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Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Tribute: My Quiet Dad, Doing It Right

Dad and I at the beach, w. Mom's shadow overlaid as she snaps the photo

My father Max went to work early, as his family lost its financial footing when he was young. His father was a butcher and his first cousin, Bob, owned a deli, so it was natural for him to go into that business. After the war, he returned to another deli owned by Bob, where he stayed for 29 years. He worked five long days, one half day (Sunday) and had Wednesday off. He had 2 weeks of vacation a year.

Like many guys who came of age in the Depression and fought in World War II, Max was a heavy smoker (Camels). I think he had his first heart attack at age 44. Following the regimen of the day, he was given nitroglycerin pills to carry around, told to cut down on salt and take walks. He put down the cigarettes and picked up a pipe. Whether or not he inhaled it, I was too young or too distracted to notice. It was too little, too late and he died at age 47.

He was essentially a serious man, whose tastes ran to Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Miles Davis, Nat Cole and Mahalia Jackson. I listened to his music and was snared early into the jazz labyrinth. 

One week of Max's vacation was spent in Portsmouth, NH, at my mother's parents' house which was on a gravel lane, next door to a lobsterman. Beyond that house was the water-Portsmouth's Great Bay. We fished off bridges or breakwaters near beaches, trying for flounder and mackerel, but usually catching pollack. One afternoon, we tied into a run of white hake and brought back bushel baskets full, most of which we gave away to neighbors. The rest my grandmother Annie cleaned and prepared for us. Fishing was a time when I sensed my father's pulse slowing down and we were able to flow into each other.
My 5th grade (?) rendition of Fenway Park
We lived about a 20-minute walk from Fenway Park and some Sundays and Wednesdays (there were mid-week day games then), we went to Red Sox games. We got there early for batting practice and either sat in the bleachers or the left-field grandstand. Normally, there were about 15,000 people in the park. It was the end of Ted Williams' career and before the beginning of Yaz's. Pinkie Higgins guided the team to a long succession of losing seasons. There was an occasional burst of organ music and announcements of pinch-hitters, but mostly a tranquil attentiveness prevailed.
One day at work, someone gave him a shiny 1864 Indian Head penny (no "L" on the ribbon) and we became coin collectors. On Wednesdays, he went to the bank and exchanged cash for coins. We'd spread them out on the kitchen table and sift through them, consulting a copy of the "Red Book" to see if we'd stumbled on anything of value. We tried to fill the blue albums with pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters, but never found the rarest dates. We frequented coin shops downtown on Bromfield St. but looked and almost never bought. Our family had enough money, but I could see my dad thought, not really enough to spend on a hobby.

We lived right off Commonwealth Ave and in the fall, we would walk up and down the street, visiting the car dealerships to see the new models and collect brochures on the latest model Chevy or Rambler. We pressed our noses against the window of the Packard dealer at Packard's Corner, but never felt quite at home enough to go in. ($5000 for a car!!). Such trips were like exchanging molecules with my dad.

My father dressed neatly, if not extravagantly; wore glasses, which he called "cheaters" to watch TV, lost his patience at my mother's inability to read maps and was joyful when he came home and I leaped into his arms.

Being a father mostly draws attention when it's done badly. Let's not forget that many do it quietly and well, like my dad.
Dad's tie rack, with some of his ties; still in use

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