Richard C. Poff (my father) was a musician, copyrighted songwriter, and unpublished writer and poet. He was also a lifelong alcoholic. I didn’t meet him until I was in my 30s, yet the day before he died, as we said our last goodbyes and parted ways, I had come to know him as my best friend.
We came to know and understand each other incredibly well over the last ten years of his life. Despite my parents having divorced not long after I was born and only knowing him vicariously through how he was judged by the people he had left behind, I discovered over time that we had more in common than I had with anyone else I had ever known. We had the same taste in art, women, and food. We held to the same opinion about religion and politics. We shared a deep love and humble respect for the mountains and the wilderness and couldn’t imagine not living in relatively close proximity to bodies of water. Above all of these things, we shared a deep love and fascination for the written word. We quibbled over music, of course, because he was that guy that swore Country music died with Hank and Patsy and went to shit after George fell off the charts. I didn’t fight much, knowing in advance it would get ugly if I tried to defend Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne, or even the poetry of the Counting Crows, but we generally agreed we were each entitled to our respective opinions.
He had an incredibly difficult childhood. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother – famous for being the first female post rider in his part of West Virginia growing up – was spiteful, mean, violent, and unforgiving after his parents split. His escape, he used to tell me, was reading, writing, music, and singing/dancing. In his early teens, prior to moving to the nation’s capital years later, they were so poor that his mother shipped him off to serve some form of indentured servitude in that World War II window of time. He told me that the move to DC saved him in a lot of ways; he excelled in the writing classes, joined the School chorus and band clubs, and had a chance to be around normal people that weren’t batshit crazy, screaming and yelling all the time and throwing things forcing you to duck to avoid a head injury.
He met my mother during his senior year, and their shared love of singing and dancing brought them close, and they ultimately fell in love. My grandfather was not the least bit impressed with my father. He didn’t want his youngest daughter getting married to “that boy from the wrong side of the tracks,” but parental intervention always fails and only results in bringing couples closer together to spite the greater parental wisdom they’re not interested in listening to or heeding.
They married after graduation (1950), and, Korea having just kicked off, he enlisted in the Navy and shipped out and headed for Japan after basic training. He told me that two things happened during his service in the Navy and that these set into motion changes he would never fully overcome. The first of these was his exposure to alcohol he swore he’d never touch, given all that he had endured in his early life, convinced as he was by his parents and his siblings (and his own self-reflection) that he added no value to the human race. He discovered, with every ounce coming out of every bottle he drank, that drinking was the only thing that kept those demons at heel.
Unfortunately for his wife and his children… And a subsequent wife and children… He also discovered that he couldn’t be a husband and a father (fearing he would become what created him) and decided to commit himself to a life spent keeping his demons at heal.
When my first marriage was falling apart, I stayed with him for a few days, in part to get away from her and in part because I needed to look up close and personal at the future me and all the baggage that was going to come with it once a divorce got between my ex-wife and my children. There would be no turning back from that likely future waiting ahead for me, but I needed that Elder wisdom to steel myself against what was coming.
I learned a lot over those several days about his writing, his pride in having gotten a copyright for a song he wrote, his love of poetry, and what he thought about all the things he never accomplished because he didn’t have the courage even to try to achieve his goal(s). I even helped him along by telling him I had always wanted to be a writer myself but was talked out of it young enough that I put it aside to build a career and support a family.
AndWe did share a hearty laugh over how odd it was that he had no part in raising me to be the man I became while, at the same time, having wound up in pretty much the same place… Sober, single, alone, and a long way from being done telling stories. The belly laughs came when he pointed out how much I probably drove my mother crazy whenever she looked at me and only saw him. It was his reflections, though, about his years on the road… Going from town to town and bar to bar, hanging around with the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and Roy Clark before any of them were famous… That helped me understand where writers get their inspiration. Success really isn’t based on the schools you went to or the fancy degrees, nearly so much as it is the life you live along the way that ultimately finds its way into a song, a poem, an essay, or even a novel if you have the strength to see that through.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, he lied right to my face when he told me that as good as he thought he was at lyrics and poetry, he was quite sure he would suck at writing novels, so he never bothered to try. He even layered over the excuse that he was drunk so much of the time he didn’t have the attention span or staying power to put in the effort required for a novel as opposed to a lyric or a poem on a cocktail napkin. I say that he lied to me because, after his death, I was given a box of his personal effects that I hadn’t even looked through for many years, but when I finally did, I was stunned by what I found.
Nothing prepared me for the volume of partial lyrics, poetry, and novel/short story manuscripts he never told me about that I found inside.
Since he died just before Al Gore invented the internet, he never had the chance to get his work out to a larger public. This page is dedicated to doing that for him and in honor of an incredibly talented yet deeply troubled and stormy soul who never fully overcame his demons. I hope you find things of interest in what will be published here, but, like I have said routinely in my own Hermit Chronicles work, I write (and my father wrote) because there are things that need to be said, not because we need a during fans to justify the effort. I do, however, hope you have fun as these entries unfold.