In Twilight Zone reruns, I search for my father in the man on the screen, but I can't always find him there. Instead, he appears in unexpected ways. Memory summoned by a certain light, a color, a smelland I see him again on the porch of our old red lakeside cottage, where I danced on the steps as a child.
To Anne Serling, the imposing figure the public saw hosting The Twilight Zone each week, intoning cautionary observations about fate, chance, and humanity, was not the father she knew. Her fun-loving dad would play on the floor with the dogs, had nicknames for everyone in the family, and was apt to put a lampshade on his head and break out in song. He was her best friend, her playmate, and her confidant.
After his unexpected death at 50, Anne, just 20, was left stunned. Gradually, she found solace for her grief by talking to his friends, poring over old correspondence, and recording her childhood memories. Now she shares personal photos, eloquent, revealing letters, and beautifully rendered scenes of his childhood, war years, and their family's time together. Idyllic summers in upstate New York, the years in Los Angeles, and the myriad ways he filled their time with laughter, strength, and endearing sillinessall are captured here with deep affection and candor.
Though begun in loss, Anne's story is a celebration of her extraordinary relationship with her father and the qualities she came to prize through himempathy, kindness, and an uncompromising sense of social justice. As I Knew Him is a lyrical, intimate tribute to Rod Serling's legacy as visionary, storyteller, and humanist, and a moving testament to the love between fathers and daughters.
"I was so moved by Anne Serling's account of the loving relationship she had with her dad, I laughed and I cried. I plan to read it again once I catch my breath. This beautifully written book is proof that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree when it came to the writing gene." Carol Burnett
"It was my privilege to know Rod Serling. He was as interesting off screen as on. I loved Rod Serling. Still do." Betty White
"Thanks to Anne Serling's haunting and beautifully written memoir about her father, readers will come to know Rod Serling in a personal way, as I did." Robert Redford
"A loving daughter's intimate memoir and portrait of her father, a man who just happens to be one of the most important American cultural leaders of the 20th Century . . . the best glimpse we're likely to get of that man and the maelstrom he moved in unless or until we venture into the Twilight Zone." James Grady
"A memoir filled with intimate details and emotion; a tender, thoughtful and very personal portrait of American genius Rod Serling, writer and creator of the greatest show ever made, The Twilight Zone." - Alice Hoffman
"A richly told, deeply sympathetic journey into the mind of one of the masters of television, this haunting memoir is also about grief, creativity, and a father-daughter bond as memorable and magical as any Twilight Zone episode." Caroline Leavitt
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About the Author
Before becoming a full-time writer, Anne Serling was an early childhood teacher with a bachelor’s degree from Elmira College. She serves on the board of directors of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and is involved with the Rod Serling School of Fine Arts “Fifth Dimension” program. She lives in New York. Visit her at www.anneserling.com or on Facebook.
Read an Excerpt
AS I KNEW HIM
My Dad, Rod Serling
By ANNE SERLING
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013Anne Serling
All rights reserved.
The last time I saw my father, it was 1975. He was lying in a hospital bed in a room with bright—too bright—green and yellow walls, inappropriate colors intended to console the sick, the dying. As he slept, curled beneath a sheet, I watched him breathe, willing him to, his face still tan against that pillow so white. And as I sat looking at him, I thought of how, when I was small, I would awaken in my room beside the flowered wallpaper and listen for his footsteps down the hall, comfortable in their familiarity, secure in the insular world of my childhood, knowing without question or doubt that when I followed those sounds, I would always find him.
When he first got sick, I wiped his forehead dry until he became too ill and I could do nothing. "Pops," he said, calling me one of my many nicknames, "don't you worry. I'm going to be just fine." And I looked at him then and nodded because I couldn't find the words.
My father died there, three days later, on the eighth floor of Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York.
He was just fifty years old, I barely twenty.
I was so blinded by the loss. Terrified by each day that took me further from the last that I had seen him. Incapacitated by the idea of a life without him, my world grew impossibly small and inaccessible. I did not know how to grieve, to accept, to move on. I shut down. I detached. I fell apart.
I replayed those last days of the hospital—the waiting, the doctors in their silent shoes, the unimaginable words—in excruciating, explosive detail as if in the revisiting, the outcome could be changed in some way.
Walking aimlessly outside, I was stunned by the normalcy of those obscenely bright summer skies. I knew it was useless, but I would whisper, "Dad, if you can hear me, make the leaf move. Or the bird; make that bird fly now," and I would wait. I needed something tangible, some acknowledgment that he could hear me. Some sign that I was not losing my mind.
