For the most part, my father was a very unassuming man in attitude and countenance. It didn’t help him at the age of ten to have been compared to his older, more handsome siblings. All nine were lined up in front of some old French woman who had decided it was her position in the small community to rate the physical attractiveness of each child. She began with the girls, remarking how tres jolie each one was, and similarly with the young beaus of the family, when she came to my father. This was the English translation:
“This one’s homely, but he’ll improve”.
To hear Daddy tell this story many years later, he said he immediately hung his head down in shame. A remark like that stuck. He could laugh about it now, and for the better part of his life he adapted a self-deprecating nature. He could be competitive, however! He excelled in sports and was a great ball room dancer, so he made his own mark in the pool of available young men in West Oakland.
Daddy was still a rather bashful young man, often turning down a drink with the requisite Non, Merci (en francais), rarely accepting anything unless he was completely comfortable in the situation. Years later, he shared how he had learned his lesson the hard way, having passed up lots of good port and sherry over the years at Mom’s aunt’s house, wherein a guest would only hear an offer once per visit (and visits could be as long as two or three hours). Daddy smartened up after a few times and quickly accepted whatever cocktail was first offered! My guess is that his desperate Yes, please was more than likely uttered in English; his French was very poor (as Mom reminded him and constantly corrected his pronunciation).
Clothes figured in there somewhere, but the young man who had once cut a slender form in the required barbershop jacket and straw hat had succumbed to the more comfortable striped overalls and gunmetal work pants that so expressed his tradesman persona. This was the man I knew; the one who was lovingly cared for by Mom.
Overalls saved the knees from linoleum laying wear and tear. Daddy in overalls saved Mom a lot of fussing; for one thing, she didn’t have to constantly remind him to Pull up your pants! Also, as Mom continually emphasized to him, the stripes made him look thinner. Seriously, for a man standing at five foot four and one hundred eighty, this was somewhat of a stretch in my view.
But dear Mom wasn’t through with my father yet! She already scolded him when he didn’t part his hair just perfectly. As Daddy once retorted:
I could be lying in the box and you’d still be complaining my hair wasn’t combed just right!
For Daddy, Mom’s corrections became a game. Regarding his French accent; he’d repeat her corrected sentence and dramatically extend the last syllable, emphasizing the rolling r’s and the lingering a’s just to irk Mom… This worked; Mom might be shaking her head in dismay, but she was laughing as we, at his irreverent, playful responses!
Daddy had never been a scholar, but his wood working and cabinetry were among the best of his class. He was not exactly a Jesus the Carpenter type as depicted by European artisans, but he was a man whose skilled hands, work ethic, and compassionate demeanor were evident in his countenance. My father was without pretense and very unassuming, even when he had reason to be extremely proud of his accomplishments as a son, a husband, a father, and not the least of these, a first generation born American.
Thus, I always found it comical that, no matter the occasion or the opportunity, most of our family pictures with Daddy included his sitting or standing among us, looking as though he ‘d accidentally walked into the wrong group photo… as though he were an innocent bystander who just happened to get caught in that particular Kodak moment…