My Father

(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.

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It's a drab day and sadness prevails

I think it’s the isolation that is getting to us. Even tho I am out of the house 5 mornings a week I still feel lonely and isolated. Even tho George is the least social of people I believe he is feeling it too – when he worked in an office (instead of the basement) he could interact with people if he so chose – he didn’t very often but he could.

I was never a Christmas person but George was always happy to see it come – not this year. Center City is a walk and train ride away, really doesn’t take all that long to get there but it is an effort we can’t seem to make. This year I sent a check to charity because we were not all over the place putting lots of money in the Salvation Army kettles. Philadelphia is surrounded by suburban malls and we just don’t see any reason to rent a car and go to one – not having a car here is a bit confining. When we lived in Alexandria we didn’t use the car much but we could easily hop into Old Town or down the road to one mall or another when the mood struck us. I think if truth be told, we both regret this move.

Last year we were invited to a friend’s house for Christmas and what a delight that was. Sharon decorates her house so amazingly. You should see her tree – OMG – it looks like a team of professionals did it instead of one tiny little lady. Her home is a holiday winter wonderland – Amazing. And she does it all herself. Blows me away. I’m missing that – all my friends. (Give me a moment here I’m tearing up).

Christmas when I was a kid was always horrific – the mother saw to that. So I’m not a Christmas person but I have always enjoyed giving gifts – that’s fun. Getting them is fun too, of course. I mailed or had sent, gifts to my friends, not getting any in return, so what, but still…Not getting anything from George because, well, there is nothing I need or want and there are no little goofy shops around here, or if there we haven’t found them yet, so no little goofy presents. George is getting clothes and another thing or two…I think he would curl up in a little ball and cry if he didn’t get a least a present or two, even if they are clothes.

This place is never going to be anything close to home –

I got this message from the Universe this morning:

Oh, yes indeed, Grace, another holiday season is upon you, and so it is here, so I bet you’re wondering what I’d like as a present. Right?!

Well, since there’s already peace on earth (for those who look), since there’s already goodwill toward all (mine and yours for starters), and because Grace is already in the world (took long enough), how about, if I may ask, we talk a little more often? You lean on me a bit more? You expect a few more miracles? And we never stop to look back?

Is that asking too much?

I’m there anyway,
The Universe

I need a miracle

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Are you the teacher?

This is the question I get at the senior center where I volunteer. For some reason I have a problem saying yes. I respond by saying I am the new volunteer to help them with any questions they have about computers. But yes, I am teaching and they are so happy to be learning. I qualify for membership at the center (I am 62) yet I see myself myself as so much younger. These charming folks are in their 70’s and 80’s. I feel it is disrespectful to their years and experience to call myself their teacher.

If you think technology has taken over our lives and we need to cut back, think again. There is a very elderly gentleman that comes into the computer room every day. He says nothing to anyone and does not respond when spoken to. He turns on a computer and surfs the net – he has a little notebook with the urls for various web sites. Last week he seemed to be having a problem and moved to another computer. I walked over and asked him if he needed any help. He looked at me quizzically and then shouted “I can’t hear” and pointed to his ears in which he had hearing aids. Ah, I thought that’s why he never interacts with anyone. “Write it down” he shouted. So we communicated by notes and I got him up and running on another computer and also showed him how to shut off the computer properly. On his way out he said “These computers are wonderful. It’s opened a whole new world for me”. Is that not a total “wow” moment? This gentleman is easily in his 80’s and here he is learning something new, something so many of us take totally for granted. I’ve been working with computers for close to 40 years. I take them for granted. For this gentleman, and for so many of the people I work with at the center, computers and the internet are opening up the world for them. I am just blown away by these folks. I love talking with them and helping them. Teaching? I don’t know. Maybe we are just sharing.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a teacher. I played teacher; I day dreamed about being a teacher. I don’t know why. I don’t know what the fascination was. Several years ago there was a big upheaval in my life and I wailed that everyone got what they wanted, with my guidance and insight, and I got none of what I wanted. I was told “Maybe that is your place in life – to teach”. Nice thought, I suppose, but not when I was looking down a dark tunnel with no light in sight.

I still don’t think of myself as a teacher – of anything. I have always said there was no point in gaining knowledge if you don’t share it. I like to think of myself as a “sharer” not a teacher. I love learning new stuff – really, it gives me the giggles when I learn something new. Sometimes I’m proud of myself for mastering a new skill and sometimes it’s just the joy of new knowledge and new understanding. What a high when everything comes together and connections are made. Makes me dance.

Am I the teacher? Is that my assignment in this life? I know so little, how can I be a teacher? I am the sharer – I like that. I can relate to that. Whether it is computers, or something metaphysical – I share what I have learned; what I know. One of the seniors said “You have so much patience” Me? Yes, I guess so. It’s something I’ve learned, trust me, no one ever said that before.

Maybe my life had been about that then – I learned patience and now I can share what I have learned. It brings me great pleasure and seems to be helpful to others. A win-win situation. Guess I just have to trust the Universe to guide me. I wonder what other gifts the Universe has for me?

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