Dad did good (a revisit)

My Dad had a hard life growing up. His parents split up early and neither played a big role in his formative years. Fortunately, he was provided a safety net that would not let him fail. He was raised by his Great Aunt and Uncle.

His Uncle ran a general store in a small Georgia town. My Dad was asked to help out there. This eventually led my Dad to start his career with a regional supermarket after college and a stint in the Navy. More on that later.

He went to college in north Georgia, but it was under a required work study program.  You had to work to attend and that was the only way the students could afford the tuition costs. He met my mother there and they married in 1951 and moved to Jacksonville, FL.*

He had a stint in the Navy when the Korean Conflict started joining with several friends. Serving on an aircraft carrier, he learned of 25 second showers, discipline and visited some exotic places,  Once home, he decided soon a supermarket career was not for him. Even with his low salary, he would have to cover bounced checks as a manager.

He and his good friend George decided to move into this career called data processing, the precursor to IT. He worked for a regional insurance company and eventually worked his way up. He was there until he retired in the early 1990s.

He and my Mom raised us three kids. She was a schoolteacher. I mentioned in my last post in a comment that he would pitch batting practice to me after work and coached me on occasion. He was a very good athlete in college playing basketball, baseball and track.

He also was a great outdoor cook. He would love to smoke hams and turkeys, and cooked a mean roast and chicken. He would tease us saying the chicken did not have any wings, as he would sample them outside. His team would have indoor office picnics and he would usually bring a ham or turkey. They tended to request this of him.

He and my Mom were a great couple, married for 54 years. He died too early after a life of smoking and drinking, even though he quit both a dozen years before he passed. Like me, my Dad was an alcoholic. I stopped drinking myself the year after he died.

When he passed in 2006, there were a half dozen couples that met in college like my parents and were still together that came to his funeral. He was remembered well, but it was a tribute to Mom, too. My Dad was not perfect, but he was a good man, husband and father. I love you Dad. Your lessons are remembered and appreciated

*Note: I learned in the past two years, my father was on the lumber crew at college. One of his college classmates and good friends from back home told me they would go into the nearby forests and saw down trees a couple of days, then haul them back to campus the next two days. After that, they would saw them up at the sawmill. He said when they were teens, they would work for the power company and go into the swamps of south Georgia and cut down trees. They had waders on to protect them from the elements, which included snakes and alligators. Hard labor is an understatement.

Friday memories

Since I am exhausted from talking about our modern day Voldemort, let me offer a few random memories on this Friday, Greenwich time. In no particular order:

When my father used to cook chicken on the grill, he would always return to the kitchen with a wingless chicken. When asked, he noted said chicken could not fly as it had no wings. Of course, he would eat the wings outside to make sure he got the basting right, at least that was his ultimate story.

When he smoked meat in his Cooking Cajun smoker, he would cook a ham on one rack and a turkey on another. The poor cook would start the large turkey around 2 am in the morning and then add the ham later. I wish I had his knack for smoking it right. He did say he basted the turkey with mayonnaise to keep it moist. Whatever he did, both were excellent.

My mother was a terrific cook as well, so these meals were accentuated with her casseroles, side dishes and desserts. One of her wonderful dishes was a layered salad, which must be served in a glass bowl to see the layers of lettuce, cheese, mostly thawed frozen green peas, mayonnaise (we southerners love our mayo), bacon and green onion. She also had a fruit pie made with fresh strawberries and bananas.

My mother was an Education and Home Economics major in college, so she would plan out our meals for two weeks between paychecks. Pot roast, fried chicken, cubed steak, spaghetti, lasagna, ham steaks with limas and cheese, etc. were usually in the mix. Back then, she went to the grocery store once in two weeks. Think about the planning behind that statement. We did not make runs to the grocer as we do now, with the exception of fresh milk which we got from a nearby dairy store you could actually drive up to.

With three kids who all played sports, we liked to eat and ate a lot. So, my mother keeping the refrigerator full shopping once every two weeks was a chore. One of the wisest things my high school did was, if you played sports, you automatically took PE in the last class of the day, so we could start practicing early. With a full load of classes in the preceding years, I found a free period for lunch in my Senior year, so I would eat at home and return for practice. So, more food was needed to fill this growing boy’s body. Did I mention I ate a lot?

When I got home, I would do my studying at night. So, my brother, sister and I would watch the reruns of Star Trek, Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, The Wild West, etc., before and just after dinner. With one TV, we all watched the same thing. I must confess, the love interests of Captain Kirk and James West were fascinating to this adolescent boy. And, it did not dawn on me, at first, the comedic genius of Don Knotts as Barney Fife and Lucille Ball as Lucy. I would get irritated with how silly they were, but realized later that was their gift.

Well, that is enough for memory lane. I had a good childhood, not perfect mind you, as I have left off my parents’ fighting, but it was largely good memories. I have written before about my father’s drinking problem (which I inherited), but he was still a good man, who just had a problem. He was sober the last twenty years of his life and I have been without a drink for over thirteen years.

