My dad was a very quiet man. I am garrulous, much more like my mom. As my daughter says, I’ll talk to anyone. Still even in his silence he taught me some important lessons.
He taught me that war is terrible. He was in the army serving in the Pacific Theater. My favorite toys as a child were toy soldiers. As a army-crazy child I would pepper him with questions. He rarely, if ever, talked about his experiences. Once, I remember he did tell me a story about the war. Maybe he just needed to share it. It was about a mission to save some ambushed soldiers. They got there too late. He said there was a tunnel through a mountain and the enemy set up machine guns at either end of the tunnel. The men they went to save were all dead. He told it very matter of fact. He didn’t embellish the story or tell any gory details. He simply said, “We were too late. They were all dead.”
My dad worked mostly as a club manager/bartender at a place called the Owl’s Club. I have always believed it may have been a ‘speak-easy’ back during prohibition. To get in you stood at the bottom of the stairs and pressed a buzzer. Someone would come to the little window in the door at the top of the stairs and if they knew you, they buzzed you up.
I can still picture the sights, hear the sounds and recall the smells of that place. I once saw my dad arm wrestling a man for a drink and the man’s arm broke. My dad paid for everything, the hospital and anything else the man needed.
He paid cash for things whenever possible but he also bought things from others who were in need of money. He bought a watch from this one guy at the bar. It was a beautiful watch with a glittering silver circle in the middle. He gave it to me when I was about 7 or 8. I wound it too much and it stopped. He got it fixed and I did it again.
He bought a nice fishing kit, it came in a wooden box with two rods and reels and everything you needed to go fishing. Another time he bought this huge, old, muzzle-loading rifle.
My dad had a nice watch already. He never went fishing to my knowledge. He never owned a gun other than that muzzle loader. He didn’t buy these things because he wanted them; he bought them because other people needed to sell them. He bought them and brought them home and gave them all to me. My Mom had a regular conniption about the muzzle-loader.
He also gave me a set of books, “The Pictorial History of the Second World War” that his mother had bought for him after the war. Well, OK, he gave them to my brothers and I, and we devoured those books. His Master Sergeant’s uniform hung in my closet.
My dad taught me generosity. My mother once said of him, if he had two bucks he would give one away to anyone who needed it.
My dad loved baseball. The rallying cry in the fifties was “Raise your son to be a catcher.” He bought me my first catcher’s mitt in 1958. He wanted me to grow up to play for his team, the St. Louis Cardinals. When we went to Wrigley Field it was always for a Cards game and we always sat on the first base side. His crusade failed. I do love the game but I am a lifelong Cubs fan — I told you I am more like my mom.
He told me once, when we were outside in the winter and I said I was cold, to go inside and get a scarf. He said, “If you keep the back of your neck warm, you will stay warm.” Try it, it’s always worked for me.
My dad loved trains. That he would talk about. When he was young his dad had worked for the railroad for a time. To this day I love hearing the sound of train whistles far away in the night.
He demonstrated for me the dangers of alcohol. My dad was an alcoholic. Many evenings he would come home from work and after stripping off his white shirt he would sit down in his chair, a beer on the table next to him and he would fall asleep. My mom told me years later it had to do with malaria, which he had contracted when he was in the Philippines. She said they gave him sulfa drugs only to find out he was violently allergic to them. He almost died. She said he really started drinking after that, but I always wondered if it was the severity of the illness or the things that went through his mind when he lay there in the army hospital that heightened his weakness for liquor.
He infrequently drank hard liquor, but in my head I can’t picture him without a beer in his hand.
I rarely drink. I had a beer in 1986 but I didn’t finish it.
But when I played ball, Little League and later, fast-pitch softball, my position was always catcher.