Going Beneath The Surface

More Conversations With My Father

I won’t talk about the trip down to North Carolina after Christmas. That was a literal shit show – four adults, three dogs and luggage crammed into a Subaru Forester on a ten-hour car ride. You can only imagine. We’ll save that for another time. Instead, I’d like to talk about my talks and walks with my Dad during the few days I was down in North Carolina.

Dad has a little business; a dog walking business, to be precise. This requires him to spend his mornings and sometimes his afternoons being of service to our four-legged friends. Plenty of chances to delve below the surface of a man who doesn’t reveal much to begin with.

Dad has a tendency of over the past year or so to repeat himself. Telling the same stories or replaying of events as if he is telling it to me for the first time. Lately I’m noticing that he is mixing up his stories – weaving past events into current events. I say this partly to acknowledge to myself he is getting older and that opportunities to have these conversations will be fewer and fewer. Despite his physical health being good, he is showing signs of slipping. I think he realizes it too. He complains that he can’t remember where he put things, he can’t remember people’s names. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for him to not be as sharp as he used to be. Yet, despite these realizations that things are not as they used to be, there are many moments of clarity that allow us to get a little closer; opportunities to share in times when the future looked bright for him.

One morning we talked about his days in Army. I don’t know how we arrived at that topic but I went with it. I’ll attempt to paraphrase and summarize our conversation.

Why did you enlist in the Army?”

“I enlisted because then I’d have some control over my future. If I let them draft me they could send me anywhere. I had a friend of mine who waited to be drafted; he wound up being stationed in Germany. Not a good situation at that time.”

Why? Weren’t you worried about Vietnam?”

“No. Vietnam wasn’t on the radar then. Back then the concern was Berlin and the Communists/Cold War. That was a real worry. Tensions were very high then. I didn’t want to put myself in a position of being sent to the front lines during the Cold War.”

What were you assigned to do during your stint?”

“After basic training in Fort Dix I was shipped out to Oklahoma for training with artillery. I got pretty good at it; so good in fact that I was able to get my unit to zero in on the target within four shots and within a few minutes. I had other duties too. I remember being on guard duty one night and I had one guy in my unit who wasn’t too swift. He had the watch before me; I told him to find me when his watch was almost over so I could take over for him. I was going to get some shut-eye. Next thing I know, I wake to revelry playing. ‘Oh shit!’ I quickly got dressed and ran to find the guy who was supposed to wake me. ‘Why didn’t you wake me?’ ‘All the barracks look alike and I gave up trying to find you.’ Needless to say we got ripped a new one but it was worse for the other guys than it was for me.”

Why?”

“The other guys would tear up the town whenever they got a weekend pass. Sometimes they’d get drunk or thrown in the brig for disorderly conduct. Not me though. I would stay on base and play cards with the officers. Occasionally I’d get a care package from my mother, good Italian food from the neighborhood, and I’d share it with my superiors. They appreciated that. So, when it came to getting the assignments from the NCOs, they’d give the crappy ones to the others and give me the plum jobs. [smiles and chuckles]. There was a method to my madness.

Before long my time was up and I was given a choice – re-enlist in the National Guard/Reserves for one more year or walk away and take my chances on getting drafted. I re-upped in the National Guard/Reserves and managed to avoid Berlin and Vietnam. In a year my discharge papers arrived and I was done!”

The last day of our visit arrived. The car is packed. The dogs are in the back of the car. As the others say they’re good byes they make their way toward the car. I hang back for a bit. Dad approaches me with his arms outstretched. I think to myself, “Is he getting choked up? Yes, he is! He’s choking back some tears.” We hug for a few seconds but it seems longer, a lot longer. Lumps grow in each of our throats. “I’m glad you came down to visit. It means a lot to me that you could spend some time with me.”

Me too, Dad.

Me too.

Knock, Knock

It’s Sunday evening. I am at the local supermarket doing the family grocery shopping. I push my cart up and down the aisles, skillfully negotiating the journey with the one wheel that pulls to the left and the other that just spins and doesn’t do anything. I’ve gotten almost everything on my list (plus a few impulse items) – all but the frozen veggies and the dairy items.

As I slowly approach the frozen food aisle I hear the voice of a little toddler. “Knock, knock.” Pause. “Knock, knock.” I see several adults wheel their carts out of the aisle toward the checkout. No one seems to be “biting” on the “knock, knock” joke.

As I turn the corner into the aisle, my hunch was confirmed. There in the child seat of cart with her hooded coat on was a beautiful little girl. She couldn’t have been more than two years old. Her dad was rummaging through the freezer, gathering up his frozen veggies.

