(My father died January 21, 1973. He was 57 years old. I was 26. The following was written some 13 years later. I have edited it a bit but it still reflects how I feel about my father.)
My father died when I was 26 and I remember being upset that I wasn’t upset. My father took a long time to die maybe three years. He died because he wanted to, not because he had to. Sometimes I think my father never really lived; was never really happy; didn’t know what happiness was.
When I think back I realize my father never talked about what his life was growing up. I don’t know what kind of child he was or what his dreams were. I don’t know what his disappointments were. I didn’t know him at all. But when I remember him I remember only happy things, quirky things, funny things. My father was very funny, sometimes in a very dry sarcastic way, sometimes very slapstick, but mocking, always mocking. I wonder how my father saw the world?
My father was. He was unto himself. He was an only son with five sisters; an Italian prince. He ruled the kingdom of the Torre family. When Jerry spoke everyone listened, everyone, that is, except his daughter. At one of the family funerals (his mother’s or his sister’s, I don’t remember which) my mother fainted and I took her to the lounge. Some of my father’s cousins came down to tell me “Jerry wants your mother upstairs”. I told them to tell my father my mother wasn’t coming back upstairs until it was time to go home. They looked at me aghast. “We can’t tell him tell him that” they said. “All right, I’ll tell him myself”. And they all trailed me upstairs, wanting to see what would happen when someone told Jerry “No”. When his response was “Oh, alright”, they stood amazed. The heavens didn’t open; I was not struck by lightning. You see, I was the only person who could tell my father “No”. More than loving me (and I know my father loved me more than anyone) my father respected me. I was so much like him. I would fight for what I thought was right and what was my right. But I fought as he fought, quietly. I don’t know who dubbed me the “quiet rebel”, perhaps my father, but I am like he.
My father was a most precise man. If you were to do something, then do it right or not at all. My father was a very good cook, and when he cooked, he cooked. Sauerbraten must be marinated three days in a crockery pot in a cool, dark place and so it was. I had to remember to go to the basement several times a day and turn the meat. Catsup was an abomination and rarely appeared on our table. Roast beef was only to be eaten at an exact state of rareness with au jus gravy, salt, pepper and nothing, I mean nothing, more. I didn’t know what brown gravy was until I was in my twenties.
My father owned a deli for a while. If someone ordered a roast beef sandwich, my father would offer salt, pepper, perhaps some lettuce. If anyone dared ask for mayonnaise, mustard, or God forbid, catsup, that was the end of the sale. He simply wouldn’t do it. He would carefully explain that this was the finest beef money could buy and no one would ruin his beef. They could take the sandwich the way he prepared it or they could go somewhere else. Everyone in the neighborhood knew my father and they acquiesced meekly.
Or liverwurst. Now liverwurst cannot be sliced thin and when you wrap it you put it in small irregular stacks so it won’t meld back into itself. People who asked for “liverwurst, sliced thin” went home with liverwurst roll. My father would slice it, make one big stack, then lean on it while he wrapped it. My father was 230 pounds; do you know what that did to the liverwurst?
My father was a truck driver for a beer company. I don’t know why he chose to be a truck driver. Perhaps because as such he had no boss, no one leaning over him giving him orders. He was his own man. But I’m telling you, he was the smartest, best-educated truck driver you will ever meet. My father read and instilled in his children (at least me) a love of reading and knowledge. We could never get through one meal without the table being littered with dictionaries and encyclopedias. It drove my mother crazy. If we made a statement, we had to prove it. If we used a fancy word, we had to define it. And if we couldn’t then out came the dictionary, right then and there.
And language, we were taught to use it correctly. My favorite example is when I asked my father to bring me a “cold glass of water” from one of his trips to the kitchen. When he came back, no water. “Daddy, where’s my water?” He said “the glass is in the refrigerator, chilling. You did ask for a cold glass of water, didn’t you” I caught on quickly “O.K., Pop, you know what I meant. ” “Well then next time, say what you mean”. If you said you were going “over” someone’s house, he would ask if you were taking a helicopter. Always my father was teaching. I suppose I got away with a lot, but never bad grammar, inaccurate language, flamboyant statements or unconsidered opinions. People say I’m a perfectionist. People get angry because they say I am always right. Not so, I am simply my father’s daughter. I think before I speak and I do things the only way I know how, the right way. Like my father.
It’s not to say my father didn’t have some major character flaws. He did. But they made him more unhappy that they made any one else. He died because of them. As the years go by, I resent my father for dying. He didn’t have to. How might my life have been different if he had lived.
Somehow I believe he would have saved me from all the bad decisions I’ve made; he would have protected me from them. He wouldn’t have let all these bad things happen. My brother wouldn’t have moved to Florida, so far away from me. I don’t know why I think that. My father never interfered in my life. My decisions were mine to be made and the price to be paid.
I resent that my father died; that he wanted to. We hardly talked, he and I. Because we were so much alike, though different in our opinions, every conversation was an argument. But how I learned from those arguments. Time would have mellowed my youthful arrogance, but my father took that time away from me.
I was never aware of loving my father. And now, I am aware of nothing else. That big bear of a man with the twinkling eyes that mocked the world around him. I wish I knew what made him so unhappy; I wish I knew him; I wish I had the wisdom then that I have now. I wish my father hadn’t left so soon.