One of the earliest memories of my father involves his motorcycle. I remember it was a Honda, and it was orange. As a young kid of 5 or 6, I would meet my Dad after work in the parking lot of Plymouth Park Apartments where we lived in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. He’d put me on the back of the motorcycle and we’d ride the final 100 yards of his commute to the patio where he kept the bike. He didn’t put a helmet on me, either. This was the early 1970s, when America didn’t have it’s politically correct panties in a twist.
Years later, my Dad would tell a story about how he and his motorcycle parted ways. With my Dad’s permission, a friend of his took the motorcycle for a spin. After a while, he wondered why his friend hadn’t returned… until a stranger came around asking if anyone knew someone with an orange Honda motorcycle. My Dad’s friend had wrecked the bike about a mile after taking his ride.
A great source for stories lies in grandparents, and my Dad’s Mom had a few I remember.
Tagging along with Dad to the store, I recall several occasions of him asking which colored pattern on the paper towels matched the paint in the kitchen. Whenever we went to Atlantic City, Dad always asked one of us kids which color was lit up at the first horizontally-mounted traffic light. I wondered why my Dad asked these questions. Was he testing us? Was it some kind of life lesson? It wasn’t until my grandmother told me a story that I found out why my Dad quizzed us on such trivial things.
When my Dad was a kid, his mother helped him build a scooter, which my grandmother called a “skate box.” When they were finished, she asked my Dad what color he wished to paint the skate box. Dad wanted to paint it green, the same color as Billy’s (from across the street). When my grandmother saw that Billy’s skate box was red, a small argument broke out. “Mom, it’s green!” “Goddammit, Jackie, that’s red!” It was at that time my grandparents found out my Dad was color blind with a red-green deficiency.
I’m not sure if his color blindness was discovered before or after his back surgery. I also can’t tell you if the issue was caused by an injury or not, but when my Dad was young, his back required surgery to repair a problem with his spine. The surgeons had to take a shaving from the shin bone in his leg and put it in his back. He spent many months convalescing in bed, which my grandparents moved downstairs since he couldn’t walk up steps.
My Dad’s back surgery was obviously a success, because I don’t remember his back ever giving him any serious troubles later in life. For a big man, he was pretty active. He often went fishing or hunting, and loved to play golf on the weekends. I remember several times Dad was gone for a while on golf vacations in Myrtle Beach with his friends.
We did family vacations, too. I was 11 years old when we all made the drive from Norristown, Pennsylvania (where we lived at the time) to Indianapolis, Indiana to see the 61st running of the 500-mile race in 1977.
A week or so before the trip, my Dad asked who I thought might win the race. Being 11, I didn’t know many race car drivers. The only driver I really knew of was A.J. Foyt. Foyt likely wasn’t favored to win the 500. He was a 42 year old, three-time Indy winner at the time, and the chances of winning a 4th Indy were probably pretty slim. But A.J. Foyt did win, and my Dad was amazed that I was able to pick the winner before the trip.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, the popular vacation spot was the Pocono Mountains. It probably still is today. I remember a particular trip our family of five plus my paternal grandparents took to Twin Lakes near Shohola in the Poconos. We stayed in a large cabin a couple hundred feet from the water. I remember a couple things from this trip.
My Dad and Grandfather were out on the deck, enjoying some cold beers… and breaking wind like men often do. To any kid younger than 40, farts are funny. But things got a lot funnier when my grandfather released a barking spider, and from inside the cabin my grandmother says, “Doesn’t that sound beautiful?” Everyone on the deck broke out in laughter. She obviously didn’t hear my grandfather’s flatus, and was referring to the sounds of all the birds in the woods. The timing was perfect.
The other memory from that vacation was only fun to my elders. My Dad gathered me and my brothers, gave us a flashlight and a paper grocery bag, and proceeded to tell us how to catch a rare bird that only came out at night. Excited, we headed into the woods where one of us took the flashlight and started running through the trees in order to scare the snipe towards the others with the paper bag. After a couple of disappointing hours, we gave up and returned to the cabin. I don’t remember if my Dad told us that hunting snipe was a practical joke, but at least I have that memory and can laugh about it today.
These are just a few of my memories. I often remember a story when thinking of my Dad… there’s always another story…