Finally, finally, finally! I managed to sit down with the elusive Mr Wallace (“call me Orvin, dear.”) He and I had almost two hours together. It was in the most ridiculous restaurant. Proper old school steakhouse glamour! I think he thought I wasn’t taking him seriously as I did start off giggling a lot about the people in the venue. Honestly though, I was surprised we got through the service without a number of ambulances being called. Half of them looked like it was their last meal!
We made small talk at first. I told him about the old book I saw at the bookstore and the new AG book I found online and bought. That seemed to pique his interest for some reason. He said he would send me all the files he has for Ackerly Green. They’re mostly founding documents, he just has to go digging for them. But he thought I should have them.
Eventually I did manage to get some answers from him about my dad and the state of his affairs – property, money etc. (I ended up having to take notes so I could remember it all!) So here’s what I now know:
- Orvin (who is at least eighty years old as it turns out) had actually worked with Warner Green (my grandfather!) and Grey Ackerly. He was around in the early days of Ackerly Green Publishing, working for Grey Ackerly’s attorney.
- He became the Green family attorney and eventually helped my dad transition into taking control of A&L Printing in 1978. Apparently this was the original Ackerly family company where Grey and my grandfather first met, not a renamed Ackerly Green Publishing, which is what I read online a couple of weeks ago (never trust the Internet!)
- Orvin helped manage Warner’s small fortune and helped my dad make decisions for the printing house, but he told me that he felt my dad’s heart was never really in it.
- There was a fire in 1979 that destroyed the building and after that my dad disappeared.
- Dad travelled the world, but he lived meagrely. Orvin kept track of a bank account that dad used. He would keep it topped up as needed. The only extravagant things he bought were books and strange pieces of art. Orvin doesn’t know what happened to all those things. 🙁
- Eventually dad’s charges indicated he’d come back to New York, but then they stopped altogether. Orvin didn’t hear anything from or about dad for a decade, until some people in the 90s came asking about him. They were fans of books that Ackerly Green had published. Orvin said he didn’t know those people existed. I assumed this was a joke about the lack of sales? Not sure – I didn’t pursue it. Orvin started working with this group to find my dad. And they did.
We ate for a while. Well, I ate and he pushed his food around and sipped dessert wine. He seemed lost in thought. He was staring out the window just talking, not really to me. Also, I can’t say for sure when it started but I noticed he’d started calling my dad Sully instead of Sullivan.
He told me dad was arrested in 1997 for vagrancy in Central Park. He’d been living there for months. Orvin secretly took my dad in, hiding him. (From what??? Why?) He said that dad was completely changed. He didn’t speak much. He just kept on saying he needed to go back to the park. “He had to go back.”Orvin had the best doctors and therapists try and reach dad and for a while it seemed like it worked. He said he tried to reintroduce him to the world… But then Orvin got cagey, “It didn’t work. He left. He went back… to the park. And that’s where he stayed.”
And then he sat there staring into his half eaten plate of steak and potatoes (no sauce. No sauce!) He just sat there. I didn’t know what to do or say. He wasn’t crying, but it was clear that he’d been avoiding having this conversation with me. It was as if he felt guilty for not being able to ‘save’ my dad. Like a father feeling he’s lost his son to something (illness? Drugs? A cult?)
I tried to engage with him by telling him what I can remember about my dad. I told him about the dream and that I’m pretty sure it’s a memory. The long hallway. I told him about a story dad always read to me. The tale of the ant and the caterpillar. (I remember I used to think he was saying “caterpillow.”) This seemed to snap him out of his catatonic state. He couldn’t believe I remembered that book. It must seem like that when you’re in your eighties, but my childhood wasn’t THAT long ago and my memory works fine Mr W!
He said he would spend “holidays” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc ) and dad’s birthday in the park, looking for him. He called him his “ward” as well as his friend. Every few years he’d find him. He’d see him from a distance… but then dad would walk away, not wanting to be found.
When dad died in July, the police found a letter on him. It was addressed to Orvin explaining all about me. And that’s when Orvin contacted me. It was also then that he found documents that led him to the brownstone. Dad owned it, but hadn’t lived in for years, if ever. I asked him if he knew my mother. He said he didn’t. He said, and this made me feel a little freaked out, “all I know is that your father was a sad and troubled man.” He said he must’ve loved me very much to protect me from the same madness that consumed him and his mother before him.
I’m kicking myself now, because I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t pick up on the last part. I didn’t ask him about my grandmother. Idiot!
It was obvious in his tone that he was finished talking about all this. He moved on to the business end of things. He pulled out a bunch of documents. He advised me that he had settled dad’s debts with the money he had protected and invested for him, and that now there’s still a little left. Not a mind-shattering amount, but a really nice chunk and it’s mine. As is the brownstone! Just barely, but it’s mine. If I want it. I’ll have to come up with a way to pay for its upkeep, taxes, utilities, etc. but it’s mine to keep, or sell. Insane.
With that, he collected himself and made his excuses to leave. Just before he left the table he reached over for my hand. The gesture sort of took me by surprise. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. His eyes looked full. He just smiled. A painful smile, so full of sadness. And then he left.
It’s a lot to process really…