What Ever Happened to Daphne?
“Yes,” says Daphne.
“But you learned to relax.”
“After,” says Daphne.
“Will you go back to grad school?”
“I always put a big effort into not talking about this,” Barbara says. “I got sick of being the mother of a genius. I feel she was a spectacle at school. I was at a school meeting and a teacher said to me, ‘It’s no wonder Daphne’s so smart. Look who her father is.’ ”
At this moment her father is washing down his pizza with donuts and beer and handfuls of salted pine nuts. He holds up his fingers, showing off the stubs on the index finger and thumb of his left hand. He says he blew off the fingertips as a boy while playing with blasting caps. “Makes it easier to open a beer bottle,” he says.
He worked as an electrician at the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, a wafer wood mill in New Limerick that dominates the area and keeps property taxes low. Then, when Daphne was 14, he left the mill to open a motor repair shop with a friend. The business was not successful. After three years he hurt his back and spent months lying down. His garage became a tinkerer’s haven. In here he has rigged up a generator that runs off a chain saw; he’s invented a way for skidders to start in extreme cold; he says he has yet to see a machine he can’t figure out, yet there’s no backup heat in the house and if anything gets repaired in the house it’s Barbara who must do it. “He never finishes things,” she says. “He works when and for as long as he wants.” He never made much money, but he never cared. His needs were few. “The only way to ride,” he says. “Live cheap and play.
“I have my own little world,” he says. “I construct things for pleasure. I don’t care about using them. Everything is fun to me. People think it’s the end product that you’re after. No, it’s doing the work.” When he’d fire his rifles and pistols and machine guns, the joy came from seeing the machines work to perfection, he says. It distresses him now that his shooting helped destroy his hearing, and his eyesight is also fading.
He speaks slowly, savoring every word with an audience. “I went to high school one year, and they thought I was retarded or something. Sent me to a school psychologist. My stepfather said I’d never amount to anything. There’s only one teacher I remember,” he says. “He was a potato farmer named Byron. If I asked him a question and he didn’t know the answer, he’d say, ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but we can find out.’ And he’d find out.”
Daphne had told me he was singularly unimpressed with her academic achievements. He’d soak up technical manuals, not understanding her desire to read poetry and novels.
“Drivel,” he’d say.