Friday, April 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Daddy

Today my father would have been 93.

If I'd thought about this slightly more in advance, I would have some photos scanned in to show you. But instead I have only verbal snapshots.

My father grew up in New Hampshire on a farm. He rode or drove a horse to school, left it in the livery stable during the day, and then returned home on it in the afternoon. His father was a horse trader and took pride in always having the fastest horse around. Daddy occasionally got into a few "drag races." One of my favorite family stories tells how he'd done my grandmother's grocery shopping in town one day and on the way home, he took a corner too fast and tipped the sleigh over into a snowbank. Some of those groceries weren't found until spring! I think racing may have figured into this story, but he never admitted it.

My father studied engineering and worked for Westinghouse in Boston. He used to go to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox when you could get in for 75 cents and popcorn was a nickle, or some such other ridiculously low prices. He and his Boston buddies also used to stay home, play poker, and listen to the game on the radio. I inherited my team loyalty to the Red Sox from him. It's hereditary, you know, because why else would anyone sign on for large annual doses of hope and disappointment? I'm one of those people who cried when they won in 2004, because although he never stopped hoping that This Is The Year, he didn't live to see it.

My father came to Florida in 1953 on a two year assignment for the space program. He never left. He said he'd already seen enough snow to last him a lifetime. He went to work every day wearing a short-sleeved white shirt, a skinny tie with a tie clip, dark pants, and shiny black shoes. For a while he had glasses with thick black frames. A friend's father worked with my dad and we saw a picture of them getting a safety award once. I said, "Byron, I think our fathers were nerds!" And he said, "Nope, our fathers were rocket scientists."

My father played golf three times a week. There may have been some betting involved. Even when it rained all day on Saturday, my father never came home early. He used to say, "It never rains at the golf course." All his golfing buddies came to his funeral in their pastel golf clothes. One of them said to me, "I played golf with that bandit for 40 years." Even the funeral of one of their own wouldn't stop them from having a good round that day.

Among other things, my father taught me that when you go in the ocean first thing in the morning, you need to shuffle your feet so the stingrays will know you're coming and swim away. Years later, I taught my kids the same thing. I never felt very brave about this method, even though it works. But when you're the parent, bravery is your department. Even now, when things get tough, I sometimes remember my father saying "Oh, don't worry about it. Just shuffle your feet."

5 comments:

  1. Lovely post. I loved this. I would like to see pictures of him someday. Don't you love knowing about your roots?

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  2. Lovely tribute to your father! I enjoyed reading your "verbal snapshots" about him.

    My dad just turned 68 yesterday, and was also an engineer/rocket scientist/nerd, at least until he retired and took up farming.

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  3. What a lovely blog on your father :) My grandfather is how old your dad would have been - he turned 93 in February. With the exception of college, they likely had so many of the same experiences.

    The written snapshot of your father in his white short-sleeved shirt and skinny black tie is so easy to visualize. All I have to do is call back in my memory a scene from "The Right Stuff" or from "Apollo 11".

    My dad too was involved in the rocket scientist industry, but he's retired now - and wasn't a rocket scientist... just a engineering nerd :D

    But where would we be without nerds? I sure owe them a lot!

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  4. That sting ray technique is a good one...my father got nailed once stepping out of a dingy, it looked most painful. Just keep shuffling.

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  5. So glad y'all liked the post. I had fun doing it, and I still miss him. (Can you tell???)

    Hula, photos are up now! Thanks for the extra motivation to get it done.

    Juliet, it's so cool we are both daughters of nerds. Somehow I missed that before. I think I was concentrating on your dad's current farmer status.

    Red, take a look at the photo proof of our common background! My folks were in Cocoa Beach during the times shown in those movies, so you are right on with your ideas. Someday I should post about THAT.

    Oreneta, you know it: the shuffle method is low tech but it works. They just skim away when they hear/see/feel you coming in your little sand cloud.

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