He was, in his own words, “an operator,” which I understood as a reference to his street smarts. And he had the lingo to prove it. For my dad a beautiful woman was always “a hot tomato,” people who didn’t know what they were talking about were “blowing smoke,” “hatchi katchi” meant “fooling around,” and so did “hot to trot.” He wasn’t bigoted, except maybe against homely girls in favor of the pretty ones. And he never tried to hide the fact that the reason he tuned in to TV football was to watch the cheerleaders at half-time. ~ From WVTF radio essay, Let Me Clue You In About My Father, HERE.
My father was born in Boston Massachusetts in 1924 on the first day of spring. When he died, on a recent rainy November evening, the wind was howling all the way from Boston to Virginia, where I live. The rain continued into the next morning, so much so that the creeks flooded over onto the roads, reminding me of the tears that were being shed by everyone that loved him.
For some reason my father had convinced me that he was indestructible. I might have gotten that impression from the wild stories he told of his past that usually ended with him shaking his head and saying, “I don’t know why I’m still here. I guess someone upstairs must like me.”
“There’s going to be some mad Irish wake stories going on for this man,” I said to my son over the phone after I broke the news to him that his grandfather had died. He was holding a page he had ripped out from his collage journal with a photo of his grandfather in Germany during WWII on it, he told me. “There will never be another “operator” quite like Grandpa,” he said.
“He was operating till the end,” I answered. No one could get into his hospital room without bringing a scratch ticket for him to play. He was winking at the nurses up until the end and holding the TV remote in his hand..."
But he had started to drift away long before the car accident that brought him to the hospital. I noticed a change when I visited him and my mother this past summer. At times he seemed withdrawn. Other times confused. On some days, it seemed that he was going through the motions of life and covering up his failings with his humor. But when the mood was just right, he still had a good story to tell:
“You’ve never heard this one before,” he said to me. “It will explain everything. Even why I drank so much.”
“Does Ma know?” I asked. My interest was piqued.
“Only me and the devil…and God know,” he answered.
It was a story of combat, one that I vaguely remember he might have told me before, one that would make a great movie but is too personal to re-tell here. I felt that he was purging himself and setting the record straight that day, and I got the sense that the process of leaving this world was beginning for my father.
I just didn’t think the end result of it would come this soon.
Post Notes: The photo is of one of the photo collage boards made by family members and displayed at the funeral home for my father. My son’s collage journal page, dedicated to his grandfather, is posted on the bottom of the board. The song that was played at the end of the funeral services was one that the Andrew Sisters sang in 1943, “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time,” a wonderful send off for our spring-born daddy who so loved the music of his era. My sister, Kathy, has also been writing about the experience of losing our dad at her blog. Orignially posted on looseleafnotes.com in the fall of 2005.