Advice shared by my father –
Live as close to your work as possible
Never go to bed angry at anybody
Think pleasant thoughts
Grow vegetables & flowers
Look up at the night sky
Stand at the shore & think about who & what are on the other shore
Doubt what leaders, including preachers, say – look at what they do
Reading history is a better use of time than reading novels
I think of his holding me under the night sky to watch a satellite pass by, helping me plant my first cherry tomatoes, carving me a letter opener & other gentle moments.
My dear Dad died in the mid- 1970s. He arrived in the world the same year that the brothers Orville & Wilbur flew into history at Kitty Hawk, 1903. If you are low on your U.S. history time line of obscure cultural details & who isn’t – this was also the same year that this limerick, which he never ceased to delight in reciting, is thought to have reached a vogue (WHAT HAPPENED WHEN/Gorton Carruth) –
There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket
But his daughter named Nan
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket – Nantucket!
After salt-water fishing & intensive vegetable & flower gardening, including his prize-winning gladiolas, beloved pastimes of my dear Dad included reading non-fiction accounts of history, especially the ancient wars, the religions & cultures. He held a lifelong fascination with the Ethiopian emperor Haile Salassie.
His job as “Sarge” in the segregated military led him away from his racial prejudices. He said many times as I grew up, “The black recruits worked 10 times harder than the white boys & if I had to go off to war & I could choose, I would choose black soldiers first.”
Few people active in my life today knew him. And fewer still can spin me a yarn about him from the good ol’ days. But just in time for the sweet/bittersweet sequential slew of holidays that help me conjure up good memories of him
His June birthday
on a sunny day in mid-May just a few weeks back, I opened our big black postal mailbox to find a cheerful yellow envelop with a card inside –
“Have I told you how very much I liked your Dad? He was so supportive after my Dad died. ….Once he took me with him to help set up fireworks in Princeton for the 4th of July….” The story kindly shared about this adventure is likely from the 1940s, well before I was born & involves my dear Dad & the locally famous Iorio Family with whom my father was pals. This surprise gift of a fun memory keeps me humming in what is now Florida’s Good Ol’ Summertime. I expect to pull the card out at bedside years hence, when I am in my 90s & reread (or, have it read to me…) when I want a moment of cheer.
Dad lamented that he was too young to go to fight in World War I & too old to fight in WW II. But he wasn’t too old to shake a metal bed frame at 4 .a.m. in barracks at Fort Dix. N.J. (Camp Dix in 1917, near Wrightstown & almost named Camp 13) to cheerily greet raw recruits
Get off your a * * & on your feet
Your mama’s gone & I ain’t sweet
He relished the call-and-response drill, which, among other rich history or origin, has the story/legend of Private Willie Duckworth & his cadence, a marching sing-song famously associated in military folklore with a soldier marching in segregated drill on Long Island at Fort Slocum. I hasten to add that Private Duckworth’s clean lyrics didn’t remain that way as they spread through the service branches.
As a kid Dad marched me, to my delight, with safe rhymes for child ears & I always remember the close –
Sound off! one two
Sound off! three four
Sound off, one two three four
one two three four!
At times in my drill of writing, if I am finished with a piece & able to write THE END, I also silently repeat the Sound off close. Won’t mean anything to you, but remembering that is a mighty fine shiver.
As a decommissioned Army warrant officer, Dad, who, was also a frequently lauded community blood donor, became a leader in the American Legion. In my rural child days at Quakertown N.J.’s cozy Fourth of July parades & then in longer patriotic tributes in the county seat, Flemington, N.J., I delighted in seeing him in military uniform. He marched beside the flag honor guard at the head of our holiday parades. It was on the sidelines of these parades where I learned to stand up & put hand over heart as the ruffle of drums approached, with the grand U.S. Flag, next marching by.
In the way children figure things, in my mind the entire parade was my father’s parade, because after all, he was the Leader. And with both my mother and father involved to various extents in local weekly newspapers, I was raised to understand that our patriotism celebrated not only the military victory in WWII, but it also included a fierce pride about the First Amendment.
Recently I learned that the Legion grounds, plus the building he helped to have constructed, as commander of his post, had been valued for the American Legion at $2..2 million in Flemington, N.J.