My dad was born in 1926 during the height of the Roaring 20’s. It seems rather fitting because my dad always loved a party and had a way of becoming the center of attention without really trying.
He could be exasperating at times, but you could always count on that lopsided smile and twinkling blue eyes to turn your frown of frustration into an “oh well” shrug.
That smile is something I always remember about him. Whether he was turning the crank on the ice cream maker surrounded by hungry nieces and nephews or throwing a stick deep into the water for Goldie his Labrador Retriever that smile would accompany the action.
My dad was happiest when he was with people. He found those people in many places. One place was the American Legion where he found men who had experienced the same war he did. When I would ask him about the war, he would tell me about all the places he had been-Calcutta, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka today), Karachi, Pakistan.
I just realized he never talked about anywhere else although he circled the world twice. One time, he did talk about the North Atlantic and how cold and dark it was and how the storms where brutal. He said that seeing the Northern Lights for the first time made up for all the scary times when he felt more alone than he ever had in his life.
He hopped a ride to Cleveland to Join the Navy but he was only sixteen and they wouldn’t take him. A recruiter told him that the Coast Guard took recruits at seventeen. When he got there, he lied about his age and said he was 17, filled out the paperwork and handed it to the recruiter. The man said “you are only sixteen”. Dad replied “Yes sir, but I will be seventeen when I finish basic training.” The man looked him up and down and stamped the form. I am sure that infamous smile made an appearance.
When he returned home his cousin John got him a job in a foundry called Wooster Products. A group of fellow workers convinced him to run for Union Steward because his smile could change anger into calm. He served for many years, but his heart was never really in it. He didn’t like always having to convince everyone that compromise had given them all the best contract available.
He began as a pattern maker and the only way to move up was to become a molder. It was hot and dangerous work. His nose was broken twice. After twenty years, he decided he needed a change of scenery and went from an inside job to working construction in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, but he loved it. I never heard him complain once about either job, but he never told stories about the first one. My father’s blue eyes would twinkle and a smile would cross his face when he talked about all of the men on his construction crew. This time he stayed far away from union politics simply paying his dues and exercised his right to vote.
He found friends and companions everywhere he worked, every bar he frequented and every barbeque or fish fry he and the guys threw for one cause or another. He and a group of fellow hunters and fishermen formed the Shreve Farmers and Sportsmen’s Club. They pooled their money and bought acreage from a farmer south of town.
It was centered in a beautiful oak forest perched on a ravine. They dammed a creek and made a pond stocked with fish. On the weekends, they built a clubhouse where they held monthly fish fries to defray the costs of buying more property around their ravine. He took every opportunity to show it to anyone who gave the least bit of interest in where it was and what it looked like.
He was always most pleased when someone wanted to walk the trails in the woods with him. He would point out the twisted trees that he was convinced had been used for marks on an Indian Trail. If the man had his kids with him and it was spring, he would find a plowed field to hunt for arrowheads. I would often tag along because walking in the woods with my dad is in my top ten things that I loved to do when I was young.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear him tell me “we aren’t lost Cat. We just don’t know where we are. We will know soon.” And we always did find our way back. I would be elated and he would reward me with one of those big smiles.
Now that I am closer to 90 than I am to that young girl I realize that that smile was probably because he had always known. Happy Birthday, Dad!