As Dad Ages…


He Tells Me More

The alarm on my cell phone goes off at 6:45 every morning during school months. It woke me but I didn’t feel like getting out of bed yet; my name is, Savannah.  I keep my head buried because when there is sunshine it seeps around the edges of the curtains in our south-facing townhouse.  Dad keeps threatening to get room-darkening curtains and at one time did have room darkening shades.  My pet birds ate away at the strings used to raise it up or down so that it no longer worked…Dad removed it completely.

The temps are always below freezing this time of year .  I wanted to stay where I was at, all toasty warm under my, smooth, comfortable sheet and fluffy comforter – a perfect name for that!  The cold and, late November darkness, was telling me to stay where I was at but I knew that in a matter of minutes Dad would be in here singing…how can anybody be that happy early in the morning yet miserable the rest of the day?

My dad explained that phenomenon to me once saying, “Early mornings it’s easy to be happy, but then the head fills with all kinds of disturbing, sad and unsettling news of the day .”

Yes, I had to agree because I’ve witnessed (sorry to say) first hand how he can go from a happy, pleasant Dad to one filled with anger, sadness and rage in the course of a news program.  There have been many times when I tell him to stop watching the news; sometimes he will stop, but usually he just gets mad at me for telling him that.  I don’t say it to be mean or because I don’t agree with him on every issue, but I tell him because I hate to see him miserable like that.

He comes into my dark room to wake me, he doesn’t know that I am already awake because I’m completely under the covers. I’m watching him through the animal-print sheets as he stumbles forward and says a few expletives under his breath, he tries to remain quiet.

Dad’s mumbled, “Ugh sh#$,” he said as he leaned against the dresser with arm outstretched while rubbing his foot with the opposite hand and softly cussing at himself for making a noise.

I almost felt guilty for not saying anything. He carefully made his way over to the drapes and opened them wide…then began his terrible singing, “Good morning to you…the snow is a falling…(the words are  – the sun is a rising) and this is the way, we start a new day.” Dad loudly proclaims, “Good morning, Savannah,” that’s me.

This year I’m eleven years old and in the sixth grade and have the greatest teacher ever. Well, I have her for most of my classes, homeroom, social studies, literature, spelling, reading and writing. I have different teachers for math, science, music and art and of course Phy-ed with Ms Hastings. Ms Hastings’ attended a Girl Scout Mother and Daughter Tea with me because my dad is raising me in Minnesota and Mom lives in New York.  As for so many classes and teachers, they are preparing us for how things will be in middle school.

Ugh, I rollover so he knows that I’m alive. He sits on the edge of my bed and rubs my back and head while mentioning softly that, “It’s time to get up and go to school.”

“Aww Dad, I don’t feel good today,” he touches my forehead and decides that I’m okay to go.

“Come on Savannah get up and get ready.   You’ll feel better after you shower and brush your teeth, I promise,” he said those comforting words as he walked out of the room and began a load of wash in the tiny laundry area at the top landing.

I walked by him on my way to the bathroom and told him, “I love you Dad.”

“I know,” he said, “I love you too and I’ll see you downstairs. I gotta’ go make your lunch and breakfast…you want breakfast right,” he asked jokingly.

He’s made every meal – that’s three a day ever since I was three years old because that’s when he and Mom split up. I never told him, but I was kind-of glad they divorced; they were always fighting.  Though neither made me feel unloved at all and Dad always makes me feel special though he has two other daughters’ by a previous marriage.  My sister’s have kids’ who are eight and nine years older than me.   One of my nieces already has a child, which makes my dad a great-Grandpa and me a great-aunt, though I am not yet twelve years old.

I was Dad’s main goal in life.  After all he told me many times, “If you’re happy, I’m happy,” and I could see my happiness in his face.

It was only forty-five minutes later when Dad yelled up to me… “Are you almost ready? What are you doing? Come on your breakfast will get cold.”

“Uh yeah, ok Dad, I’ll be right there. Sorry I was reading.”

Dad has scolded me many times for reading before breakfast; I just like to read! I never sit at the counter for

After school snack at the, "Counter" reading.
After school snack at the, “Counter” reading.

my meal without a book, magazine or some writing.