Those preciously funny memories

You will never truly know how much your parents love you until you have children. But, with families come family memories, some of them are preciously funny. Here are a few to mull over:

– My sons could recite verbatim lines from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” complete with accents. It made for interesting car trips.
– When smaller, these same boys mistook the word “sassy” for “sexy” and took delight in using it as such. After we finally figured it out, I felt obligated to inform of the more apt word.
– My daughter would hold her own with her older brothers. When our younger son became a Pescatarian, meaning he ate fish, but no other meats, she would teasingly tell him and his friends, he was an “Episcopalian.”
– My daughter had dozens of stuffed animals when she was little, but they all had female names. Yet, she was old enough to know, when I asked her the name of a very red cardinal and she gave me a female name, that she messed up. “I thought the red cardinals were boys,” I teasingly queried. She started laughing.
– In our first house, our kitchen table was my parents old contemporary dining table and reupholstered chairs. When another couple came for dinner, the chair our male guest was sitting in just collapsed. Fortunately, he was not hurt.
– Speaking of collapsing, our oldest son was sitting in a small garden area in the woods behind our house. My wife and I joined him and sat down on a wooden bench that had deteriorated with the weather. It came down like a house of cards.
– Our kids shared their friends and we would often have kids, even as they came back from college, in our upstairs game room. Our kids wondered why we knew so much about their friends, but it was a simple exercise of chatting with them before they headed upstairs.

These memories make me smile. I am sure you have a few in your families. Please feel free to share.

Travel safely and sanely

As we head into my favorite holiday week, the weather is starting out on a less than friendly basis. So, please take extra care to travel safely and reach your family destinations. I can assure you the interstates and airports will be crowded and at a standstill at times. If you look in the dictionary I-95 is code for stationary and an airport is a gathering place.

So, to manage expectations consider the following. First for flyers:

– you will wait in airports and have a hard time finding a parking space,
– your plane will be delayed and may be canceled, and
– your plane will be crowded.

How you let this affect you is your ball to play. You can let it bother the heck out of you or you can take it in stride. As I waited for my checked bags once, a woman commented on how calm and relaxed I was. I was sitting with a book and was waiting for the bags to come in. My standing up at the carrousel was not going to make them come faster.

Now for the drivers:

– you will be accompanied by many drivers on the road,
– you will come to a halt due to accidents and rubberneckers, and
– you will get irritated on occasion with fellow passengers.

How you let this affect you is your ball to play. Following distance is our friend. Rest areas break the monotony. Listen to your kids play lists – I had a ball with my kids doing this as they take pride in sharing. Find those side roads to avoid only interstate driving.

Please travel safely (and sanely). Giver everyone a hug for me when you get there. Happy Thanksgiving.

Mom would have been 88

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 88 years old. Mom left us early Christmas morning in 2016. She was a Christian woman, grade school teacher and bible study fellowship leader. So, dying on Christmas seems fitting.

Maybe not ironically, my wife’s Mom died around Christmas a few years before. She was a converted Catholic. My wife says that made her extra devout. As a result, she grew up around the church, as did my family.

Mom would push us out of bed to go to Sunday school. For a kid, more school was not mission critical. But, off we went. And, like regular school, we had the same kids in your class year after year. The church service was actually the denouement, so we could relax some.

Mom loved teaching, so seeing her embrace BSF (bible study fellowship) was not a stretch. In college, she studied Education and Home Economics. The latter helped her raise three kids on a limited budget. Meals were planned around Dad’s paycheck every two weeks. She left teaching for a few years, then went back to first substituting, then full-time teaching after we kids got older.

She met my father in college and they were married for 55 years before he died in 2006, She had a good sense of humor and we treasured hearing them laugh. She was seemingly at every ball game, recital or school event that we three children had.

Mom was one of those “lights” in the community the first President Bush spoke of. She took care of people, arranged many a church food outreach when someone passed away, and was a good friend. One of her best friends died in her fifties and she survived both of her sisters and, of course, her parents. Plus, her mother had osteoporosis, so Mom frequented her often.

Her mind was betraying her with Alzheimers when she died at age 84. The only saving grace is she still knew her children and grandchildren were on her team when she died, even though she could not introduce us. Yet, she could sing every lyric to spngs performed at her Memory Unit at the long term care facility. She loved singing aa she was in a “double trio” as she called it while in college.

In our loft area where my laptop sits, is a picture of Mom in the middle of her three kids and my wife. It was taken about a month before she died  in front of a favorite restaurant. She is beaming with a broad smile as she hugged us surrounded by her family.

Mom, we love you and miss you. My wife and i used to call her about 3 or 4 times a week, so I occasionally think of the need to call her. I think that sums it up.

Finding your Roots

My wife and I have become fascinated by the PBS show called “Finding your Roots.” Historian Henry Louis Gates hosts three people of prominence and shares with them interesting things he discovers about their ancestry.

The show provides a rich and personal history lesson to the three guests and the audience. We have learned many things we did not know, especially when races and ethnicities intermingle or families flee bigotry, enslavement or persecution.

Here are a few of those learnings:

– every family has unusual circumstances or secrets that may not have been shared, as the information may have been embarassing, highly personal or even dangerous if others knew.

– there were some freed African-Americans living in areas of the South and more surprisingly, some of these freed African-Americans owned slaves.

– we knew of African-Americans that fought for the Union, but some fought for the Confederacy, and some of those fought for the Union after their City fell to the Union.

– Fascists and anti-Semites know no boundary. Some Jews escaped Poland from Polish anti-Semites long before they tried to escape the Nazis. Some escaped Russia for the same reason, then had to leave England to escape it there.

– it is not surprising for the guests to find different races and ethnicities in their background – the history is validated by DNA tests.

As examples of this last point, Bryant Gumbel found out he was about 10% European Jew. Suzanne Malveaux from CNN has multiple races mixed in, including Native American, French Quebec and sub-Saharian African. The comedian Fred Armisten found out his Japanese grandfather was actually Korean who fled persecution and was an acclaimed dancer in Japan. Larry David, who does a great Bernie Sanders impersonation, has DNA that makes him a distant relative of Sanders, which neither knew.

I encourage you to watch the show, even if you may not know the guests. Also, go on Ancestry.com and spend some time tracing your roots. It will suck you in, but do invest some time. History is fun, especially when it is yours.