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Part 99: Father's Day

Today is Father's Day. I rummaged through a pile of photos Riley had stored away during his life. After he died, his friend Ted put all the stuff in a shed where it stayed for ten years. I found photos of him on a vacation I'd never seen. I mentioned in a previous blog that Riley kept all his photographs hidden, rather than displayed. I think he wanted to present himself as a blank screen to newcomers, so he could have more freedom with how people saw him, how he came across.

Here's Riley with his number six wife, Ruth on vacation. She'd taken him on a cruise somewhere, she looks thrilled in each image, he looks distant. In a few, he looks miserable.I didn't post those, they made me sad. Maybe he hated cruises as much as I do, or maybe he was feeling trapped in his life, or maybe he just wasn't interested in smiling for the camera and was perfectly fine. Who knows.

Around this time, his royalty checks were dwindling. He'd tried to open a restaurant with money borrowed from Ruth, and it failed. He had his social security checks–– which he claimed early so it wasn't much, and whatever checks came in from ASCAP or BMI. He'd written a few letters to ASCAP and BMI asking what happened to certain songs he'd written, and tried to figure out who owned them, and how that came to be, and it was all very confusing to him, as it is to countless other songwriters. It certainly is confusing to me, even after having met with two lawyers. His letters were a frustrated artist trying to get paid what he felt he was owed. There's something twisted about that, too.

Ruth was my father's only wife that wasn't an artist, all the others were actresses, my mother is an artist. Perhaps his first wife was too young to forge a path, they were both teens when they wed, and she died young. Suicide, gunshot to the chest. So perhaps she was aspiring to be an actress or an artist, we'll never know.

Ruth owned a furniture store in town. I remember going there to meet her, and what stuck with me was seeing two dobermans, ears and tails clipped, in a small, chain link enclosure in the parking lot. This stayed with me, those dogs. They lived in that cage, it seemed. The heat in Porterville is overwhelming for people, the dogs must've been suffering terribly. She had a big house in town, a huge living room, and my father seemed at home there. I felt relief. Riley had someone to care for him, he cared for her, and besides the animal abuse, she seemed fine. Maybe, I thought, things would be ok for the two of them.

At some point, Ruth became ill and died. I know she wanted my father to be buried by her side in a cemetery she'd chosen and paid for, because in those very same boxes that were finally returned to me, there was paperwork showing that my father had sold the plot back to the cemetery. That he sold his plot next to Ruth isn't a surprise to me, but probably would've been a surprise to Ruth. I’m sure he needed the money. Riley could not, or would not, plan for the future in that practical way people do, like saving money or choosing a place to be buried. He would not let me help him towards the end of his life, he wouldn't move to a safer location where he'd have services. He refused to move to Seattle. All he asked for was money from time to time, and I sent it, never sure what he was doing with it.

Rest in peace, Ruth and Riley. Oh, and happy Father's Day.

Riley helping Ruth with her life vest, below. Maybe I'll take some of his ashes back to Porterville and sprinkle them on Ruth's grave.

©Stacya Shepard Silverman Riley Shepard’s Promise 2023 All Rights Reserved


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