If I should begin reading while still eating I get yelled at from Dad and sometimes it really makes him rant and rave. Heck, in my fourth grade class the teacher got mad at me for reading too.

The book that began my fascination with, Rick Riordan's writings.  (The Red Pyramid)
The book that began my fascination with, Rick Riordan’s writings. (The Red Pyramid)

She gave me extra work, homework so that when all the others in my class had none and could go out and play…I always had homework that Dad required to be finished before playing and then it would get dark out.

Dad and I are two very different people; while he is all organized and stuff and a real, Mr Clean, I am rather disorganized except that my teacher told Dad at a conference, “Savannah is so organized and her writing is sensational,” so I guess I am only messy at home; Dad was really surprised because I don’t care about having the sink faucets shine nor do I get upset if there is hair on the bathroom floor.

He was aware of my writing skills because he always comments about it, as did the fifth grade teacher.   I even wrote a book about dinosaurs when I was about six years old, Dad was proud of me for carrying the main idea through to the end and he saved it on his computer and also printed it out to show me. Then last year I wrote a hardcover book about, wolves, though I spelled it wolfs so the title would fit on the cover…I knew the difference. Mr. Halley told Dad at a conference that, “Her writing is so good I wish I could give her a higher grade than an A, but we can’t do that.”

Our eating preferences are just as different. He loves hot-dishes and stir-fries, you know, mixing all the food together and usually that food is vegetables. And but of course, I can’t even stand the sight of veggies. I prefer a meal where the various foods do not touch one another. Like last night – we ate Enchilada’s, rice and corn but Dad’s rice was placed in the middle of his plate with the Enchilada and salsa on top of it. Though we ate the same thing, mine was all separated and not even touching each other; and yuck salsa? I won’t even eat that.

Dad loves pizza; I hate it! There are few things we both like…but we love each other and are able to laugh at our differences, for the most part. Like, I am freezing every morning but Dad’s never cold in the early hours…he freezes at night after supper when I am fine and have been fine for hours. Dad covers up with the throw draping the sofa, or his or my coat, whichever is near.

He likes his clothes all crisp, pressed and hung with the hangers all facing in one direction along with the labels because he says, “If you ever have to, you can get dressed in the dark.”

Then he went on to tell me, “I went camping one time in my life and that was up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area BWCA.  The leader and our guide from, “Wilderness Inquiry” remarked one morning, “You are the classiest guy I’ve ever seen. You lay in a sleeping bag all night yet come out of the tent in the morning looking like your pants were pressed,” Dad told me, “In a way they had been pressed because I laid them out seam to seam, then put the sleeping bag on top of them,” that’s my dapper Dad.

“I used to dress in the dark all the time because light bothered your uncle Bruce.  Humph, everything bothered your uncle Bruce.”

“Dad, we don’t have to do that,” I said then jokingly added a parody of Bosley’s hair restore systems, I said, “We can do whatever we waaant with these hangers.  We can even mess them up, if we wann’ to.”

His more rigid ways stem from his childhood. He, and not just him, but his younger brother and sisters all claim they couldn’t eat supper or any meal comfortably if Bruce (the older brother was around.). I guess the area would become deathly quiet and Grandma even said, “It was like living in a morgue around there,” when Bruce entered the room and the boys were in their teens.

My Grandma, dad, aunts’ and uncles’ were not able to enjoy a meal because they were so tense. Carefully, and being as quiet as possible they chewed and swallowed with as few gulps from their glasses of milk as possible not wanting to set Bruce off.

Uncle Bruce sitting in Grandma's lap, and Dad  - 1956 - good days.
Uncle Bruce sitting in Grandma’s lap, and Dad – 1956 – good days.

 Almost always though, he would hear somebody’s chewing so he’d look at that person and make a loud smacking sound or a snorting sound like a pig. Meal-times were torture unless Grandpa was there; then Bruce seemed okay, is what I gathered.

Dad had to share a room with him and I’ve heard stories of how he couldn’t even breathe at night, Bruce would claim Dad was making too much noise with the inhale and exhale from his nose…Pretty impossible to live with. Heck I recall Dad telling me of when Bruce had a paper-route and one morning Dad didn’t want to help him, my dad woke up with a black eye and went to school that way. Bruce had punched him in the face while he lay in bed, before leaving to deliver those papers.

