RUNNING TO CATCH UP: A Fathers’ Day Tribute

8 Jun

RUNNING TO CATCH UP

Louise Annarino

May 29, 2012

 

My first memories of my father are the most precious, foreshadowing our life-long relationship. My five feet four inch giant, happy-go-lucky father would scoop me up with both arms, lift me high with legs dangling, then tuck me into the crook of his right arm, both of us chuckling madly at our good fortune. I was just learning to toddle and could not keep up with my parents and three year old brother whose hand Mom kept in a firm grasp. As I got a older, it was Dad who held my hand, as Mom gripped the hands of both my older and younger brothers. They seemed a world apart from me and Dad. While Mom was intent on teaching the boys to walk like little gentlemen at her side, Dad and I were off on a merry jaunt.

 

While Dad loped along with an easy gait, my short legs scissored so fast to keep the pace I would trip. Up I went into Dad’s arms. He never slowed down, nor stopped grinning at me as if we held some grand secret, even as Mom chided him to slow down and let me walk! I can still see his discomfort trying to arrange the frilly dress and crinolines layered over his arm, while Mom rolled her eyes at him. He loved to make Mom roll her eyes. He would reward her with a kiss and a laugh.

 

Dad’s cousins had warned her before they married “Angelo is ornery.” Mom liked ornery. We all liked ornery. Dad worked long hours with his brothers John, Joe, and Frank and cousin Johnny “Dayton” running an Italian-American restaurant. Every other week, it was his turn to be home between 5 and 7 pm before returning to stay later to close. That meant we could have our supper all together.  We would fight over who got to sit next to Dad. Mom joked, only because she knew we could never afford a new one,she would soon buy a table with a hole in the center for Dad to sit in so we would each be near him. 

 

Dad could draw the best cartoons and funny pictures, but he could not spell worth a darn. His notes to school would read, “please excuse Lousie from class as she had a sure throat and we had to keep her home.” “Lousie? Dad, you called me lousie! Sure throat?” I would protest. “Sister knows who you are,”answered Dad. “Don’t worry. Nobody’s perfect. It will give her a good laugh! She needs one.” She did. Most teaching sisters did need a good laugh. Most Moms, too. Dad kept them all laughing. 

 

Mom could never threaten us with “Wait ‘til your Dad gets home.” Dad usually thought our daily shenanigans great fun. He would try very hard to keep a straight face as he berated us for some activity my Mother thought out of bounds. Then he would relate some of the trouble he got himself into as a kid, “one-upping” us every time.No one held their breath over Dad’s discipline. 

 

It was Mom who chased us through the house with a wooden spoon to smack our behinds. She could not run very fast, she seldom got close enough to connect spoon to backside. Her aim was awful, too! Faking her frustration at her failure to get us, she would crack that spoon over the telephone bench so hard it broke in half. “Next time,” she would threaten, “when I buy a stronger spoon!” It took years, and many broken spoons, to realize Mom had had no intention of catching us.

 

The only time silence and tears welled up in us over Dad’s discipline style was when he took off his belt and ordered my older brother into the bathroom for a whipping, with Mom’s full support. I remember sitting at the table, looking at the faces of my younger brothers, our eyes open wide in fear, as the sound of the belt connecting was followed by Angelo,Jr.‘s tearful screams. As both Angelos rejoined a now solemn group of children at the table, my brother would be wiping the moisture from his face, his and dad’s eyes downcast, faces blushed in humiliation. We were the best-behaved kids on the block for at least the next twenty-four hours, an eternity to us. 

 

It was not until one Thanksgiving at that same table, thirty years later that we learned the dirty little secret about Dad and Angelo. Taking his tight belt off so he could eat a second helping of Mom’s lasagna (yes,we had turkey and lasagna),we started a discussion about other instances where Dad had to take off his belt. The Angelos finally confessed that Dad would hit the clothes hamper with his belt instructing Angelo to fake screams. Before leaving the bathroom, Angelo would splash water on his face to create false tears. Both kept their eyes downcast when they rejoined the table to stop the laughter they each held back, blushing with the effort. All those years we had wondered why only Angelo ever got the belt.

