Sunday, August 10, 2014

Love letter to Byron Farquhar

We cleaned out the desk of Byron Farquhar today.

Byron Farquhar, man of mystery.

You can learn a lot about a person from the contents of his desk.

As might be expected, in that beautiful burl wood roll top, we found office supplies – multiple boxes of American Standard staples (no stapler, by the way), paper clips, pencil leads, funky pink parallelogram erasers, carbon paper (!), batteries, Diamond strike-on-the-box matches, and a small canister of crushed red pepper.  OK…

In the file drawer, bottom left, we found documents cached long past the recommended ‘save until’ date per the IRS’s mandate:  Bank statements and W-2’s from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Photos of colleagues atop empty picture frames.  Nesting dolls?!  Rubber bands linked, perhaps the product of a meditative mind.  Boxes of business cards from each stop along his progression up the ranks in his professional life.

Then, in the top right hand drawer, at-the-ready, glasses.  No, not reading glasses.  Not even old prescription bifocals kept in case the new ones were lost or stepped on.  No.  These are plastic frames without lenses but sporting a rubber nose complete with fluffy black moustache.

Now we’re getting down to the real Byron Farquhar.

It’s a pseudonym, of course.

Byron Farquhar exists only in the mind of a 94-year-old born on April Fool’s day – my facetious father-in-law, Lloyd Plath.

He first called himself Byron Farquhar when he set about unraveling the puzzle of how he wound up on so many mailing lists when he had subscribed to only one magazine – Forbes.

His sleuthing compounded the problem, getting him onto duplicate streams of multiple mail-order solicitations, the first in his own name and the second sent to the attention of the illusive Mr. Farquhar.

Lloyd never trusted Forbes after that.  At the flea market he found a framed picture of a chimpanzee studying the New York Times and hung it next to his massive desk – his new financial advisor.

I first met him in Tulsa when my husband and I were courting.  We took him and my future mother-in-law to an outdoor arena for a live musical performance of “Oklahoma!”  The master of ceremonies informed the audience that senators from around the country were in attendance that evening and asked them to stand and be acknowledged. 

To my amazement Lloyd stood and accepted the round of applause graciously even though he never was a senator from anywhere. 

After I became a Plath, people started to ask me if I am related to Sylvia Plath, the well-known award-winning, if ill-fated author.  Once this happened at a party when I was standing next to Lloyd.  He said yes, I was, by virtue of my marriage into the family.  He said that Sylvia was his cousin and he went on to recount an anecdote from their childhood times together, playing in the kitchen.  A recollection made melancholy, he said, by her choice of exits.

I began retelling the stories of my famous cousin-by-marriage, until I learned from Lloyd’s flabbergasted wife one day that this too, was another of his pranks.

The good news is that we have the roll top desk now not because Lloyd Plath has passed away, but because he decided to move.

He decided.

He called us and his other offspring and their spouses and insisted that we come and collect all the things that he’d made us claim years ago when his wife of 57 years passed away. 

They just won’t fit in his new apartment, he said.  It’s a one bedroom affair on the ground floor of a fresh new complex in his tiny, picturesque town.  No more stairs.

He figured it was time to make a change since he took a fall and banged up his knees. 

He gave us the gift of making this decision himself, no matter how stress-laden or painful it must have been.  He’s always been, and remains, his own man. 

So we brought home the desk and the glasses, but not the portrait of the chimp. 

Lloyd wants to live long enough so that on April Fool’s Day, 2020, he can send that picture to Willard Scott for display on a Smucker’s jar labeled:  “Byron Farquhar, 100 years old.”