Remembering Jack Ramsay

My dad died a week ago. We had a com­pli­cat­ed relationship.

What can I say about him? He was a mys­te­ri­ous man. I have few specifics. What I have are some details that paint a gauzy pic­ture of whom I under­stand him to be, or to have been.

I know that his child­hood was fraught. That his father was abu­sive. That his moth­er was abusive. He grew up in West Philadel­phia at 61st and Girard. He had a guardian angel in his aunt Helen, who was also his par­ents’ land­lord. I knew her. He loved her very much.

While details of his boy­hood were scarce, he told amaz­ing sto­ries about his ado­les­cence. As I’ve heard from many Philadel­phi­ans his age, every­one seemed to fight con­stant­ly. The vio­lence was spon­ta­neous and intense. A neigh­bor­hood goon would ter­ror­ize the trol­ley. The plot of land that became Samuel Gom­pers Ele­men­tary School was a Gangs of New York-esque bat­tle­field where my dad punched the lead singer of the Dovells in the nose, or so he claimed. They beat each oth­er with spin­dles from stoop stair­cas­es. Philadel­phia in the ’50s was wild.

He loved bas­ket­ball and played at Over­brook. The team was led by Walt Haz­zard. My dad told me that the top eight play­ers went on to play pro­fes­sion­al­ly. He was not among them.

To hear him tell it, Philadel­phia was so dan­ger­ous, he felt com­pelled to enlist. He claimed that going into the ser­vice saved him from Grater­ford. He joined the Navy and was an air­plane elec­tri­cian aboard the U.S.S. Ticon­dero­ga. I only recent­ly real­ized he was aboard dur­ing the Gulf of Tonkin inci­dent. He wit­nessed a pilot be butchered by a plane pro­peller. For all the sto­ries he would tell about surf­ing through­out Asia, the war deeply affect­ed him. He rarely spoke about it and was sharply crit­i­cal of those who reimag­ined them­selves as war heroes.

There’s anoth­er ellip­sis after he returns home. His dad — a WWI vet born in 1899 — dies in 1963, I think. He mar­ries my mom in 1974. He gets his degree in food mar­ket­ing from Saint Joe’s in ’75. He went at night. They moved to a farm­house in Gabelsville, PA that was built in 1760, where they raised sheep and horses.

I arrived in ’77 and my sis­ter in ’80.

He worked at GE, then Mar­tin Mari­et­ta, then final­ly Lock­heed Mar­tin for 40 years in Val­ley Forge. He was­n’t allowed to talk about what he did, but he brought home amaz­ing sou­venirs that his col­leagues got for him. I have a t‑shirt from the Yeltsin coup. I have a Sovi­et offi­cers hat and a KGB watch. I got a t‑shirt with an ele­phant that just said “Africa.”

He was an amaz­ing provider. He cared very deeply about us kids hav­ing a bet­ter child­hood than him. His abil­i­ty to cre­ate a life for us is unde­ni­able. He want­ed so bad­ly to take us to Hong Kong. We nev­er made that trip.

While our rela­tion­ship grew com­pli­cat­ed as I got old­er, I ulti­mate­ly under­stood that he was doing his very best. I hope he knew that I knew that, even if nei­ther of us was able to say it to each other.

Love you, Dad. Give Aunt Helen a hug and a kiss for us.

Charlie Turned Two!

What a won­der­ful par­ty in the park! Feels like it was only yes­ter­day that he turned one: the But­ter­cream cup­cake truck; a pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er; tons of friends and fam­i­ly and a hot day on Lemon Hill for a very excit­ed (and sleepy) one-year-old boy. Now he’s two and the changes are so dra­mat­ic it’s hard to keep up. He’s pick­ing up more lan­guage every day, express­ing him­self more ver­bal­ly than phys­i­cal­ly, which is a relief for all per­sons in his vicin­i­ty, espe­cial­ly house pets.

It was so great to see Mark and Erin out with Ele­na at almost two weeks and to see Arman­do and Rebec­ca with Lily when they were just hours from being par­ents again. Wel­come Rio! Char­lie was thrilled as ever to see his aunt Eileen and her pup­py Jax as well as his “Damma” and Grand­pa, not to men­tion my mom, who man­aged not to get too lost in Straw­ber­ry Man­sion before find­ing us on Lemon Hill. GPS is a won­der except in some urban envi­ron­ments apparently.

It was so nice to encamp on Lemon Hill for a love­ly June after­noon spent with friends and fam­i­ly and food. Bit­ter­sweet that we say good­bye yet again to our friends Tony and Katie as they embark on a cross-coun­try trip to Seat­tle for a few years. Can’t wait to vis­it! I’ve seen a few episodes of “The Killing” so I just know it’s going to be a beau­ti­ful place to live and work.

We’ve man­aged to sur­vive two years of very lit­tle sleep to raise a beau­ti­ful lit­tle boy and I can hon­est­ly say I’ve loved every minute, even when I’m awake at 4 am watch­ing reruns of “Gold­en Girls” on the couch.

Charlie’s First Birthday

Char­lie’s First Birth­day, orig­i­nal­ly uploaded by J T. Ram­say.

What an amaz­ing day! We cel­e­brat­ed Char­lie’s big day with 60 of his clos­est friends and fam­i­ly. Char­lie’s birth­day had a music theme and rest assured that he’s spend­ing his time turn­ing all the love­ly instru­ments he received into per­cus­sion as best he can.

I may be let­ting the cat out of the bag, but pic­nic area #2 on Lemon Hill in Fair­mount Park is a gem; it was like 90 degrees, but the area was nice­ly shad­ed from the morn­ing until well into the after­noon. It was great for stay­ing cool while being out­doors, which makes life eas­i­er on adults and babies alike.

Spe­cial thanks to friends and fam­i­ly who lent a hand in mak­ing Char­lie’s birth­day extra spe­cial. We could­n’t have done it with­out you!