My father was a pretty cool guy. Not that I knew him very long. He died before I started school. But I do actually remember him. I remember him up on a ladder one summer day, painting our house. I remember him planting geraniums around the base of our flag pole. I remember him giving four year old me a glass of Narragansett Beer and a lit Camel cigarette just for the fun of seeing my mother shrieking and chasing after me! (I seem to recall it having something to do with getting her to shut off that “damned vacuum cleaner” so he could enjoy a cold beer after being out in the sun cutting the grass.) I remember squirting him with the hose one morning as he headed off to work in his fresh pressed uniform (not pressed by my mother – she would not be trusted for that – everything went to “the Chinaman” on Broad Street – the only person my father trusted to handle it). As he walked to work in order to let us have the use of the car, he decided to let the sun dry him off – rather than ever get mad at me, his sweet baby girl. I remember him taking me for walks to the Maciel’s Pharmacy which had a long soda fountain and a long candy counter. I do not recall what I got at the soda fountain. But every day I would spend a very long time studying every item in the candy counter before I picked, every day, a vanilla Bonomo taffy bar. I remember going to work with him and riding around all day on the bus. I remember the last time I saw him. He had a severe headache so he walked himself to Rhode Island Hospital – all the way from the Reservoir Triangle. My sister and I were not old enough to visit him in his room so he came out to see us in a waiting room before he went to surgery for a brain aneurism. I remember the striped pajamas he was wearing – from home, no hospital gowns for a man who had all his suits and shirts made at Briggs, Ltd. My father did not even wear his bus driver’s uniform from off the rack. Seriously, my father had the only UTC (pre RIPTA) bus driver’s uniform custom made by Briggs. I remember trying to keep my bratty, little sister from pulling a plant out of a pot, so we wouldn’t get kicked out, when all I wanted was to be cuddling with Daddy. I remember he was laughing. And I remember when he died. I was playing in my godmother’s cellar and she came down and offered me a lollipop. I can see the lollipop. It had one of those curved sticks and not straight. And I remember throwing it on the floor and screaming. Because I knew the only reason anyone was giving me candy. It was Christmas Eve.
Daddy was what you would have called a man’s man. Playing poker over at the old Narragansett Race Track, fedora on, cigar in mouth. (Not sure those games were legal…) Strolling down in the evening to the old Pontiac Tap – world’s longest Penny Bar. Movie star handsome. Yankee fan. Had three wives. My mother was his last – much , much younger wife. I think he was probably hard to be married to but each wife declared him the love of her life and never remarried.
I would have loved to see how he would have evolved through the years. He would be 100 right now if he had lived (yes, old enough to be my grand or even great grandfather). He did not believe a lady should drink or smoke. But I have pictures of many beautiful women on his lap, with a drink and a cigarette (including one Miss Rosemary Clooney). There was a difference between “a hell of a broad” and a lady. I wonder if that attitude would have changed with me, or if I would have been different. Or if my wild ways would have driven a wedge between us. I suspect the baby girl who had him wrapped around her little finger would have dragged him into being a strong advocate for women’s liberation. Of course even I could not have ever convinced him to vote for a Republican (not that I would have wanted him to). My father breathed politics. Democratic Party Politics. He would have been an ideal candidate but in those pre Ronald Regan days, a divorced Catholic man could not run for office. But that was okay with him. He was great behind the scenes. He shaped the politics and several of the unions of Rhode Island. (Sorry about that but he really could not see where it would all go!)
What I really would have been interested to see is where he would stand on the Catholic Church if he was alive. Of course he would not support or cover up for the pedophile priests. But I wonder would he have stayed and fought for change or just shut the church out, like I have? I wonder because he was never afraid to go against their rules. There were a large number of priests amongst his friends and relatives. It was rare to have a Sunday dinner without a priest at the table. But Daddy never ate fish on Friday. He was as careful about what went into his body as what went on it. (Except for the beer and cigarettes and cigars.) The fish came in on Thursday. And he would only eat the freshest of fish. So he went to the docks, got his fish and ate it fresh – on Thursday night. He said that the church would someday change and God understood. If he had to work on Sunday, he went to church on Saturday. He said the church would one day see the sense of that and God understood. He also went to communion even though the church excommunicated him for divorcing and remarrying. And confession. He was not one to let some silly rules take his church away from him. When he died, there could be no mass. But a monsignor who was his best friend and cousin said a mass at his grave even though he knew it meant the end of his previously stunning career.
He was quite a guy. I miss having grown up with him. It’s a couple of weeks early but Happy Father’s Day Daddy.