Reading the Past


I don’t know if the title once held white or gold ink. In 1998, nearly thirty years after my father died, I was offered an opportunity to acquire a few of his things. Very few. His Bible was one of them. Faded and worn.


The original dedication was to him, “Albert,” from Lasira (no last name). Our last name of Keahn was penciled in by me as a child. The other dedication penciled in years, or decades, later by my stepmother, Ann. I was fourteen when he died of leukemia. Old enough to know basic facts about him: his age (39); his job (Automotive Design Engineer at Budd Company); that he was a foster child and his mother, my grandmother, lived in California; that he had asthma and loved playing baseball even though it knocked the wind out of him (Go Detroit Tigers!); that he had a penchant for sweets and BBQ’d T-bone steaks; that he grew up Lutheran; and that he was raised by two “spinster” sister who were teachers. He was an intelligent and just man. I don’t know so.much.more. Gazing at the name and the date — April 17, 1941 — I can only guess that the Bible was given to him from one of the sisters on his tenth birthday.


Oh, how I wish Lasira had thought to write her last name as well. Perhaps then I might have a clue as to its origin, or a starting point to research who she was, and her relationship to my father. I can only guess that maybe she (and her sister) were Arabic or Jewish. The only reference to the name, or word, I could find was in the lyrics of a song by a Middle-Eastern band — it means either “bridge” or “boat.” It makes sense, if you consider the color of his skin and his story, that he might have been placed with a family in this ethnic community. So many questions about his growing up, his teen years, his love story with my mother, his marriage to my stepmother, and more that I will never really have answers for.


When I opened his Bible recently, I found the worn place-ribbon marking the Book of Samuel. And as I read this scripture, I was struck by the passages referring to Elkanah and his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. In the story, Hannah was barren and Peninnah,who had many sons and daughters, used to taunt her cruelly. My stepmother was barren. Reading this made me wonder if my father made a connection between Hannah and Ann. I also wonder if my presence may have, in some indirect way, taunted her. In the story, Hannah goes to temple and prays unceasingly for a child and, eventually, God gives her a son, Samuel. And this is where I begin to think of my father — as Hannah takes Samuel back to the same temple and dedicates him to God. I think of my paternal grandmother giving my father up for foster care and his placement with two barren sisters. Of Lasira. Did she and her sister, in essence, dedicate my father to God? Was the gift of this Bible connected with raising him in the faith?


According to my Woman’s Study Bible, “Hannah was loved and valued for herself by her husband…but even the intensity of a devoted husband’s love could not penetrate her inner disquiet nor overcome her yearning for a child.”  Did this scripture speak to my father? Did it somehow soothe his own beaten soul to find a kindred spirit in Elkanah? Clearly he loved my stepmother. She had, as they say, her own demons to battle {alcoholism}. It took me years before I was able to truly understand what alcoholism was and how it fed a person’s fears.  In large part, becoming a mother made it easier to feel compassion for a woman who struggled so hard and for so long to conceive a child, only to come up empty time after time.

These are the mysteries that we ponder, I suppose, when we hold items that once were held by loved ones who are no longer with us; no longer able to engage in conversation about life as they knew it, wished it, or prayed it to be.

~ Blessings, dear reader


One comment

  1. I am so pleased that you have your father’s Bible. I agree so much can remain a mystery in our loved one’s past, where often we have very little information about them. I’m so sorry to hear that you loss your father so young. Much love. xo

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