About a million years ago when I was fifteen I had a job in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.
I worked at the sort of shop that still existed back then. It was a sort of clothing shop and sports shop all rolled into one. The floors creaked a bit and it smelled like new shoes, but it was a wonderful store. It was owned by the Wecht family and was in fact, family run. The brothers were managers and their father ran the place. I was a cashier, a job I was ill-suited for due to my natural fear of numbers, but I managed. I would have been better in sales I think, though I don't suppose grown-up ladies would be particularly moved by the fashion advice of a fifteen year old girl in braces and a new wave hair cut.
This was my job though, and I worked several afternoons a week and the weekends. When I look back at that time, getting up before five every morning to get ready for school, working on the weekends I am not surprised that I was so often sick. I think I was exhausted for four years straight and I had the mono to prove it.
Anyway, the story I want to tell you isn't about being sick all the time and my horribly awkward adolescence. The story I want to tell is about my dad. My dad often drove me to school and drove me home from work. He'd listen to NPR which seemed an endless stream of boring talk about the news and traffic. I hated it. I hated almost everything back then. I would plug my Walkman into my ears and listen to whatever music was getting me through the misery of being young. There were mornings that I am sure I never spoke a word to my father. I was sullen most of those mornings and now that I know how it is to be on the other end of a child's sullenness, I regret it.
Sunday afternoons were different. NPR played Selected Shorts and the confident voice of Isaiah Sheffer would introduce a story read aloud by famous actors. My father would put on the radio and together we would be quiet in each others company listening to stories. I am sure that I first heard the work of John Updike and Raymond Carver in that car because when I later read their books I thought for sure that I already knew these stories, though I knew I had not read them. On those trips home I came to love a different kind of radio, so different from the commercial radio of screeching ballads. Of all the gifts I ever received from my father, I think that introducing me to NPR and Selected Shorts may be the one for which I am most grateful and the one which I use every day.
When I heard that Isaiah Sheffer had died this week I thought about those afternoons in the car. I remember each curve of the long twisting roads to our house in rural New Jersey. I can see the dry leaves skittering across the road and the long shadows pulling against the distant mountains and I can still hear the stories being told while my father and I listened together, quietly, unexpectedly and carefully to each word of the tale.
Rest In Peace Mr. Sheffer.