A Magical Space

Geranium Place seemed a magical space

To this little girl who frequently guested there

A horse collection on shelves and three little elves

Were the daughters who daily did dwell in a home where

 

Their mother could drive and toMAHtoes did thrive

In a kitchen which served Yorkshire pudding with beef!

Trail mix treats-raisins, chips semi-sweet

Why, a beagle named Snoopy dwelled there, too – Good Grief!

 

I witnessed one day (in an odd sort of way)

That the mom let her girls have their own space

She picked up knitting half-done, did the normal vacuum run

Then let gravity lay needles and yarn back in place!

 

Wow! Geranium Place was indeed a magical space!

How I envied those elves in a home that encouraged their crafts and their friends

Who after climbing some stairs could dine sitting on Windsor Chairs!

Eat Dad’s barbecue, stay up late and then crash into sleeping bags laid end to end.

 

Accents, cocktails and a bit of au jus were all things from a home that I already knew

But a father who worked in a suit and tie? was something quite strange, even queer!

So I tiptoed around this tall CPA; and noticed how different he was in his way

From my overalls dad…until, that is, his wife served him a beer!

 

Whew! I sighed with relief…

Only I in my family could tell, brag and boast

Of spending good times at their table, not mine

Eating homemade shortbread, Yorkshire pudding and roast!

 

 

This was written as a tribute to all the good men and providers, past and present, who come in every shape and size, and who watch over all of us in their roles as dads, uncles, neighbors and sometimes even adopted grandpas!   No one else can fill your shoes, so remember the role your actions play in creating memories … Have a blessed, Happy Father’s Day!

The Final Round

I grew up and shared Mom’s fascination with the return of the swallows to Capistrano each St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th.  Their consistency heralded that spring was once again on the horizon and we’d share another season of God’s timely gifts.

Like the swallows, I’d too returned back home – and actually had a second chance “to go back” this particular New Year, and follow in the same footsteps I had when growing up on the avenue; this visit, my more mature eye recognized that the old times were fast disappearing.

I couldn’t imagine what home would be like without the neighbors.  Watching Daddy and The Mechanic walk down the street for coffee (twenty years before it would have been for a shot of whiskey at the corner bar) was an experience to cherish.  Mutt and Jeff, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello paled in comparison to the Dumb Frenchman and the Stupid Dago, their slightly subtle but no less endearing nicknames for each other, specifically during twice weekly political discussions.

These two antagonists had verbally fought a forty year battle, taking turns at each other’s kitchen tables and backyards, changing the political battles little, just kicking up enough manure to keep the opponent still interested.  Neither seemed to tire of this charade, but it was inconceivable to imagine what would become of the last warrior when death had taken his combatant.  For now, they still sparred, each as quick and as sharp mentally as in years before; the only tell tale signs of age were the physically slowed mannerisms, particularly in light of the Mechanic’s increasingly poor health.

For a man who could not react fast enough to cover his mouth when he coughed, Daddy had an uncanny ability to react to his fellow man’s needs.  I’d watched this with his only son and his younger brother; Daddy had been available for each during some very dark days.  Five years later, I was once again witnessing Daddy’s M.O. with our neighbor, a good-hearted friend and definitely a mentor in whom we had found a second father when we needed one to confide in.

Dad had taken on his next crusade: keeping the Mechanic’s spirits up in the face of his impending weakness and encroaching limitations from the heart disease.  Daddy’s preoccupation with the Mechanic’s health and well-being negated any other task or person in Daddy’s immediate schedule; he planned his day around the Mechanic’s medical appointments, errands needed, or the evening mealtimes.

We all understood.  No explanation was offered and none of us who watched and recognized “his crusade mode” even asked for one. In turn, Mom’s example of following Daddy’s footsteps was understood as well.  Mom’s ministering filled in whatever gaps were left and she, like Daddy, could be infectious.  The two had always worked as a team.  I watched what I understood to be a given in a good marriage.  I realized I had yet to reach that partnering tempo in my own home.

Never thought I’d see the Mechanic at anything less than at a capable level.  He was reduced now to a doctor’s prescribed handful of medications each morning and evening; obviously worn and tired, his overall countenance this visit was still rather shocking.  Nonetheless, his smile was still there for me as was the kiss and bear hug greeting when I entered his backdoor and joined the two men at the kitchen table.