Grandma told Grandpa one time of uncle Bruce attacking my dad while he ate crackers, drank milk and watched T.V. My uncle went in the kitchen got some crackers and milk, sat down opposite Dad and began loudly crinkling the wrapper to open it, then, took a handful of crackers and stuffed them in his mouth. Bruce loudly and obnoxiously was chewing while staring at Dad. He blew the dry saltines from his mouth and when Dad retaliated uncle Bruce threw his glass of milk on him. So began another of their many childhood fights.

But Grandpa who seemed so fair to me, said, “It takes two to fight.”

When Grandma told that news to my dad, Dad immediately said, “Yeah but did you tell him what Bruce did to start me up?”

Grandma said that she did, but Grandpa could not be influenced. So Dad thought about it for a while and decided that his dad was right…but wondered why his dad couldn’t see anything Bruce did as being wrong?

Gram’s and Gramp’s had problems with Bruce from a young age, always fighting. Two parents from the neighborhood had called Grandma about his throwing rocks and beating up on their sons. Bruce was finally evaluated, it was that or charges would be filed against him for what Grandpa said were only growing pains.

“I used to fight like that too, when I was a kid.”

“Oh not like that…he’s mean,” Grandma said.

Every Friday night when the boys were a few years older Grandpa began horsing around with the boys. Dad said it would begin Friday nights after supper. Grandpa would pull out his guitar and usually play a Little Jimmy Dicken’s song,

  “Out Behind the Barn”

My pappy used to tan my hide

Out behind the barn

He taught me to be dignified

Out behind the barn

But when he took that strap to me,

and turned me down across his knee

He sure did hurt my dignity

Out behind the barn.

Read more: Little Jimmy Dickens – Out Behind The Barn Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Then I guess Grandpa would move onto some Hank William’s tunes and finish with a hilarious, Laughing Song. Then on the little black & white T.V. screen Gillette shaving commercials began which meant that it was time to put the guitar down and watch the, Friday Night Fights.

 Grandpa worked the kid’s up pretty good looking at one while slapping the other playfully. Dad said those fights were really good and he and Bruce kept punching each other until one would get hurt and mad and start punching for real and being loud. Grandpa would say, “Okay that’s enough!” Fun time had ended and soon after the T.V. fights were over Grandpa would leave to play cards…

Before leaving Grandpa told them,  “You guys shouldn’t fight each other or anyone else. If you’re fighting with someone, you’d better not lose or you’ll get it worse when you get home!”  And his warnings continued, “Don’t ever pick a fight, but if somebody else starts one, you’d better finish it, and don’t think I won’t find out!” And somehow Grandpa always knew things that one would think impossible to know.

Talking with Dad and my Aunt’s Ava, and Teresa, about Dad’s early years growing up it became obvious their family had more problems than most; it was one tragedy after another – they called the happenstances, “That Italian thing.”  Most families it seems, recall events surrounding a happy time, but in Dad’s childhood home events were remembered by a problem of one or another sort.

They did have good times also and something I thought was really neat was that they had a milkman in the early days way back in the fifties. This guy would take empty bottles of milk and drop-off new bottles (they were all glass in those days.). If you needed butter, he had it, eggs…he had those too as well as orange juice and other assorted dairy products. I’ve seen way old pictures of a milkman and his milk truck, so I know they did have them. Dad was born in the last century, almost like in the middle of it, 1954.

When Dad was in grade school his parent’s also owned the lot next door to their house, a nice corner lot.

Shhhhh...
Shhhhh…

 I think I have a picture of Dad trying to get close to a squirrel.  

The neighborhood kids’ used to have ballgames there sometimes in the summer, in the fall of the year there would be bonfires after raking all the leaves into piles or into one big one.

Then the ’60s came and with many changes.  For one, the corner lot was now a big hole with mounds of dirt (a great playground for Dad, Bruce and the neighborhood kids) to play) where the new house was to be built; Grandpa fell on some hard times, due to his gambling, so had to sell off that extra lot.

Grandma used to tell me, “We’d have something if your Grandpa wouldn’t have gambled because he made good money.”

And like that saying, “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” my dad also had that gambling bug which really left an itch in his late twenties and early thirties…up until the car crash at age thirty-four that ended nearly everything for him.  

 

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