I failed to mention my father's eighty-ninth birthday, which was yesterday. Like my memories of him, I spend a great deal of energy giving my time to total strangers and often overlook the simple safe-at-home issues and items that actually enrich beyond measure both an examined and unexamined life.
He wouldn't have minded; as a matter of fact he didn't even notice. He died in 1981, too soon said many people who only knew him from the person he chose to share with them and to my extreme chagrin, as one of those who had lived a not inconsequential part of my life under his roof.
I spent most of life, to include decades after his passing, adamant in my insistence that we didn't get along because we were so vastly different. It was through attempting to help raise our two children that I finally accepted that we didn't get along because we chose to NOT get along and that happened because we were very much of the same mind and temperament.
Each of us growing up, and there were six kids, has a dad story from the cuckoo clock that fell off the wall behind his chair, practically braining him and paying for that attempt to this one, my favorite and one I witnessed: Dad didn't believe in credit cards. Maybe a remnant of having come of age in the Great Depression, maybe a distrust for the banking industry in which he had first worked before becoming a teacher. No matter. While In God We Trust was very true in his house, Cash was King.
I was with him the day he decided to trade in his Navy blue 1966 Chrysler Newport station wagon, in my memory two or more football fields long, and ended up in the Landis Ford dealership in North Brunswick, New Jersey with a very young and very nervous salesman, Ed G. As I learned years later, Dad was Ed's first sale but sure didn't look the part.
Dad wore suits to teach and went from one extreme to the other, so to speak, looking like the dog's breakfast when he was dressing down around the house. Actually, he looked like a homeless person, as all of his knocking around clothes were 'painting clothes-- not portraits or lanscapes, but interior walls and ceiling, sides of houses, fences. My memory is that he often got more paint on himself than whatever it was he was painting.
When he showed up in the dealership on the Route One traffic circle the first two people inside we encountered directed him towards the parts department (considering his mechanical ability (and lack thereof), that would have been catastrophic, said the child who inherited his own ability from him) and he was more than a little annoyed, which meant he was sarcastic to the point of caustic because with Dad when you bought a ticket, you got the whole ride.
Having trapped Ed, the salesman, he bombarded him with questions about a Ford station wagon in the showroom-I don't recall the questions and since Dad knew nothing about cars, I won't even imagine what the queries might have covered. Whatever it was, Ed must've answered correctly because Dad pronounced himself 'sold!' and asked 'how much' signalling the car before them. Ed came back from a quick conference wit the infamouse sales manager with a number and Dad said 'okay,' reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet held together with thick rubber bands, the kind you used on shin protectors under your long socks when you played soccer.
I remember looking at Ed as Dad opened the wallet, spread the contents out on the hood of the car and counted out thousands and thousands of dollars in large denominational bills, invited Ed to double check it and asked how long it would take to get the car ready to drive home. Of course that's exactly what happened-all the stuff in the middle, like trading the old car in, getting the new one prepped, I have no memory about-but the wariness on Ed's face melting into a look of incredulity as this man peeled off a stack of paper dollars large enough to buy that car outright, that memory will stay with me until I die.
Try as I have so often to not be my father's son, I am as I guess everyone becomes of those who raised them which means our children have a fate awaiting them I would have never foreseen. Suspect I know somebody who would have, though, and I can almost see him now, with his glasses slid down on his nose so he could take your full measure unassisted or holding them in his right hand while he nibbled on the tip of the frame, with just a hint of a spark in his eyes. Happy Birthday, Dad.