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…