My beloved father, the illustrator and painter Robert Shore, passed away on April 30 at the age of ninety.
Over the years, my father had inscribed and given me many of the books he illustrated including Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, among others.
After his death, to console myself, I decided to hunt down another copy of Moby Dick and visited biblio.com which lets you search used books by illustrator. Not only did I find a copy of the Melville classic, I found and ordered several other books my father illustrated that I never knew about.
It was bittersweet when the week after my order, packages arrived at my doorstep each day including Home is the North by Walt Morey and Bitter Victory: A History of Black Soldiers in WW I by Florette Henri among several others.
I’m happy to have these books to hold in my hand, to see my father’s name on their covers, and look at the illustrations inside that are so undeniably his. But I’m sorry I can’t ask him about each project.
On one of my last visits with my father, I told him I was writing a memoir.
“You have quite a story to tell,” he said.
“I’d like to interview you.”
“Hmmm,” he said, sounding a little wary.
“You don’t have to talk to me,” I said. “I’m going to write the memoir either way but I’d rather have your story.”
He was silent for a moment.
“What do you want to know?” he said at last.
“How did you and my mother meet?” I asked knowing he might not want to talk about the woman he’d divorced more than 50 years ago.
“You really want me to tell you?”
He told me a story that solved a deep mystery in my memoir and is now one of the final chapters.
After the interview, he was full of energy.
“Wow. I feel so much better I told you,” he said. "It's better to let it out."
“Thanks, Dad.” I’m sorry now that he won’t get to read it.
What questions do you want to ask while you still can? From a person, from a place, about an event? I’m glad I persevered and that my father sat for that last interview.
Before the year runs out, visit that place, talk to that person, ask your questions. You never know what gold you may find.
My father, the illustrator and painter, Robert Shore, sculpting in his New York City studio in the early 60s. Photo by Ken Wittenberg.