Daddy was never as spellbinding as the Mechanic, whose handsome, silver-haired, cowboy build spoke for itself. He had been the one with the eye for life!  And a Democrat! How gutsy compared to Daddy’s common sense, Republican views, all of which I knew by heart.  The Mechanic stood for everything Daddy didn’t, and with weaker breath, continued to spar with that Dumb Frenchman…

Fees, Foes and Fumbles

Summer of 1980; it had been a roller coaster ride thus far that year for many of our immediate family.  Continuing health issues were taking their toll on my brother; those of us close enough to be affected were emotionally drained.

My Only was now four years old, at the perfect age when dreams and places like Disneyland were beckoning!  Since my folks had never experienced a trip to Disneyland, we came up with the idea of renting a travel trailer and making our summer vacation a three generation trip.  I reasoned that getting away would be good for the folks and we believed we could pull it off this year as business was steady, and we were financially able to help make it happen.  In my fairytale-like, happy ending, creative reasoning, I envisioned  My Only seeing Disneyland with her Funny Grandma and Funny Grandpa to be a memory that they could all share for years forward.

This was a getaway that few men would have had the courage to take on!  A ten day trip with his mother-in-law…  My Only’s Father would need as much support as he could round up; a few lit candles wouldn’t hurt either.

Only Bro couldn’t believe how gutsy his brother-in-law had proven himself even SUGGESTING a 24/7 trip with Mom.  The woman we all knew and loved,  who never stopped talking and never found a topic, flower, or American Flag that she didn’t think was worth noting….yep, this was going to be interesting.  Bro started the betting; he gave Mom seven days MAX before either 1) she couldn’t handle being away from home so long or, 2) her son-in-law would cry Uncle and change direction for home!

Big Sis thought Mom would make it, if only because Mom was determined to prove her children wrong; she would get through a ten day adventure if it killed her.  For myself, I planned to pack lots of vitamins, plenty of spirits, and as many comfort foods as I could slam into the trailer’s kitchen.   So, I went into high gear.

Planning a menu around Daddy’s expectations of what constituted a meal even on vacation meant that we’d be bringing the microwave, the toaster oven, a full packed ice chest with casseroles already assembled for speedy cooking and  serving, and as many comforts of home as we could fit.  I planned each day’s menu, down to and including when we would eat on the road, what restaurants we’d choose at the parks (we would include Knott’s Berry Farm, too), and the how, what and when we’d barbeque when we stayed at KOA camp grounds.

For everyone to be comfortable on this trip, we knew that the size of the rented travel trailer should at least meet a minimum living space and require as few change-overs as needed for sleeping arrangements.  We were somewhat familiar with the layout options that existed.  We couldn’t squeeze Daddy in just any space, so the floor plan had to be correct for everyone’s sizes and abilities.

Because my folks had never spent time in a travel trailer, it was up to me to persuade them both of the wonders of trailer camping.  Daddy “got it”; actually, he thought it sounded fun and was a willing participant.  Persuading Mom that the trip was doable was another task.  Describing a travel trailer vacation to Mom conjured up something less than anything familiar she had ever known.  My description notwithstanding, I believe she pictured more of a modern day Conestoga Wagon; and this was the woman who wondered why we babies grew up believing she had been with the original Donner Party???  Yep, the entire undertaking would be a memory alright, as long as we were still able to keep our brain cells in tact through the planning and prepping stages.

This was supposed to be quality time for My Only and her grandparents.  Quality Time was the current expression for describing what generations previously had taken for granted in multi-generational homes.  These ten days would have to suffice. We were finally off and all things considered, the trip began and ended extremely well. We had a fantastic time! Not that we didn’t experience a few fees, foes and fumbles along the way!

Unfortunately, we thought it smart to combine a business stop along the route.  The stop was a success; we were happy to meet one of our suppliers in person.  Picking up what we needed would save us some shipping this time around.  Until we drove off; then ever so slowly, we heard a noise that could only come from the trailer having brushed against a tree limb.  We got out and inspected the damage.   A six to eight inch gash along the trailer’s right side panel told us the limb had won.  Insurance would cover it, so we continued on, certainly a bit more carefully when parking under shade trees.

Then there was the first morning we’d awakened in the trailer, and Daddy wanted to get dressed.  He couldn’t find his pants and asked Mom where she’d put them.

“They are in the suitcase, Honey.”

“Where’s the suitcase?”

