Dad’s 111th birthday quietly took place a few weeks ago! Get to know him through some stories based on my memories, what my grandmother told me and what he’d admit, always with a sly smile:
Joseph grew up on a farm, one of six kids—poor but cherished by their parents and always fun-loving. My grandmother told me this story: One evening, she sent Dad out with a pan of hot potatoes for the pigs; she cautioned him to let the potatoes cool first. Being impatient to get on with having fun, Dad immediately emptied the bucket in the trough and turned to go back. He didn’t get very far; the pigs, with burning hot snouts and in a pack chased Dad across the yard. He said he never knew pigs could run that fast!
Dad fondly remembered how his dad and mom used to sing together; he said they had beautiful voices and there was always music and a little dancing, too. When his father died at 42, his mother never sang again. He said it was one of the saddest times in their lives.
Our dad loved his mother so very much. I clearly remember the night he and Mom raced out the driveway after getting the dreaded phone call—I was 11 years old. Hours later, as Dad slowly walked across the upstairs hall, I sat up in bed:
He came in and sat on my bed, held me tight and sobbed his heart out. It was my turn to comfort him as I patted his back.
Joseph was a hard-working man blessed with mechanical skills. He worked long hours as an automobile mechanic. He taught us kids that an automobile was an investment and had to be cared for. During his career, he was referred to as one of the best in the county. He could put his ear to an engine, listen and know what was wrong. Of course, engines were not as sophisticated as they are today and problem-solving technology wasn’t available.
Remember when I was learning how to drive and sailed right through the garage doors? I never hit the brakes! I ran into the house and shut myself in my room—I couldn’t face my father. What did this “ornery” man say when he knocked on my door?
“C’mon on, honey, you have to get back in the car and drive; if you don’t, you will never want to drive again.”
When my cousin, Tony, got married, the reception was held in Carol’s tiny apartment. We were packed in like sardines and could hardly move, one of the best wedding receptions ever. Someone called out: “Hey, look out the window at Uncle Joe!” There was Dad, wearing a hard hat, on the sidewalk with the Con Edison crew using the jackhammer and grinning like a kid. Yep, the fun-loving free spirit!
There was never any doubt that Dad’s family came first. He was a tough disciplinarian, impatient and frequently said “no” to a request from us. Mom usually succeeded as mediator and convinced Dad to be a bit more lenient. There was a soft side to him, however: In later years he was my strongest ally as I went through my divorce. He never said much but when he spoke, it was good old-fashioned common sense and we listened.
A few months after Dad passed away, my mother gave me a small black velvet box. In it was my grandmother’s wedding ring.
“I know Daddy would want you to have this.”
Hope you had a great birthday, Dad. Did you dance on chairs? Did you whirl around the dance floor with Mom? Did you clap your hands and sing? Did you shout out your favorite opening line: “You, I like!?”
You, we love and miss.
Ruthann can be reached at email@example.com.