Thursday, June 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad

Tomorrow marks my father's 102nd birthday. No, he's not here to mark it with us, so we will do it for him. I have been reading lots of tributes to Dad's since last Sunday was Father's Day. Lots of good stuff, sad stories, funny anecdotes and tributes to Dad's in our newspapers lately. It got me to thinking. My Dad was a relatively quiet and comforting presence in the background of my growing up. My mother was the dominant force in our home and in our lives. He let her be and we didn't question it. My younger brother and I came to understand that Mother has more high strung, suffered from headaches, needed to be the center of attention and loved us with every fiber of her being. This was just the way it was. Dad had none of the above things to deal with, except the last one. Dad was always happy, and always whistling an unidentified tune. We loved that, because it was always easy to find him.

Dad was born on a Farm in Fargo, North Dakota, the third of six kids. He hated the winters. When the family moved to California for the health of the youngest child, Dad was 16, and he never looked back. We had 13 valencia orange trees in our yard and every morning he squeezed fresh orange juice for me. His memory of sometimes getting one orange from Santa Claus stayed with him. He didn't lecture me about how lucky I was, but he said it was a glass of "liquid sunshine that would keep me healthy." In fact, Dad never lectured me about anything. He never yelled at me or criticized. Total approval was the greatest gift he gave me. And because he thought I was one of the most amazing peoople he had ever met, so did I.

My Granny, Dad's mother, told the story of how when the kids were small, at the end of a meal, he would always pass the plate of homemade cookies and announce, "Everyone take your cookie." The seven other people at the table would take their cookie and Dad would get the rest. Pretty ingenious for a kid smack dab in the middle of the pecking order, huh?

Temple City California was the "Home of Camellia's" and we had a Camellia parade every year. The High School marching band lead off the festivities down Las Tunas, the main drag of town. I was a pom pom girl and loved marching in the parade. We always got white buck or saddle shoes at the beginning of the school year and Dad would wear my new shoes to work (yes, we had exactly the same size foot)for several days to break them in for me. The result was that he always got the "new shoe blisters" and I didn't.

In later years, we'd always launch into a project when he came to visit. The memorable ones include building a puppet theatre for my marrionetts, a new tile floor in the basement play room, painting whole rooms, and laying carpet tile flooring in the den. When we were getting ready to lay the squares of tile on the cement floor in the basement, the instructions indicated that we would need to heat the tiles first, to loosen up the glue. A long way from the kitchen, we were momentrily stumped, until Dad said, "Get your electric skillet." So we fired up the skillet, and put the tiles in it, one by one, before we stuck them on the floor. It worked. Having to buy a new electric skillet was a small price to pay for such a beautiful, wall-to-wall tile floor in the basement playroom.

I may have inherited Dad's shoe size, but I didn't get his beautiful singing voice. He sang in a barber shop quartet and people always marveled that he had "perfect pitch." He loved Bing and the Mill's brothers and he knew the words to a million songs. My brother and I grew up singing, even if we weren't as good at it as Dad. Most of the parties I can remember my parents hosting in our home, centered around the piano and people holding glasses, smoking cigarettes and singing. It's a happy memory.

When Dad died, he was cremated and his ashes were sprinkled in the sand trap "under the most beautiful tree in the world," at his favorite hole on his favorite golf course. It makes me happy to think of him there in that peaceful place that he loved. I miss him every day and I know my brother does too. Happy Birthday, Dad.


Anonymous said...

That is so beautiful! Thanks for such a loving and wonderful tribute... You inherited a lot more than his shoe size... and I am greatfull for that! love you, Marja

Pokey said...

Mom - this is awesome! I will drink a glass of sunshine everyday too so taht I can be as awesome as you! I love you very much.
I wish I could sing like Grandpa!