 

Mrs. Rowe lived on the huge lot behind us which stretched from the side street all the way to the alley. Neighborhood kids played baseball there until she called “Kreager”, the truant officer, to report our trespassing. Kreager would tell Dad, stopping in for a drink at the restaurant before he headed down to the south-end to clear us out, so Mom could get everyone out of Mrs. Rowe’s yard before Kreager showed up. This seemed to make everyone happy for the moment and no one had to worry about going to juvenile hall for playing baseball in Mrs. Rowe’s yard. I once hid in the bushes along the alley edging her property and overheard Mrs. Rowe chastise him for being so slow in responding to her calls. She desperately wanted him to catch the “juvenile delinquents” in the act. Kreager answered her that she should be glad we wanted to play in her yard. Our poor neighborhood had no playgrounds, no place for kids to be kids. She should “do her part” and let us have a place to play so we did “not become juvenile delinquents,” he told her. In such overheard conversations are great truths revealed to children.

 

Mrs. Rowe had an ancient and fertile apple tree in her yard, just over the wall between us but not within reach of our short arms. The tree produced sweet,firm yellow-green apples on limbs far above our heads. The ground apples were fine for Mom to make applesauce, but not for eating. We stood slightly out from under the tree hurling the fallen apples, knocking the good apples to the ground where we would gather them up. Mrs. Rowe was no happier with chucking apple-pickers than with ball players. She informed us “I don’t want you kids in my yard knocking apples out of the tree. You can have any apple you find on the ground, but do not stand in my yard and throw apples at the tree.” This was no bother for Mom but left us dissatisfied until we got the bright idea to use the clothes-line pole to extend our reach. 

 

We still had to find a way to reach those apples without standing in Mrs. Rowe’s yard, focusing on the stand in my yard part of her reproach. So, I stood on our wall and swung the pole out toward the tree, while my brothers waited below. Swinging the pole didn’t knock down a single apple but invariably knocked me off the wall. We gave up. The boys went off to play near the railroad tracks. 

 

I went inside surprised to find Dad asleep in his chair on a rare afternoon break, while Mom fixed dinner. I awoke Dad and asked for his help outside. He came without question, still half-asleep. I placed him on the wall and handed him the pole, instructing him to start swinging the pole at the apple tree as soon as I climbed over the wall into Mrs. Rowe’s yard. I forgot to tell him about listening for the squeaky door hinge which would tip him off that Mrs. Rowe was about to discover us. That loud hinge gave me just enough time to hide in the bushes. Thus, when Mrs. Rowe came around the corner off her porch all she found was Dad, standing on the wall, swinging the laundry pole, apples flying out of her tree. “Mr. Annarino! No wonder your children are such delinquents. Shame on you.”

 

I waited until Mom called us all in for dinner, expecting a stern lecture or worse from Dad. Instead, as soon as he saw me Dad started laughing out loud asking, “Where on earth did you get to so fast? How did you know to run?” He thought it one of my best pranks, ever.  But, he admonished, it was one we could never repeat. With Dad,everything that happened in life was a cause for joy; and,learning life’s lessons was always fun.

 

Dad, Mom, Mr.Kreager, Mrs. Rowe – each of them so far ahead of us, with so much to teach us simply by being themselves. Each of them loving us and expecting us to grow into respectful and respected adults. But, it is Dad’s lessons and laughter I hold dearest. His ability to see the absurdity of rules, his ability to avoid the ordinariness of daily living by adding his own creative spark, his willingness to risk the haughty stares of others for a bit of good fun made every day a delight for us. We had no wealth, but we ate well. We never took vacations, but were always on vacation from disquiet and poverty. We worked hard within the harsh reality of the working poor, but we laughed harder than the seriously wealthy. Dad was a man on the go his entire life. He has been gone over 12 years. I am still running to catch up.

 

Happy Fathers’ Day from a daddy’s girl.

 

 

 

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One Response to “RUNNING TO CATCH UP: A Fathers’ Day Tribute”

  1. Anne Weideman June 19, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    Louise, this is a beautiful and delightful recounting of your father. Your stories are insightful and a pleasure to read. Your dad was truly “a great guy”…thanks for sharing your memories of him!

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