Dad 


Barry Carver

 
© Copyright 2016 by Barry Carver

 

Photo of Barry and his dad.

I've been writing quite a long while, but I find I'm just not interested in beating my own drum to sell an article here or get votes on some site there.  I just want to write things that mean something to me and see if they're worth anything to anyone else as well.  So I really appreciate this opportunity and all the work involved in doing such a thing.  Anyway, here's the story.  Let's see what you folks think:

My Dad finished his dayís work at Fordís Livonia Transmission Assembly Plant, hopped into the family station wagon and made the drive from that Detroit suburb to the more distant one we then called home.
 
My Mom had gotten the five of us still at home, of six kids total, to finally head off to bed.  She turned on one of the silver, built-in, two bay electric ovens and chose from the freezer my Fatherís evening meal.  It mustíve been about just after 11pm.
 
Itís strange the things you think growing up.  Dadís evening meal would consist of either a potpie or a Swansonís TV dinner.  The fridge always had a stock of those foil-encased delicacies and we kids thought it quite the treat when we got the same thing for dinner that Dad would get when he came home.
 
These days I think Iíd be hard pressed to get down much of those original recipes but back then, I kid you not, they were the most wonderful assortment of exotic foods we could imagine.  Even just the fried chicken was nothing like Momsí Ė with parts of the chicken in there that weíd never seen before!  But there was a special joy in peeling back that slightly toxic bit of thick aluminum foil to find a whole dinner squeezed inside.  No passing the plates or arguments over who got the last piece of whatever.  Just a compartmentalized tray with everything you need, including a dessert.  A combination that could never be rightly predicted, even though it had been pictured on the box.  From the moment those space-age foil packets went into the oven, not to mention that the needed to be rotated halfway through, all bets were off on which one was turkey or Salisbury steak or chicken.  And I donít think a blind taste-test would have helped much because, of course, we couldnít wait to get at them and the contents always seemed hover a few degrees shy of the surface of the sun.  The scalding was just part of the adventure.
 
After his heart attack, Dad was no longer allowed to have salt so, the vile tasting Ďsalt substituteí was placed next to the pepper on one of those small metal trays whose legs scissored to provide a top-heavy support.  The tray-table stood just in front of Ďhis chairí.  Wide arms and well worn, it came complete with a floor lamp beside it, into which was built an ashtray Ė always at the ready.

The heart attack had also convinced him to cut down on the smokes.  He did however carry a pipe. A short corncob affair that rested in a holster that hung from his belt.  Why a corncob pipe?  Beats me.  It may have been that they were simply the least expensive or it may have been that they somehow reminded him of his roots (Born in Aledo, Illinois, in 1920, both economy and corn could have been comfort factors for this then 48 year old).

 
The only picture I have of the two of us together is a Christmas shot, taken as he was trying to get me to pose or to sing when I had just turned two.  Itís a funny old picture but itís the one thatís left to me... so I treasure it.  The simple workman pictured in it, sitting cross-legged on the floor with one of his boys, did have something more than youíd ever guess.

He had, all through his school life, army career and tenure as husband and father, a gift for music.  As incongruous as it may sound... this grease monkey could play any instrument that fell into his hands.  In his teens, knocking about after graduating the eight grade (as far as he ever went) his mother told me he had quite a following as guitarist and singer in a band.  That doesnít quite jibe with everything I remember about a sometimes strict, sometimes working too hard to be available father... but itís not inconceivable.

 
There is a flash of a picture in my memory looking at him as he pumped a harmonica back and forth like a man possessed.  Another flash of him trying to tune an old guitar whose face had warped Ė which I think one of my brothers snatched from a curb just before the weekly garbage pick up.  Then I have a real memory of what mustíve been hours of him trying to teach me to play the ukulele (as a precursor to a guitar no doubt).  I remember him calling me into the kitchen one afternoon to perform a song for a neighbor or friend.  I canít quite recall it but I believe it was well received.  I mustíve been about seven.  I may still have, somewhere in my mind, the fingerings for a chord or two rummaging around in my head but. . . I just cannot hear the music.

On that typical night I started this with, Dad arrived and sat down to his dinner.  He chuckled a bit at Carson, who was just finishing his monologue.  Perched in his hard-earned throne, he was wearing the dark green work pants and plaid shirt that my Mother laid out for him that morning.  Just after midnight, Mom cleared away the simple dish and went to rinse his cup and fork.  Dad, feeling, Iím sure, very well cared for, chose this night to enjoy a Lucky Strike after his meal.  It was rare these days, but not unheard of.
 
As she hung up the dishtowel and looked into the living room, she saw him shake his hand... twice, as if it had fallen asleep.  Then the cigarette fell from it and he exhaled Ė for the last time.
 
There were no paramedics yet, no 9-1-1, none of the drugs and machines that save a hundred lives a minute these days.  By the time she reached him she knew that their twenty-four and half year marriage had ended in the only way either one of them could ever conceive of it doing so.  Twenty-six years later, she joined him... and he was still the only man she ever loved.
 
Although I did try at each of them, I never learned to play an instrument; not the trumpet; the guitar; the harmonica, or even the ukulele.  For that I beg his pardon (and yours).  I think of the joy he absentmindedly tossed into the laps of others Ė with a talent he couldnít have even wished for and I am sorry that I have never been able to do the same.
 
But, though the tune may wander and the notes are somewhat out of align, I do play the instrument that he gave me and I hope you can imagine the song.

Some dates may be off and I may be seeing a few of the facts through a lens, which was a long time in making, but I have tried to tell this story many times.  Please bear with me, as I may never be able to do it well.
  I'd be happy to get any sort of feedback.

April 16, 1969

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