HAPPY BIRTHDAY, POP!
|Mom and Dad going shopping on a Saturday morning|
I was on my way back from a lunch date with a business colleague when we suddenly had to stop in deference to a construction crew on the road. In front of me was an auto that must have been 20 years old! It took me back to my Dad, and the many clunkers that he took care of.
Dad didn’t have much money in the beginning and always bought used cars. Sometimes I wondered if they were third-hand used. But dear Dad had a way of preserving things and his cars were important to him.
Dad didn’t like to waste things if he could help it. So, on those damp nights, with the temperature hovering around 32, Dad would keep the heater and blower off.
“Dad! Shouldn’t you put the heater on, the frostbite is almost up to my tongue?”
“Nah: that would kill my battery! Besides, you should have planned ahead and taken a blanket with you!”
“But the windows are fogging over, I can hardly see and YOU are doing the driving!”
“You want to kill my battery? Here (reaching under the dashboard) take this towel and wipe the windows down while I drive.”
His windshield wipers would swing back and forth on rainy days ok, but they had the nasty habit of missing the windshield! To placate everyone’s concerns, he would announce how he would get new wipers. Of course, once the rain stopped, he would forget about it until the next rain, and repeat himself, to everyone’s satisfaction.
Dad had a spot for his car radio. It was where every car radio was, and he made sure he had one, too. Trouble was, the antennae were nowhere to be found! If you dared to reach for the knob to turn on the radio, he would react with: “What do you want to do, kill my battery with that crazy music?”
Dad’s idea of a car wash was a good old-fashioned downpour! The seats usually had a hole in them with a towel covering it up. The tires were the ‘Yule Brenner’ model and had as much rubber on them as a rock. Dad was poor, but he somehow managed to keep us all alive when he drove.
If you needed a ride somewhere, Dad never complained. It was cheaper than buying us a car. The gas sacrifice was a small price for what could be. Stopping at a gas station, he would order the unheard sum of “$2 worth regular” and NEVER and I mean NEVER said the words: “Fill her up!” unless of course, it was a glass of vino!
When he bought a new used car, he would proudly show it off to his old maid riders that he took to work every morning into the sweatshop where they all worked. They too were poor, and Dad felt sorry for them having to ride a bus every day and pay that fare. So Dad would charge them $2 a week and pick them up at their door, and deposit them at the door that same day. Proudly showing off, he would point out the latest features incorporated in the auto industry design field, 20 years past! The ladies loved the “Latest” invention to their riding experience and graciously say: “Wow! Good luck Tony!” Dad was proud of his latest signs of success.
Dad didn’t buy a new car until in his late 60’s or early 70’s, right before he died. He only owned two new cars in all his life! Didn’t live long enough to run down his second car, and Mom sold it as almost new after he passed!
But Dad did raise 5 children on very as little two of us went off to college, with the help of self-motivation, and they want not to ride in Dad’s car if we could help it! Mom never got her license, claiming Dad had no patience to teach her, and I always wanted to say: Ma, forget the patience, he doesn’t really have a car to learn on!”
Dad wasn't a very fancy man, didn't even finish high school. He didn't even live to see his 75th birthday, dying from lung cancer. He was humble, and I truly believe he didn't have a mean bone in his body.
Dad loved his grandchildren. When his first grandchild had her birthday on the 17th of this month, for the next 11 months, on the 17th, we had to gather to sing ‘Happy Birthday' and celebrate for the next 11 months as it was a ritual!
Every Saturday night I think of Dad to this day. He insisted on a steak dinner on Saturday nights, and on Sundays, pasta. A big bowl of soup on Monday nights, and on Sunday evenings, he would send us out to the deli for cold cuts on the corner of Somers Street and Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn. Dad would then make the best sandwiches I ever had, with leftover salad and mayo. Dad was the master. But come those summer evenings, then his genius really took hold! He'd get a tall glass and fill it with cream soda, vanilla ice cream, and cantaloupe pieces. Sometimes he'd add a little milk and chocolate. God, I miss those days!
Mom was the religious person in the house, the reason I never got arrested, but unfortunately, Dad would get a hold of me and re-taught me a prayer or two. For example, the "Our Father" Dad rearranged the pray where we said: "Give us this day our daily bread" to: "Give us a steak and our daily bread." I prayed it that way almost into High School!
He was a great storyteller, stories about my grandparents and his childhood, about people who had nicknames and why they had them and had a wonderful sense of humor. He had a remote control and would be delegated to the bedroom to watch TV. Mom would watch TV in the den. When she nodded off, he would sneak to the doorway and put on the ball game. She would wake up and wonder what that was doing on her TV. Dad would say something about Mom to get her riled up, or they would tease each other, and even a bit of playful ‘fisty’ cuffs would occur, with Dad running away for his life!
Every time I watch a ballgame, I think of Dad. He took me to Ebbets Field to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play. We would watch the games on TV and he loved Jackie Robinson and the Italian boy, Carl Furillo, and all the other Dodgers. He taught me to love the game and tried to make a pitcher out of me once. One day, he got a rubber ball and squatted down in front of my Grandmother's house, and told me to pitch. I threw the first pitch, Dad missed catching it, and smack into his face it goes! "OK, that's enough for now!" said Dad.
Helping people was Dad's passion, and taking me along to assist him was part of his gift giving. As we both got older we did almost everything together including working together when I was in high school and college. He would help widows and people down on their luck who he thought needed some kind of help. He lent money and my time very freely. But he taught me that no matter how bad things were, they could be worse, just look at so and so.
Like I said, he didn't have much, never owned a new car until late in life, his last car. He got his dream house, finally, and saw a couple of his kids get an education and was blessed with a lot of grandchildren. I named my first son after him because I wanted the name to last another generation, and somehow I knew it would make him happy, if only he lived to see his grandson's achievements, and his name roll by on the credits of the Big Bang Theory, there would have been no living with him. He would have adored my daughter-in-law Courtney and of course my beautiful grandchild, Darby Shea. He loved my daughter, Ellen, giving her attention and amusing her, and then when my last son Michael was born, I gave Dad a picture of Mike that he hung in his living room next to the front entrance, and every day going to work, he would pat it and say: "Hi Mike!"
I really hope he is up there, sitting in front of a TV with one of his favorite snacks, watching the Brooklyn Dodgers have a big inning, satisfied that his life was one of the good works and positive things that have occurred, that all his mistakes are understood and forgiven, that he was the only father I could have ever had and loved.
Happy Birthday, Pop!