16 December 2013

Daddy's Little Tomboy

Lest my father be overlooked in all my recent talk of domestic bliss and 'homely' skills, I must give him credit for many lessons learned while in his care. I was his only "son" for eleven years... until the appearance of my two brothers, after which my reign ended. But until then I was schooled in a variety of comradely pastimes, and witness to many of his quirky character traits, the benefit of which I recognize in my adult life nearly every day.

By the age of twelve I knew how to salt-water fish, casting my line from slippery rocks overlooking the bay. Stopping at the bait shop on our way, he taught me the economy of buying only enough clam worms to catch Choggies near the rocks. Once our pail was full of the "scavenger" fish, we'd use them to catch flounder further out. While I wasn't enamored of slicing and dicing the Choggies, they were certainly a less "creepy" alternative to the slippery millipedes we'd purchased.  Years later, my beat up tackle box became a recepticle for my paint brushes, sketching pencils and watercolors, and each time I open it I'm reminded of fishing with my dad on the bay.

Thanks to frequent trips with my father to various sporting events, or simply sitting next to him and watching them on television, I came to understand just about every sport imaginable. (And since my father was left-handed, I also learned not to sit to his right if I didn't want to get punched in the arm when our team scored.) While I never formally participated in any sports as a child, I loved taking my turn in the nightly whiffle ball games under the street lights each summer. And when I was much older, I enjoyed a brief stint as scorekeeper for his neighborhood softball team.  An early result of all this was that I found it easy to talk with boys in school, and as an adult am eager to talk sports with male friends and family members. And I'm sure it's why I tend to mark the seasons not only with the variance in my gardening chores but also with the coming and going of the different sporting events I follow: beginning with tennis and baseball in the Spring and moving on to football and hockey in the fall and winter.

After watching my father build or fix just about everything in (and out) of our house throughout my childhood, I came to appreciate the joy that comes from trying to do things myself before calling in the professionals. Hence, my frequent wing-walking escapades on ladders, my request for a proper tool kit one Christmas, and a dangerous penchant for clearing out my own gutters or switching out storm windows. (With a grateful nod to my dear neighbor who frequently 'spots' me on these aerial excursions.) And thanks to my weekly outings with my father to the local Ace Hardware or Hay & Grain store, I would much rather walk into a Home Depot than a chic boutique, preferring the scent of sawdust over the cloying whiff of flavored candles.

My father approached life like a twelve-year-old. His "goofball" quotient was quite high and we never knew what mischief he might get up to next.  He was a rule breaker and a clown and had the spontaneity of a 12 year old on a sugar high. Would he come home with a puppy?  A Volkswagen convertible?  A camper? (He did all three at one time or another, to my mother's chagrin.)  He woke me at dawn once to walk with him to the rail yard to watch the Circus Train pull into town. We stood and watched as they raised the enormous tents on the tent ground. He walked me to Kindergarten one day wearing his policeman's uniform even though it was his day off, simply because I'd asked him to.  Later in life, when he worked as a telephone linesman, he would stop his truck if he saw me walking home from school and let me ride in the back, which I'm sure was against several different regulations. He embodied the old joke that a good friend might bail you out of jail, but a great friend would be sitting next to you in the cell saying, "Wasn't that fun?" He was a great friend. As a result I have never been afraid of breaking a few rules or taking chances. His boyish approach to life paved the way for my own escapades and risk-taking: sleeping outside at Stonehenge; fare-hopping a train from Boulogne to Calais when I'd missed the last ferry; sneaking into a deserted mansion the night before it was demolished... just a few of my ill-considered shenanigans.

My father and mother were both responsible for my love of books. Each pay day my father would bring me a Golden Book throughout my early childhood, and every night my mother would read to me. Not only fairy tales but poetry. Our favorite was The Golden Book of Poetry. The illustrations were magical and the poems were a wealth of descriptive language that fed my mind and developed my love for words and keen love of reading.

Zoon, zoon, cuddle and croon—
Over the crinkling sea,
The moon man flings him a sivered net
Fashioned of moonbeams three.

And some folk say when the net lies long
And the midnight hour is ripe;
The moon man fishes for some old song
That fell from a sailor's pipe. 

I also learned to appreciate the importance of humor from my father who was as irreverent as they come. There was never an event or situation that didn't benefit from his sarcasm or pithy remark to lighten the mood or allay our fears.  To this day, I'm sure my reliance on self-deprecating humor to meet and greet life's tragedies and setbacks is in no small part to his example.  Following his death, my mother's humor stepped into the light from behind the large shadow he cast, and over recent years I have come to appreciate her deadly, dry wit, most often displayed during our lowest moments of loss or pain together. Laughing in the face of sorrow, hurt and disappointment is surely one of the most important lessons she and my father shared with me.

Indeed, on the occasion of his death he had the biggest laugh of all, at our expense.  Having died in winter, there was no way to have a stone raised over his grave until the ground had thawed.  For weeks we visited his gravesite, following the directions of the cemetery groundsman to find the dull patch of earth where he'd been buried, crying silently and leaving flowers.  It was only when the stone was raised that we realized we'd been standing over the wrong grave. My father would have thought that was hilarious.


  1. Your Dad sounds like my kind of guy...love a man who thinks everything has a funny side...because everything does...right?

    1. Absolutely! My life is a series of Lucy/Ethel moments.... the most recent was trying to get my tree into the house and upright in its stand. Three hours later, with lots of twine, tears and laughter, the deed was done. (Followed by a feeble chorus of "I am woman, hear me roar....")

  2. I really appreciated that funny, affectionate tribute to your unforgettable father, who obviously had a huge influence on your life.

    1. He certainly did, Perpetua. It saddens me that I have lived so much longer than he did.