All of the years that I mourned my father and all of the "magical thinking" that I engaged in could not bring him back. But that didn't stop my trying. In those first weeks I sat alone in his office chair reaching for pens he had held, papers he had touched. I looked at his photographs, imagining him talking to me. I panicked when I thought it might be possible I could very soon forget the way he smiled, or the sound of his laugh and the way his voice trailed up the stairs calling me Pops or Miss Grumple or Nanny. I was so afraid that I would lose him, lose him incrementally, lose him for good.
But grief is a strange thing. After it slams you, it has nowhere else to go. This understanding can take years, can take its toll, can excise you off the planet. And it did for me. I finally started seeing a therapist after the insistent prodding of friends. It took more than a year, but there I sat with Dr. Fein stein, week after week, in a room with shelves of books and no sunlight.
He told me, "You need to visit your father's grave." He said it quietly but emphatically. My mother, my friends were all telling me the same thing: "You need closure." I felt ambushed from all sides. I was not doing well. Although I had just graduated from college, I was depressed. I had panic attacks and the start of agoraphobia. I was overwhelmed by this sadness that was acute and all-consuming and sometimes left me gasping for air. A year passed, then another. June, July, August. Suddenly summers were gone. Fall filled the air in a barrage of color and then succumbed to November skies. It was gray and windy and cold, and I still hadn't done what I needed to do. I could not go to my father's grave.
I found the simplest memory could cause the greatest ache. In one, my father—wearing blue shorts, no shirt—is carrying a small green plate with a corned beef sandwich he has just made; in his other hand, a Coke. He is going outside to eat his lunch in the sun. Thinking the sliding doors are open, he walks right into them and yells, "God damn it!"
He is not hurt. When he sees me, he laughs. "I'm okay," he says, and we are both laughing. On our hands and knees, we clean up the mess with paper towels and pick up the pieces of sandwich. He has a small purple mark on his forehead that within weeks will disappear.
A sticker remains on those glass doors still. It is faded and peeled in one corner but warns when the doors are closed. And sometimes, if I stand there at just around noon on a summer day, I can see the soda spilling across the wood floor, the soaked corned beef on rye, and the green plate tipped in my father's hand. I can see him turning, tanned, and smiling in the sunlight. I can hear my father laughing in the empty room.CHAPTER 2
On an early winter morning a few years after graduating from college, I drive from Ithaca back to the cottage. It, and the newer house my parents built next door, has been closed for winter. My tracks in the snow will be the only ones except for rabbits, squirrels, maybe a deer. I get out of the car, search in my pocket for the key, push open the door to the house, and turn on the light, grateful that the electricity has not been turned off and that there is still a little warmth.
Nothing really changes here, and my father's presence, even in the stillness, is powerful. A shadow can so easily be transformed, his voice imagined, and for just a moment I envision him there. I hear the familiar sound of his footsteps on the stairs, but of course I see nothing—only the empty steps in the faint morning light.
Although I should be, I am clearly no further along in this grieving process. I haven't found a teaching position, and so I sub in elementary schools when I can and tutor. It isn't lost on me, though, or those around me, that I'm on auto pilot, not fully present, not really engaged, at all.
As I walk from room to room I find the quiet unbearable and so in the kitchen, I switch on the radio—my mother's station, the last one played—classical. The music breaks the silence, but it feels jarring, droning, and I quickly turn it off and walk into another room.
In a closet I find what I have come for. My father's box of old letters, his 511th Airborne booklet, other memorabilia, and the family photo albums, a myriad of colored covers, each one marked with a specific year. I sit on the floor, the books and letters and other items spread before me, and I open the first album; Dad on the boat saluting behind the wheel; playing poker with his friend Dick; swimming with my sister and me in the lake; Dad rolling around with the dogs on the lawn. Another album, then another, a slide show of images flashing too quickly, on and on, until the pictures stop on a half-filled page because weeks later my father was gone.
I get up and stand at the window, watching as a bird feeder, empty for years, swings precariously. I look at the vanishing light and the falling snow, and I am surprised so much time has passed.
Kneeling again on the floor, I begin stacking the albums, carefully refolding the letters and other items and placing them into the box. I see I have forgotten to put my dad's old yearbook in. I open the cover and find him quickly. His brown eyes looking back at mine.
I return the book and close the top, ready to set it back on the closet shelf. But I worry about the dampness and the passage of time, the erosion of what remains, and quickly decide this time I will not leave it behind. I will take the box with me. These things cannot be lost.
I stay a moment more in the silent room, the empty house, knowing that I'll have to keep doing this. I will have to keep looking. That in order to go forward, I will have to go back bec
Excerpted from AS I KNEW HIM by ANNE SERLING. Copyright © 2013 by Anne Serling. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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