Ryan Summerlin June 18, 2013
My father was a piece of work! Not that he was singular in that regard. My family tree on both sides is chock full of eccentricity. Each branch, for whatever evolutionary purpose, has embraced the idiosyncratic and improvisational portions of the natural selection scale. We were "far out" way before the ’60s.
Robert Emmett Meehan, "Bob" to everyone who crossed his path, gave his offspring, a flawed bunch to be sure, unimaginable depths of unconditional love. And we’ve never needed no stinking Father’s Day in order to cherish his memory. Very seldom will a communiqué of any stripe pass between us without at least a subtle nod to Bob and his hilariously quirky and loving ways.
He would never forget the name or brief bio of our innumerable friends and would laugh uncontrollably at some of their, and our, misadventures. Behavior he deemed inappropriate, however, would elicit a more appropriate response.
Although I’m sure that he knew how to carry a grudge during his younger days, the process seemed to have slipped his mind as he grew older. He became much more about forgiveness, about live-and-let-live, about learning from our mistakes.
The first half of Bob’s life took place in the general environs of his birthplace, Kellogg, Idaho. Except for our mother, Mary Frances McDonnell, who was born across the Montana line in Anaconda and raised in Great Falls, our entire family first saw the light of day in Kellogg, which we laughingly referred to as "the jewel of the Coeur d’Alenes" or "the pearl of the Panhandle."
The family would next migrate south to the quaint seaside village of Los Angeles, California. With the Dodgers already in town and the Lakers soon to follow on their heels, the older boys took readily to the move. What culture shock, they wondered?
Bob already had us speaking fluent major-league sports well before the big move south and we added to that vocabulary by quickly getting up to speed with the top-shelf newspaper sports columnists of L.A., Jim Murray and Melvin Durslag. Reading Murray religiously each morning over coffee soon gave us instant cachet with our new running partners and schoolmates.
He also had us reading other fare from Twain and Steinbeck to Defoe and Dickens to Scott and Poe. He wasn’t much for Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Joyce or Pound, but the road he put us on would get us there eventually on our own.
Neither modernists nor post-modernists in either literature or music turned his crank much either. Although, again, he would show us on-ramps to most all the cultural byways of the last few centuries. Following his father into the bricklaying trade had given him a calloused-hand approach to the arts.
He wasn’t much into straight-ahead jazz, although his Mills Brothers, Phil Harris, and Artie Shaw "pop" records would open up that aural lexicon when we wanted to delve further into trad, swing, bebop, or "cool." Interestingly, neither Sinatra nor Elvis was ever warmly received on a routine basis in the house. My sense was that he somehow felt threatened by them, although the explanation was probably something less complex.
That is not to say that if a Sinatra or early Elvis TV special loomed, however, that he with mom’s blessing, of course wouldn’t make sure that all our friends knew they were welcome to have a viewing party at the Meehan house if their own parents were somewhat less inclusive. When Dylan guested on the first Johnny Cash show, the joint was packed to the rafters.
That’s because, back then, Bob would always rather understand the muses of his children no matter how off-center, or should I say left of center, they happened to be. A longtime member of Toastmasters, he never shied from friendly debate.
Once, following a visit to my house in another section of L.A. and having noticed photos of Che Guevara, Miles Davis, Zubin Mehta and Kurt Vonnegut in close proximity on a wall, he got himself comfortable on a couch and requested that I connect the philosophically circuitous dots for him.
But what was obvious to both of us was that what he was really after was a personal connection with his eldest son, not an explanation of what brought together a revolutionary, a jazz icon, a philharmonic conductor, and the ambassador to Trafalmadore. He just needed outlets for his love and we, his progeny, although unworthy, were always more than willing to comply.
He was such an interesting cat, a void that cannot be filled. But my brother McGee can channel his father’s most idiosyncratic behavior at the drop of a 10-gallon hat. Suffice to say, he gives great Bob!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.