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What I Remember: Introduction

What I Remember about

By TOM SOTERGeorge Soter and Tom Soter, December 2008.George Soter and Tom Soter, 2008.

In 1996, I embarked on a journey into my father's past. I knew he had led an interesting life – rising from very humble beginnings in Chicago to the top of the advertising world, with a 20-year sidetrip as a boutique store owner – with funny stories, crazy characters, romance, tragedy, the works. I thought that if I tape-recorded his memories in chronological order, it would give him the raw material, which he could then edit into bona fide memoirs. My father was interested, and so we began a series of taped conversations between 1996 and 1997 in which George recalled his life from the 1920s until the 1960s.

After about eight hours of recordings had been amassed, we stopped. Like many projects that my father was enthusiastic about, this one got put on the backburner as life's responsibilities pressed in. (I later found an outline he had done in 1993 for a book about his boutique, Greek Island, along with the first and only chapter. That, too, got put on hold.)

In 2007, when my father became sick with cancer, he began writing short memory pieces for the Booknotes newsletter that he proudly produced for my brother Peter's bookstore. Those brief memories – which repeated some of the recorded recollections he had shared in the 1990s – inspired me to revive our old project. Alas, I had left it too late. I showed my father the transcripts of the previous interviews (and he, typically, commented first on the typos and misspellings that littered the unedited material), and although he expressed interest, by the time we had geared up, the cancer had gotten worse and his memories had become haphazard and unreliable – and he now had little energy left to devote to recalling the past.

Luckily, my father was recorded in other venues – at a Christmas party in 1985, at birthday parties in 2000 and 2004, among others – and I had some of his memories from those occasions transcribed as well. In addition, he wrote a number of unpublished pieces, some autobiographical, in the 1940s and 1950s, which I have also included.

This collection, incomplete as it is, nonetheless serves to offer a glimpse at one remarkable man's journey through life. The poem "Ithaca," by the Greek poet Cavafy, was used by George as an epigram for his aborted Greek Island memoir. I have added it to the beginning of these memories because it sums up George so well. But, when I think of my dad (a big movie buff), I also think of Marlene Dietrich's famous, brief comment at the conclusion of Touch of Evil: "What does it matter what you say about people? He was some kind of man."

December 2008

George and the boys, Greece 1977George and the boys, Greece 1980s