Thanks to everyone for their kind words and condolences regarding the passing of my Dad last week. It’s been a rough week, and things are finally settling down, and I’m just beginning to grasp the enormity of the hole that has been left behind.
My Dad, though, was unique. There was no you could spend any amount of time with my Dad without smiling if not laughing. He always had a sparkle in his eye, and it was through that sparkle that he viewed his own unique take on the world. He was always good company, and his gift was in making people feel better. This gift continues on even after his death, in the memories of the times we shared and the stories he told. Even in the sadness of my mourning, a smile inevitably forms on my face. I think it is because he was such a powerful life force that death seems weak by comparison.
My Dad was a great storyteller, and I know that I could never do any of his stories justice, and I know that I will undoubtedly get a lot of the facts and dates and details wrong, but what the Hell. This is a story he told a few times, as late as a few weeks ago, and it remains one of my favorites.
In 1947 (? Or 1946?), after he returned home from the Army, on a bright summer afternoon my Dad stopped into an empty bar in Ladysmith for a drink. As he walked up to the bar, the bartender said, “Oh, no you don’t. You get your ass out of here”
“But I just got home from the Army,” my Dad protested.
“I know exactly who the Hell you are, now get the Hell out of here!”
“But … “
“I mean it, you get the Hell out of here”
At this point the story flashes back to the summer of 1944, my Dad having just turned 18 and enlisted in the army. He got on with a busload of other recruits from Northwestern Wisconsin, most of who were unknown to each other. They were on their way to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where they would receive their basic training. 1944 was years before the modern interstate system, plus the fact that, at least as I imagine it, the bus had to stop several times to pick up additional recruits, made what today would be approximately a seven hour ride an overnight excursion that included a stay over in a Milwaukee hotel.
Somewhere, north of Madison, as the bus made one of its scheduled stops, my Dad had the initiative and enough spare bucks in his wallet to spring for a case of beer. Never being one who had any trouble making new friends, my Dad and his fellow recruits enjoyed the beer and the ride enough that by the time they made it to Milwaukee, they were old friends – old friends locked together in a Hotel in the big city the night before their induction into the Army. What had started on the bus remained to be finished.
Later that night, as my Dad sat, as he described it, innocently and quietly in his room on the third or fourth floor of the hotel in downtown Milwaukee, a bunch of these new friends broke into his room and promptly took all of the furniture in it, bed, chairs, desk, whatever they could find, and threw it out his window. My Dad, as with most of his stories, tried to convince us that he was the unwitting victim, that he had no idea why these guys singled him out. We remain unconvinced.
As did the bartender who threw my Dad out of his bar three years later. He knew exactly who my Dad was, as it turns out he was on the bus and had been put in charge of controlling the new recruits on their way down to induction. He, of course, blamed my Dad for the mayhem that resulted in a bus load of drunken recruits and the rock star like devastation (this was at least 20 years before Keith Moon and company) of at least one Hotel room. No matter how much my Dad feigned ignorance and innocence, the bartender wasn’t having any of it. And I’m sure that the bartender suspected, as do I, that my Dad knew exactly whose bar he was walking into on that summer afternoon.
That’s it – I’m afraid the story isn’t the same without my Dad’s voice telling it. But those who knew my Dad and his mastery of mischief can hear his voice and see him scratching the side of his bald head and staring off into the distance and pausing for effect before delivering one of his trademark punch lines. And like me, if you knew him, you are undoubtedly smiling, in spite of yourself.
Thanks, Dad, for all the joy and laughter you have given over the years. More than anything else thanks for the smiles that will endure the tears and persevere for as long as your stories are told.