“It’s right there, at your feet.”

Surprise!  Son-in-law had placed it back into the trunk of the Chrysler Newport to save some floor space…Mom and I broke into giggles at Daddy’s reaction. He was furious for her having placed the pants back inside the suitcase! My Only’s Father saved the day by going outside in his trunks and retrieving Daddy’s pants.  What a guy!

I’d paid all the fees ahead and, for the most part, the camping sites were nice and convenient.  But when we arrived at one of our spots and realized just how desolate it really was, we left our reservation money behind and found a place with a little more civilization.  We settled in for the evening and endeavored to barbeque some steaks.  The desert winds were strong enough that they actually lifted a couple of the steaks right off the grill and literally tossed them to the winds!  My Only’s Father managed to salvage them, sand and all.  Being the good sports that they were, Mom and Daddy suggested we just rinse them off and finish cooking them; we did, managed to enjoy our dinner, and spend a quiet evening, exhausted from the day’s events.

One of my most cherished memories on that trip involved Daddy and My Only.   I suggested to my daughter that she take one of her favorite books over to Funny Grandpa, who was sitting in one of our lawn chairs, enjoying the outdoors.  Of course, this suggestion didn’t need repeating.  She loved books and dutifully walked over to her grandpa, climbed up in his lap and asked him to read one of her favorite stories.  She handed him Jack and the Beanstalk.

Being the good sport that he was, Daddy began to read.  Mom and I marveled at this, as both of us knew that when Daddy normally read aloud, he didn’t apply much emphasis or inflections that a story would call for.  From what we could tell, he seemed to be handling both the book and the granddaughter fairly well.

That was until the Giant came onto the scene.  Daddy continued reading and, thinking it wouldn’t matter, began skipping over a few words here and there. Mom and I were chuckling softly,  watching the two from the inside of the trailer, listening and picking up what we could through the screened view; My Only’s facial expression was one of absolute disgust as she waited for him to get through another page; then we heard her admonish him:

“Grandpa, you forgot the Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum again!”

Even quality time had its limits…

The Back Room at 3671

My father’s idea of maintenance was to ignore any and all upgrades.  He was not one to pre-plan or estimate the improvements a home might need over a period of years.  Thus, nothing was ever updated until it had completely broken and there was no choice but to fix it.  Like the cobbler’s children, we didn’t get new floor coverings or carpet until the old was absolutely worn and used up.

The back bedroom had been added on with Daddy’s and Mom’s compliance; her aunt, Tante, needed a home and culture dictated that my folks provide at least the ground.  Tante had the money to build to her taste.  Unfortunately, she was scared of the gas heaters that were then available (she had survived the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake) so she waived any heat or suggested extension of heating in her “wing” of the house.

Thus, the backroom was always colder than the rest of the home and we used to joke how we could properly keep meat back there without a freezer.  When Uncle moved in, he accepted the circumstances and made the best of it, but not without turning the reality of his ice box quarters into a comic routine.

That room could be absolutely freezing in the winter time, dropping to the low 40’s.  Uncle would rise, warm his arthritic hands under the hot water faucet of the small half bath, then dress and come into the kitchen.  He always had a smile and witty remark to begin another day:

Rudolph sends his best! or

I just saw Santa fly by…

Mom couldn’t help but giggle.    When her only brother lived with us, even I understood my mother was more relaxed and less worried about him and we all benefited from her peace of mind.   What I perceived in child like terms was that his living with us meant he would eat regularly; the folks mentioned something about his drinking too much; this would come up now and then, even though they tried to keep it from us little ones.  I soon heard them describe my uncle as an alcoholic, whatever that meant.

All I knew was that I loved my Uncle Johnny dearly.  I would sit next to him on our sofa each evening.  He’d let me hold his warm pipe in my hands after he was through with that evening’s smoking.  I can still smell the Half and Half that was his favorite tobacco.  He’d sit and tell stories in funny voices, mimicking the radio programs of the past, reminding all in the room that “The Shadow Knows”… never once failing to fascinate this little girl.

At an early age, I was drawn to him.  He was one of the many mentors who treated me as a very special person.  Uncle Johnny would walk with me down the street to the store and always make sure I was on the inside of the sidewalk, away from the road.  He would explain:

Ladies always walk on the inside, Annette.  The gentleman walks on the outside to protect the lady from the dangers of the traffic.

