Leo is known as a bigot but, as Jack Kerouac writes in the last pages of The Haunted Life i, when his father was deathly ill in the hospital, “all the racial nonsense is gone, he sees all men how they are, one by one . . . and all women, of course.” So Pop in his last days has grown. Leo’s letters and Jack’s response to his father’s illness and death, is quite a memorable part of the book.
Leo writes about films and books, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. He writes to Jack that he may not have his “ability to rhapsodize in words,” but maybe Leo isn’t giving himself enough credit. His words have a bounce, and he seems to be a naturally good writer.
Pop expresses fatherly concern for the upcoming war, doles out practical advice (save some money), encourages his son and creatively compliments him on his intelligence, by noting Jack’s “thatch-covered cerebellum.” He speaks of love of family, the joy of a family reunion, “full of the goodness of life, a moment to be cherished, never to be forgotten.”
In a throwback to another time and place Leo can’t resist, “If you have too many skirts send me one willya!” Like father, like son, braggadocio, swagger, but the reader might not be able to stifle a laugh. Even in his volatile nature, there’s something funny about the angry man, “a man with opinions” who “voices them good and loud” and gets “worse and worse, year by year.”
Leo mentions Upton Sinclair, Hitler, Ronnie Reagan, and Guy de Maupassant, and more, all in the same short letter.
He writes of French thought in literature and opines about Saroyan, and records his sorrow about his dead little boy, Gerard. Perhaps some see it as sentimental, but the man wrote about the death of his beloved nine-year-old son. He’s had his share of hard times, ups and downs, and relates another interesting bit of his life in “A Sketch of Nashua and Lowell.”
In “Reflections on Leo” Jack writes of the “mess of messes called life.” And calls Leo “the only honest man I ever knew and the only completely honest expresser of what he thought about the world and the people in it.” Jack continues “the last months of his life on his deathbed he told me things in the middle of the night that would make you hair stand on end.” All in all, a chance to gain some insight into what was an imperfect but loving father-son relationship.
i Kerouac, Jack. The Haunted Life and Other Writings. Ed. Todd Tietchen. (Boston: DeCapo Press, 2014).
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