Saturday, June 18, 2011

Memories of my father.....Buddy

Another Father's Day rolls around and my dad has been gone for three years...although his heart disease robbed him from me far earlier and more cruelly.  Senile dementia, a cold clinical term for a cruel disease.

"It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was." - Anne Sexton

Most of my life, I felt cherished and adored by my Daddy.  It was always a favorite story to hear my mom tell of my adoption into their lives.  They tried and tried for a baby and it just didn't happen.  Then some of Dad's cronies, a lawyer and a pediatrician, got together and guess what, I found a new home.  Funny birth certificate, you can see where they crossed out the birth mother's name and typed my mom's name over the her name.  I don't have the original, just a microfiche xerox copy.  Things were done differently in 1957.  I was "supposed to be a boy" and I wasn't due until December.  Mom and Dad went out and bought a lot of clothes and fixed up the nursery early.   Good thing, because I arrived in October and turned out to be a girl.  I spent 6 weeks in Mound Park hospital.  I came home wearing a sailor suit that Dad had purchased for his "son."  My mom would tell me the story of him cradling me in his arms in that white suit and the horror on his face when he realized his little girl had soiled his arms.

Daddy had a fascinating life and he would tell me wonderful stories of his young life in St. Petersburg.  His family moved here from Maine very early in his life.  He would graduate from St. Petersburg High School and he always considered St. Pete to be his home.   His mom lived out on John's Pass on the beaches and I still have his letters written to her as a private in the army.   Amazing to think her name and John's Pass Florida was a sufficient enough address for his letters to get to her.  She kept them all.  I have read them and it is a fascinating look at his life through his words.  His words were redacted by censors in some of them, particularly the ones written in his POW months.   I can hear his longing for home and creature comforts, candy and cigarettes, first and foremost.  He was so young and so rebellious. Candy for the boy he longed to be and cigarettes for the man he was becoming before his time.  I have no doubt he became a haunted man in those years away.  He came home gravely ill.  His mom nursed him back to health.  His experiences in POW camp were a constant shadow of pain underneath his jovial flamboyant exterior.  Daddy dressed and lived the life of a bon vivant, hiding his self doubts behind the trappings of a wealthy man.  I often thought of him as a combination of Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Dean Martin.  He was a sharp dressed man long before and long after it was the style.

We moved a lot when I was young and I can scarcely recall our various homes.  I do have vivid memories of one home on Treasure Island and the other house on the Gulf (his mom's?).  The long stretch of seawall, the pebble backyard and the screened porch with the redwood picnic table.  The shiny slippery terazzo floors and the teal colored kidney shaped bar in the living room.  I can remember sitting on his lap and sharing a bowl of his famous "hangover" cure, watching the waves of the salt water lap against the boat.  Of course, I never knew what ailment Daddy would be suffering from, I was just happy to be sitting on his lap, sharing a spoonful of buttery warm milk toast.  My older sister tells the tale of that summer and how I learned to swim before I could walk.  Out on the boat, Daddy climbed overboard with me cradled in his arms and I started to kick and swim and he let me go in the Gulf.  Mom was ready to kill him for that stunt.  Sherry, my older sister, also remembers all too well the day she was supposed to be watching me and I got hurt. Poor dear, paid for it later with a beating from dad, I'm afraid and it wasn't her fault, but mine.  I was not much more than three and a neighbor boy was jumping from the seawall into the water and then swimming to the dock and he would do it over again.  I decided I should do the same, afterall, I was a swimmer now.   Bad idea.  I fell backwards when I jumped and slammed my head on the concrete wall.   Sherry put me in her bicycle basket and rode her bike home crying and hollering like a wild woman.  I can still remember Daddy again cradling me in his arms and bursting into the ER with those hideous mint green walls.  I can see his face tight with worry and his words of comfort.   Daddy, I love you and I'm wishing you a Happy Father's day.  Thank you for all the love through all those years.  Thank you for the gift of memories shared.  Love you, always.

Daddy's Milk Toast aka Hangover cure
2 thick slices of homemade white bread toasted
salt and pepper
hot milk, just to the scalding point, not boiled/whole milk, no skim

Toast the bread medium dark.
Butter very well.
Tear into chunks.
Sprinkle with lots of black pepper and enough salt to make you happy.
Pour over hot milk.  Soak a minute or two.
Grab a big old soup spoon and eat.
You want to see little dots of butter floating in the milk, then you know you have it just right.
“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard (1903-1985)

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