From the time I was old enough to remember, I was one of his “ladies”.  Until his death, he carried my first grade photo in his wallet with the inscription “my sister’s angel” written in his hand on the back.

By the time Uncle had moved on and I inherited the back room as my own, the only items that kept me warm were the electric blanket and incandescent bulbs in the nightstand and desk lamps!  I told myself that my freeze-dried skin would keep me looking young for decades to come.

Of course, Daddy’s response to any of our complaints about the cold was that

It’s good for you!  …makes you strong!

Several years later, I’d drop by and see Daddy working over the morning figures from the stock market page, computing with pen and paper what his holdings totaled that day.  Any suggestion to him about remodeling the main bath for his and Mom’s comfort was met with the same indifference.  It wasn’t necessary; as he reiterated many times,

You’ll be happy one day; one quarter of this house will be yours.

Good. Then I want my old room back.

Hopefully, the termites would still be holding hands when that day came…

The Shark in the Driveway

I had loved him from the beginning; the Shark was a handsome, loving, big brother type guy who always had a hug and smile for me.  I would forever be the little flower girl who lived next door.  I can still remember studying in my room and hearing the squeaking brakes come to a stop in the driveway.

He knew how long it took him to get back to the store, and used his lunch breaks to the fullest.  His mother-in-law often made him a special sandwich or something particularly delicious; of course, these lunches were not without cost.  He often had to endure another round of on-going reminders and messages; didn’t matter that he’d already heard them earlier that day.  The lunchtime reminders were just an insurance program so, once on the road and through the tunnel toward home, he’d have remembered to pick up and or bring everything home.  Like clockwork, I’d hear him leave; he was the only one I ever knew that could backup a car before the engine was fully started!

On occasion, he’d stop by after a day’s work and, finding my retired father at home, goad him into walking down the street for a game of pool.  Truth be told, Daddy enjoyed the Shark’s company; as Daddy would remark, “He’s just a big kid– what the hell – I can still beat the pants off him!”  And each time they returned, the young Shark would comment, “Man, your dad is really good. Tough to beat, Man…I almost broke my back beating him on that last game.”

Daddy understood the younger Shark better than most, because he understood what it was like to be underestimated at a young age.  Daddy had an uncanny sense when it came to summing up a person’s character; the Shark had at once passed Daddy’s litmus test with flying colors.  So, though the Shark liked to toot his own horn, Daddy would simply explain, “Hell, the kid gets no credit; I remember what that was like…”

Despite the talk and exaggerated highlights, each enjoyed the other’s company; indeed, sometimes it was difficult to tell who enjoyed it more! Those of us watching the antics and listening to the B.S. that accompanied this spar fest very soon understood all was harmless if not actually therapeutic for them both.

A common foe didn’t hurt, either.  Each had a bone to pick with the neighbor; truth be told, one could afford to be harsher than the other… The Shark had to mind his Ps and Qs as he had married the neighbor’s daughter.  Daddy didn’t have to mind anything or anybody, so he kept up his playful harassment at the neighbor’s expense and Shark the Son-in-Law’s delight.

In the entirety of Rubberneck Avenue dynamics, this was normally a non-eventful exchange; it was, however, great fun and entertainment for those of us on either side of the driveway.

 

When Healthier Roots Prevailed

The American Dream was the prevailing mindset:  there were opportunities for those who sought them and a political system that – in its purest sense – erased social classes via the ballot box.  Thus had the quintessential republic become a world beacon for opportunity, not opportunists; and this young country flourished as long as those tasked with governing maintained the disciplined checks and balances needed for a healthy milieu to support free enterprise.

Some old country practices and expectations naturally slipped right on through Ellis Island into the new country.  A family member contributed to support of the entire household, sometimes at the expense of a shortened, formal education.  Daddy was one of nine who had grown and matured, understanding full well the responsibilities of earning one’s keep as part of the workforce in the family’s laundry business.  As one of the babies, my father was lucky enough to finish high school, and then enter a trade school.  Not so the older daughters; many of them married early and became homemakers themselves; more often than not they, too, worked outside the home.  Two of my aunts had married foreigners who became naturalized citizens.   In keeping with another customary practice, my father and mother were married only six months when they moved “back home” to take care of his aging parents.

