of love were in the form of apologies for not having become what he had hoped. “So it goes”, as Vonnegut wrote…
In simple language, my father invented a way for applying liquid fertilizers to large areas of lawn grass that would keep lawns greener and healthier for longer and with less frequent spraying, thus resulting in lower costs and hassle in upkeep. It was a huge hit. Cleary Corp. named it “Tru Green” and subsequently licensed it to commercial lawn care services and nurseries as they signed on to use it, particularly on golf courses. (We used to note the irony – we were both tennis players – since he never took up golf, despite the company OWNING (!) a golf course adjacent to its headquarters!) His invention has been the standard for those applications and venues since the early 1980s.
And this is what I realized is his legacy when that truck crossed in front of me on the eve of this anniversary:
While blue became my color for memorializing the Holocaust, I had never recognized before – nor will now ever forget – that from his vantage point now, he could say that he made the grass greener on the other side.
And that would crack me up, too.