Saturday, April 01, 2006

Family Album: My Father Dancing

Ivan Claudon

Yesterday I happened upon an internet article written by one of my parents’ friends about the Turkey Creek Golf Course, created in March 1922 on land of my great-great grandmother in Lexington, Illinois.

It was interesting to see my grandfather Charles Carnahan (then 25) as one of the founders since I didn’t know he played golf. I knew that my parents (and brother and sister) loved golf, but not my grandfather.

What I found even more surprising, however, was the following:

When the club house was vacated, the area teenagers took it over and held dances there. Ask Ivan Claudon about the Saturdays he spent cutting logs to burn in the fireplace to provide heat for the building. He still claims to have had enough energy left to spend the night folk or square dancing to records. Harold Siron recalls an occasion or two when Emmett Douglass played fiddle and his wife accompanied on the piano. The hills became a popular spot for winter sledding.

Ivan Claudon was my father. I never knew he enjoyed dancing. I can only vaguely recall seeing him dance once at my sister’s wedding. The above description speaks of a person I never knew.

My father, at the age of 64, committed suicide on Monday, 21 April 1980. Early that morning, he left the ranch-style home my parents had built across from my grandmother’s home. He drove a little over a mile to the barn he had planned to renovate into a retirement home, on property inherited from my grandmother—near the site of the Turkey Creek Golf Course—and then he hanged himself. He had just retired, and he lost a battle with clinical depression.

Depression runs in my father’s family. In the 1930s, his father had been committed for a brief time to a mental institution for being a “spend-thrift” (he bought a race horse and my grandmother saw this purchase at the height of the Depression as signs of a certifiable illness). My father, even though he wasn’t the oldest son had to sign papers for the commitment. I understand now that he always feared he might suffer the same fate. I understood what he had gone through even more fully when I fought my own battle with clinical depression in the 1990s.

My father kept a lot inside. His viewpoint was clearly shown when my mother’s father died. He approached my brother and I and told us not to cry because it would only upset my mother even more.

Before I did the Thornton Wilder digression, I was trying to reconcile the picture of the father I remember with that young man who chopped wood and danced the evening away. We were cut from the same mold and I didn’t even know it.

For much of my youth, my father and I butted heads. It didn’t help that I wanted to go into art and theatre. My father was an electrical engineer, a practical man. Only much later did I realize that he enjoyed the things that I did. But that was after I had married and settled down to teach. Two days before his death he paid a visit to my home in Park Forest. He pulled me aside at the end of the visit and told me he was proud of me. I had a great home and seemed happy. He was saying goodbye.

After reading the article, I’d like to imagine him with me on one of those club nights I used to have when I first moved to Chicago. The two of us going clubbing, having some drinks, and dancing the night away—I could have enjoyed that.