My father had his dreams like any young man of his generation.  He’d had the chance to tour the Orpheum Circuit.  As one of a barbershop quartet, he lost the big chance when one of the four decided he couldn’t commit to traveling the country, so went into hiding for several days; his action was long enough to permanently break off any remaining ties of a permanent contract with the entertainment circuit.

A marriage and two children later, Daddy was too old to enlist for WWII, so worked for the war effort at home.  After the war, he and Mom opened up a floor covering business.  Daddy understood the labor movement from both sides now, and was reforming his previous union mindset.  My father changed his voter registration to vote for Ike.  Eventually, my uncle joined as a full partner. By the mid-fifties, the linoleum shop was supporting two families and growing.

While not easily fooled by smooth-talking orators, Daddy liked men who told it like it is (and touched his own emotions).  Spiro Agnew was a particular favorite.  I can remember my father chuckling at Spiro’s deft handling of the press; that is, until the first American Vice President with a Greek lineage was exposed for federal tax evasion, then struck from the nation’s memory in quick form!  Daddy had voted for the Nixon-Agnew ticket.  We’d never let Daddy forget it.

The Brat and I guaranteed old Spiro would forever remain in our father’s conscience; a metal trashcan with Spiro’s cartoon image would ensure the proper place for additional garbage – political and otherwise.  We presented it to him for Father’s Day.  It stayed – well hidden but serviceable – under the shop’s main desk for many years.

When the Vietnam War was aired on nightly television, Daddy insisted that we watch Cronkite’s coverage each evening.  My brother had already received an honorary discharge, but others’ sons were fighting; thus, my father insisted that we remember the toll being carried by our fellow Americans. This was difficult for us around the table; several times, we asked if we couldn’t dispense with the war coverage just for one night.

My father was insistent: our young men were fighting in a terribly difficult terrain and under very divisive circumstances here at home; the least we could do was stay informed.  The news would stay on during dinner.  End of subject.

Plywood

I’m sure my father never thought twice about the plywood he delivered to my junior high school that day; but I remember it on occasion, especially on days like this when I think I haven’t accomplished nearly what I set out to do.

In fact, today was one of those the whole damn day was shot days as Daddy used to call them, walking into the kitchen to reach for the wine bottle and a glass from the cupboard.  This announcement was normally followed by a string of the what went wrongs:  the pattern that arrived was the incorrect color; one of the guys had a flat tire and was two hours late getting to the job site; or somebody forgot about a medical appt. and didn’t show up; or any variation on a theme that might affect a small floor covering business.

Daddy had heard me say that our eighth grade class was pricing wood for the showcase.  That’s all he remembered.  Before the pricing had even begun, I was called out of a morning class and asked to see my science teacher.  I arrived there and, to my great surprise, was told that my father had just dropped off two large sheets of 4 x 8 three-quarter inch plywood; my teacher had been in class, so he missed seeing Daddy, but was informed by a memo that we now owned had two large sheets of plywood-what did he want to do with them? Mr. L., my science teacher, was especially appreciative that Daddy had donated the wood sheets; so he asked me to please make sure to thank my father for the donated sheets.

I was on cloud nine that day…couldn’t believe that Daddy had taken time from his busy, time-sensitive schedule to drive by the school and deliver the plywood sheets.  My father worked.  He owned his own business.  He was a no-nonsense guy when it came to serving the public.  My father was an honest laborer, who made sure that the customer came first; normally, that meant that the family’s wishes were secondary.  Without his “hustling” as Mom called it, we’d have had no income. Neither Winnie nor I were allowed to chat on the phone for anymore than ten minutes tops.  Our home phone was an extension of our family business, so God help the daughter who dawdled and prevented a possible customer from reaching our home!!!

Daddy understood time was money, so made sure we understood it as well.  That day, I realized he had spent an hour traveling from his shop to my school, then making sure the plywood sheets were delivered to the right classroom (I still marvel that he even knew how to find the administrative office!!!)

I would never completely understand all the nuances or the actual costs involved, but I would always remember:  I was important enough for my father to make sure our class had the material to build the showcase for our science project.  There was no describing that emotion; even today, I “tear up” at the thought that my father, the man I saw as normally too focused on making a living to even tune in to his kids’ school projects,  would attempt such an extracurricular delivery; especially during a work day.  But it remains one of my very precious memories.

Perhaps, with any luck at all, I might have touched someone’s heart today…and the day wasn’t a complete loss.  I should be so fortunate…