As I approach she sees me. I smile at her. “Knock, knock.” she says.

“Who’s there?” I reply.

She is a little shocked. She was not expecting the interaction as no one else had paid her any attention. She paused for a second … deep in thought. Dad turned and looked, waiting expectantly for her response. Then she threw her hands in the air as if she were going to shout “Surprise!”. Laughing

“It’s me!” she exclaimed.

Dad just beamed, smiled and began to laugh. He couldn’t contain himself.

“Oh, isn’t that just wonderful!” I said to her with a big smile. “I’m so glad it’s you!”

Dad and I shared a smile, a nod and a silent acknowledgement of how precious this miracle moment was. Then he continues down the aisle.

“Bye” she says.

“Bye bye.”

Talking

Nine years ago I avoided his phone calls like the plague. For almost a whole year he wouldn’t take my phone calls. Growing up he was a tough guy to get close to. Over the past seven years we’ve grown closer. Nine years ago he couldn’t rely on me at all. Today he trusts me. Things change. Sometimes good things can come from terrible ordeals. Today, we went out to dinner. Nothing special … just an ordinary meal. We talked … about Facebook (“What is it?” he asked. “Should I do this Facebook thing?” “Can’t people just send me pictures by e-mail?”) … about how he met my late step-mom (“I was meeting with a lawyer on an estate matter.  She was the lawyer’s secretary.  I had to meet the lawyer many times and things just progressed.  She told me she thought I looked sad and needed cheering up.”) … about baseball; yes … baseball. Cliche, perhaps, but that’s what this father and his son did … talked baseball.52025301_c773f451f7_m He talked about the glory days of the Yankees. He reveled in comparing Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle.  He told me about Sal “The Barber” Maglie and Ryne Duren ( a relief pitcher for the Yanks with a blazing fastball and lousy eyesight!).  “The best hitter I ever saw play was Ted Williams. He never struck out swinging.  DiMaggio was a better all around player but Williams was the best hitter … ever.  You know it’s saying something when a devoted Yankee fan says this about a Red Sox player!” “When I was a kid, I’d get a $1 allowance for doing my chores.  I’d walk all the way to Yankee Stadium – about 50 blocks. I’d get a bleacher seat – $0.60, a scorecard was $0.25 and that left me $0.15 for a soda and a hot dog.  I used to watch DiMaggio in center field.  He could see the signs the catcher was giving so he knew what pitch was coming. At the crack of the bat, he was racing off.  He made it look so easy.” “Today’s baseball just isn’t the same.” No, it isn’t but neither are these conversations. Thank goodness for change!

Tweaks and Updates

This won’t be such a big post in word count but it is big for me. It’s big because I’m gaining more confidence with each new tool I use or skill I learn.

The big work was done to my main web site – www.pgentile.com.  I added a a few new pages over there as well as a few widgets.  Just a little clean up to make it flow better.  I also tweaked the looks of this blog based on the prompts of Blogging 101.  I’m starting to get the hang of things here.  I hope you’ll check out the web site and let me know what you think.

News from the writing front: I continue to plow through research on one of my projects in preparation for an upcoming meeting with a client.  I’ve got the seeds for a post about my boy Peter.  Be on the look out for it by the weekend.

Finally, I’m preparing to visit my Dad down in North Carolina.  He needs some help going through some papers, trinkets, etc after my step-mom’s passing a few months ago.  It will be good to see him again.  More reports will come in from the Southern front over the weekend.

Dad and I

Vintage! Dad and I

Walking to School

I live near an elementary school and because I live in a small city,  most kids walk to the neighborhood school.  Most of the kids and their parents escape my notice except for one.

She is usually bundled up in a coat, hat and scarf.  Sometimes she wears mittens.  The backpack she carries must be heavy for she compensates for its weight by leaning forward as she walks.  She appears resigned as she trudges along to her daily meeting with destiny – teachers, friends and schoolwork.

He usually walks behind her.  It is always at a relaxed and easy pace.  He holds her hand as they cross the street – waiting for the crossing guard to clear the way like Moses parting the waters.  They walk safely to the other side and continue on their way to the school.

He is much older than she is.  He may be a father who had a her late in life but I am thinking he is her grandfather. He just gives off that aura.

They rarely talk as far as I can tell but their bond speaks volumes. She walks with an assurance of safety because he is there.  He is there no matter how cold it is or if it is raining or if he would rather be home drinking his coffee.  He envelopes her with such love and affection that it is palpable by her and by others they pass on the street.

I imagine that at the end of the day he is waiting for her at the school gate. Perhaps they talk about her day as they begin their walk home. She waves goodbye to her friends and then they return home, walking in love and security.