Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Thinking of You, Dad

Today marks the eighth year I've not sat in Dad's room talking with or listening to him talk. Our best conversations came when we walked around the block or were riding to an appointment.

When he and Mother closed their home and moved in with my husband and me in 1992, adjustments had to be made. There was no guidebook on how to deal with the elderly, so we created our own. Mother was the most adaptable of the two parents.

Dad challenged us in many ways. Tempermental and impatient to anyone but his kids and grandkids, he was a voracious reader, a sports enthusiast, an inveterate worker. He was a junk food addict, a repairer par excellance of antique clocks, a consistent church attendee, a devoted letter writer.

A lover of birds, he once cared for blue jays that had fallen from their nest. The enclosed porch became a large bird house to keep them warm until their feathers grew. When they were ready to fly, he released them and enjoyed their frequent return. He was a gardener who encouraged birds to visit him often by planting bird-friendly flowers.

Having only an eighth grade education, he had a flourishing handwriting, an inquisitive mind, and a knowledge of good grammar and spelling. His work as a telegrapher with Postal Telegraph (which later became Western Union) required him to use correct English. He abhorred the idea that anyone would mispronounce words, write incoherent sentences, or misuse commas and apostrophes. He was valued as a telegrapher and worked during WWII to relay messages by Morse Code between Memphis and New Orleans. He never lost the ability to tap out letters, but was too deaf to hear the code played at the end of each week's episode of the television series NYPD Blue.

I have wonderful memories of my dad: his pushing me in a swing at Poindexter Park; teaching me to ride a bike on a brick sidewalk; washing my hair in the kitchen on Saturday nights; washing the family car on Saturday afternoons; the funny remarks he'd leave attached to the notes my sister and I left pinned on the front door; modeling his first "leisure" suit ...a real Dapper Dan. Even as a young man as you see above, he loved to dress well.

He was the only dad of all our friends who helped with housework and shared in taking care of his daughters. He had a sense of humor that to us sometimes was misused, other times embarrassing(whenever we were expecting a call from a young man, he'd answer the phone with "Insane Asylum" or "City Jail" sending us into dire embarrassment). Basically, his humor got us through a lot of difficult times, made experiences unforgetable.

When we had dates, if the young man didn't have polished shoes, Dad discourage us from a second date, emphasizing that the care of one's clothes and shoes was paramount. Dad, himself, never failed to polish his shoes to perfection weekly.

Every month when the Readers Digest arrived in our mailbox, the assignment at the dinner table was to review the "How to Increase Your Word Power." He made a game of teaching us the meanings of new words every evening.

One of Dad's proud moments was to receive a "commendation" from a poetry group(whose advertisement was always in magazines)indicating he was a First Rate Poet, or some such title. We never told him that probably every person who sent in a poem received the same printed paper. His poetry rhymed in a lackadaisical way, but he celebrated any and all special occasions with a ditty. At the insistence of many church friends, he'd pen a poem about that person for a birthday gift.

He had the ability to express himself with the written word. He wooed our mother with the sweetness of honey in telegrams he sent her in the early 1930's. A regular Romeo, he was. Later when each of his daughters were born or when some special occasion occurred, Dad penned a telegram. When fax machines became the staple of Western Union's messages, those telegrams stopped. Those sent to our family are yellowed with age and a prize of the family.

Despite Dad's faults and narrow focus of world changes, despite the fact that he didn't know how to express his love with "I love you" verbally, he expressed his feelings in other ways. He was generous and sensitive, using humor to hide his disappointments.

When I began to understand and appreciate my dad more, his life had run its course. He died at home in the loving comfort of his four "girls"(wife, 2 daughters, and only gran'daughter).

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