Readers will have noted that The Thing in the Close bears a dedication in memory of my father, Ernest Barlough, who passed away after a short illness while the book was in preparation. He was 95 years young.
My Dad was a remarkable man. He was born not Ernest Barlough but Ernö Balogh, the son of Hungarian immigrants, in Toledo, Ohio. When he was two years of age he and his parents relocated to the San Fernando Valley in southern California, to Lankershim, now called North Hollywood. His mother and father, who loved music, saved what precious money they could spare -- it was the onset of the Depression -- to provide violin lessons for my Dad, who early on had shown an aptitude for the instrument.
My Dad and his violin.
As a teenager he performed in local clubs and at gatherings, and once as soloist with a small symphony orchestra, and for a time had his own band. In 1942 he made a series of recordings, accompanied on the piano by Ella Szarka, a well-known local pianist and teacher of the day. In 1998 the original vinyl tracks were remastered and made available for the first time on cassette and CD.
Among those who danced to my Dad's music at local functions was one Béla Blaskó, a noted Hungarian immigrant more widely recognized by his stage and screen name -- Béla Lugosi. Around this time my Dad too changed his name, Americanizing it to Ernest Barlough, which people found easier to pronounce. Among his favorite violin melodies were the celebrated Komm, Zigeuner from Kalman's Countess Maritza, Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust, and Irén, a song he composed specially for my Mom.
My Dad attended UCLA for a time. The cost, he liked to recall, was rather steep -- $29.00 a semester. He could barely afford it. (As for USC tuition -- well, it was out of the question.) He majored in Spanish -- he thought he would like to be a Spanish teacher -- and minored in music, and participated in a host of athletic activities including handball and tennis. His circle of athletic acquaintances while at UCLA included football star and future coach Bob Waterfield, running back Kenny Washington, and a promising young four-letter man from Georgia by way of Pasadena Junior College named Jackie Robinson. My Dad retained a lifelong affection for UCLA and his Bruins, and much amusement was provided by the good-natured rivalry that arose between my Dad and my brother Gary (a USC Trojan) over their respective football squads.
At the outset of World War II my Dad was engaged as a lathe operator in a machine shop, where one of his fellow workers was leadman Frank LoVecchio, later known worldwide as jazz singer and songwriter Frankie Laine. Then Uncle Sam called -- well, he wrote, actually -- it was 1943 -- and my Dad joined the U.S. Navy for the duration. He served stateside and in Honolulu with the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) Command, Pacific Wing, and later was recalled for a year as a reservist during the Korean War.
My Mom and Dad in Safford, Arizona, 1948, while my Dad was credit sales manager at the Safford Sears store.
After World War II and marriage to my Mom Irene, my Dad entered credit sales for Sears, Roebuck & Co. He and my Mom traveled throughout Arizona and California as he was posted to different store locations. Eventually he was promoted to credit sales manager at the Hollywood, California store, where he remained for several years.
My Dad in his office at the Sears Hollywood store, late 1950's.
My parents insisted that their sons should have swimming lessons commencing at an early age (2.5 years), so that they should never be uncomfortable around water. Five years of lessons proved fruitful, and were rewarded by summer vacations in the nearby San Bernardino Mountains, especially at Lake Arrowhead, where the old Village Inn and Village Cottages were favored destinations. Readers may recognize a rather sinister variation of Arrowhead and its environs in the lakeside setting of the second Western Lights book, The House in the High Wood.
Enjoying the waters. Lake Arrowhead, 1956.
While with Sears my Dad became interested in public accounting, and spent considerable time after hours schooling himself in the business. Subsequently he left his comfortable niche at Sears and struck out on his own to gain experience in his new field, and a position with greater prospects for advancement. Eventually he purchased his own business and carried on this highly successful endeavor until retiring in 1980.
Retirement gave my Dad a chance to renew his interest in music and the violin -- now just a hobby -- by performing as a member of the (Pacific) Palisades Symphony Orchestra, often under the baton of conductor, composer and fellow violinist David Newman. In 1996 he returned to the recording studio -- this time it was in the Capitol Records building -- where his violin can be heard on the soundtrack of the motion picture The Soong Sisters, with music by Japanese artist Kitaro and Randy Miller, and my brother Gary as music producer. Somewhere along the way my Dad had taught himself to play the piano, and a pair of recordings of his solo piano music -- one of American songs and show tunes, the other of Hungarian melodies -- appeared in a limited pressing in 2003.
My Mom and Dad, my brother Gary and myself. Los Angeles, 1965.
My Dad was a remarkable man. Most remarkable to me was his perfect willingness to lay by his talents in favor of his family. His wife and his sons meant everything to him, and he bent all his energies in their direction with little or no thought of himself. This he did always with his unique sense of humor and unfailingly sunny outlook. He asked for very few things from life, most of them for the rest of us rather than for himself. He provided a caring home for his family, education for his children, and a safe and secure retirement for my Mom. And he also supplied all the "Dad" things, whether tossing round a football at the corner park, bicycling at the shore or in the desert, riding horseback or vacationing in the mountains, barbequing in the back yard or putting those yearly coats of redwood stain on the yard fence. My brother and I were offered summer jobs in his business where we were able to earn extra money of our own. It was my Dad who urged me to take up typing, so that I should always have that advantage when it came to employment -- remember, this was in an era before computers and computer keyboards were in every home. He even spent time trying to teach me the violin -- "trying" being the operative term, for as it turned out I was hopeless on any stringed instrument lacking frets. He and my Mom were married for 71 years. On their 65th wedding anniversary a surprise celebration and dinner was held for them, and no one was more surprised by it than was my Dad.
My Dad's sense of humor was another of his remarkable traits. I cannot ever recall his being "out of sorts" or "in a bad mood." If he were, he never showed it. He was gentle by nature, generous to his family and friends, and never anything but good-humored. Indeed it was his sense of humor that always prevailed. There was always a joke or witty remark bubbling just beneath the surface. One could hardly be around my Dad for long, no matter the situation, without levity breaking out. Never down in the dumps or out of sorts? If he ever was, he never let on. That was his way.
My Dad shares a laugh with HIS dad, ca. 1940. My grandfather -- a native of Ungvár, now Uzhhorod in far western Ukraine -- cut rather a jaunty figure in his day.
Music and the violin were his hobbies, but at the end of World War II my Dad even turned his hand to writing short stories, one of which, with a baseball setting and a newspaper reporter as a principal character, may be especially relevant to The Thing in the Close. I recall reading this story of his as a teenager, and, wanting myself to be a writer, was something in awe of my Dad in discovering that he had been a writer too!
Readers and reviewers have made note of the vein of humor that runs throughout the Western Lights books, often referring to it as "Dickensian." Well, it's true, the books and their setting have their inspiration in that era and tradition. But I believe that much of the humor in the stories -- indeed most of it -- can be traced directly to my Dad and his influence on my life.
So whenever you find yourself smiling at some wry turn of phrase in the books, or chuckling at a character's jocular remark, it isn't really a "Dickensian" echo you may be detecting . . .
. . . it's just my Dad -- kindest and best of fathers.