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After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story by Michael Hainey

15803014

A decade in the writing, the haunting story of a son’s quest to understand the mystery of his father’s death—a universal memoir about the secrets families keep and the role they play in making us who we are.Michael Hainey had just turned six when his uncle knocked on his family’s back door one morning with the tragic news: Bob Hainey, Michael’s father, was found alone near his car on Chicago’s North Side, dead, of an apparent heart attack. Thirty-five years old, a young assistant copy desk chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, Bob was a bright and shining star in the competitive, hard-living world of newspapers, one that involved booze-soaked nights that bled into dawn. And then suddenly he was gone, leaving behind a young widow, two sons, a fractured family—and questions surrounding the mysterious nature of his death that would obsess Michael throughout adolescence and long into adulthood. Finally, roughly his father’s age when he died, and a seasoned reporter himself, Michael set out to learn what happened that night. Died “after visiting friends,” the obituaries said. But the details beyond that were inconsistent. What friends? Where? At the heart of his quest is Michael’s all-too-silent, opaque mother, a woman of great courage and tenacity—and a steely determination not to look back. Prodding and cajoling his relatives, and working through a network of his father’s buddies who abide by an honor code of silence and secrecy, Michael sees beyond the long-held myths and ultimately reconciles the father he’d imagined with the one he comes to know—and in the journey discovers new truths about his mother.

A stirring portrait of a family and its legacy of secrets, After Visiting Friends is the story of a son who goes in search of the truth and finds not only his father, but a rare window into a world of men and newspapers and fierce loyalties that no longer exists.

My Review

A family past revisited.
Tragedy in a death under questionable circumstances.
A son wants to find the truth and wants not to upset his mother in unraveling the past.
In this story of truth the author has give us a poignant and wonderful look into his life and strung it swell together in great words in the right places.
In his search he makes the reader look within his or her life, at the greater things that need to be taken account of.
He had me thoroughly captivated in this story.
Defiantly one not to miss for 2013 that will be hitting Best of Lists through the year.“ For a good hundred years, there was nothing like it on earth. An entire square mile of Chicago, devoted to butchering cattle and hogs or any other beast a man could ship from America’s hinterlands-our prairies and plains- turning it into canned meat, churning all of it into the bounty of America. This was the land of swift, the kingdom of Armour. Chicago as the dis-assembly line. Chicago-how fast and how efficiently a creature could be reduced. Rendered. Broken down.
On summer nights, when the wind blew off the lake, the stench of death and dung hung over the whole city. My grandmother told me that some nights in her bed, she’d be awakened by what she called “the sad groaning”-beasts in the dark, all those miles away. Chicago.”

“My father was the Night Slot Man. Thats a newspaper term. From the time he is a young boy of six or seven in Dust Bowl Nebraska, back in the depression, all he wants is to work in newspapers. All he wants is to escape, to get to Chicago and be a newspapermen, just like his bother.”

“She begins to see there is a world beyond the world she knows. A world of smart, knowing men. A world at the center of the world. A world that knows whats happening. A world where things happen.”

“All through her childhood, whenever you ask her a question about her life or what she is doing or where she is going, she will fix you in her gaze and say to you, her son: “Don’t ask me about my business.”
Omerta.”

“Omerta.
After he died, silence descends. Silence and fear. My twin poles: my binary back holes. I live in fear of upsetting my mother, of even uttering my fathers name. I believe that even by saying his name, I might kill her. Or, she might kill me.
Three of us remained. Three atoms that retreat to the outer edges of our chamber. A nuclear family flawed, reduced. We drift apart. Unable to bond. Not knowing how. Survivors who stagger into a shelter or a bombed-out ruin, each eyeing the others from our shadowy corner. Wondering. Calculating.
He died and we never spoke again about him. Every once in a while, id find the courage to ask about him. Every once in a while, the questions nagging in my head-How did he die?-would become too much and id forget the rules and ask.”

“I understand you now, those of you who build your roadside shrines.
Your frail white cross, lashed to the guard-rail. Two wooden garden stakes bound with rusted wire. Your son”s name, stencilled. Or your wife’s. A plastic bouquet. Faded flag. We see your shrine as we speed by, rounding a curve. A glint of colour catches our eye. Maybe remnants of that weathered teddy bear. All of it marking that place where someone loved left the road.
The sod black and torn. The gap in the guardrail. The tree trunk, shorn.
It is our need to mark. To witness. Our need to create scared ground.
“History happened here,” guidebooks like to say.
No, we say-personal history ended here.”

“To this day, still, I scavenge for scraps in the hearts and minds of men I meet. Forever searching, believing the answers are out there. Somewhere.
Because we without fathers must out of necessity create ourselves. Its true that “necessity is the mother of invention.” But for those of us without fathers, there is a deeper truth-necessity is the mother of self-invention.”




Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 01 March 2013