Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, March 03, 2012

100 Years

Today is a very special day to me. My late father would have been 100 years old today. Happy Birthday, Dad.

My Dad was born in 1912, the same year that Arizona became the 48th State. He fought in WW II, lived to see a man on the moon, the introduction of the personal computer and hear his favorite music on CDs before he died.

He was the oldest son of Polish immigrants and was born in Detroit, Mi. His father died when he was 12, leaving him to be the man of the house. Twelve year olds were a lot more mature then.

The family owned a bakery and later also a neighborhood bar. My dad was a baker, a bartender and in the later part of his life, worked as a crane operator in a tool and die plant.

My dad told me stories about delivering the baked goods with a horse drawn wagon. If he took too long talking to a customer, the horse would sometimes head to the next stop without him.

As a kid, my friends knew my dad had once been a baker and went on strike one time. They wouldn't play with me until my dad made some homemade doughnuts. You could never have had doughnuts so fresh. They were outstanding.

Finishing high school wasn't common back then, but he did. He also played baseball and football.

After high school until before WW II, he played semi professional football. Maybe that's where my youngest daughter gets her athleticism

The bar was the center point of the neighborhood. On Friday nights, they'd show movies outside in the street, projected against a house wall and provided popcorn to keep the kids occupied.

When Prohibition came, they closed the front door of the place and their customers simply came in the back door. They rarely had trouble at the bar as some members of the infamous Purple Gang were frequent customers. My dad also had a few stories about bootlegging liquor over from Canada.

Leading up to WW II, he joined the National Guard. He was released from duty in May of 1941, but recalled a few months later after Pearl Harbor. He served with the 32nd Infantry Division "The Red Arrow"Division, in the Pacific.

In 1946, he married my mother, a neighbor who was nine years his junior. I am the third of three sons, coming along when my dad was 45. All my memories of him are of an older man.

I spent a lot of time with my dad when I was a kid. He was the epitome of patience and gentleness. He had a dry sense of humor. He stressed to me how important it was to read, write and communicate well. While not a highly educated man, he could see through a brick wall in time.

I remember listening to "Texaco Presents the Metropolitan Opera" every Saturday on the radio. My father loved the opera.

My mother's hobby was entering sweepstakes and one of the big prizes she once won was a week in New York to attend the Metropolitan Opera. They saw my dad's favorite, La Boheme. They met the performers and the conductor. For him, it was the very best prize that she ever could have won.

Classical music was a staple in my home. Also books. He and my mom used to dance polkas in the kitchen on Sunday mornings when the local radio station had Polish Hour.

Once he had the responsibility of raising a family, he left the bar and bakery behind and took a "steadier" job with a tool and die manufacturer that supplied the auto industry. The company he worked for was eventually purchased by Chrysler.

One of my brothers worked at that plant for a while, and described my dad's light touch on the controls of the crane moving multi-ton dies around the building. He said that dad had them floating around like soap bubbles.

I think I was in high school when he retired; maybe it was just after. That lasted about a week before he went out and got himself a part time job. He drove a delivery truck for a local tuxedo rental chain of stores and would continue until just a couple of years before his death.

My dad was a big dog lover, and the dogs loved him. If there is a better recommendation for a person's character, I don't know what it is. I don't remember us having only one dog, but we certainly had as many as four. My dad always kept a box of dog biscuits in the car and made sure that every hungry looking stray he saw at least had a biscuit. I remember him daily making his rounds, making sure the strays had something.

After I moved out, my parents had a neighbor who didn't deserve the dogs they had. My parents took two of their dogs away from them. One became a member of the family and the other one ended up with my sister in law.

The dogs loved him. My wife and I once had a black Labrador. When we were moving houses, the lab stayed with my parents for a week or so. When we took her back, she just moped around. She wasn't happy again until we finally gave her to my parents and she lived at their house permanently.

My dad used to boil chicken every day for the dogs. They got the meat and we got chicken soup.

A common scene at my parents house would be my dad in his easy chair, with the four dogs clustered around him. When he'd get up to go to the bathroom, they'd all follow him over there and wait for him (not always patiently) outside the door then escort him back to his chair. The lab would be as close to him as she could and would usually be resting her head or a paw against his knee.

When my dad died, the lab still sat by his chair with her head or a paw on the corner of the cushion where his leg would have been. She died shortly afterwards. The vet said it was cancer. I think it was a broken heart.

At age 79 he had a heart attack. I remember him in the emergency room. The doctor who was checking him out dealt with a lot of old people and was making a point of speaking loudly. My dad's hearing was fine. I remember him wincing while the doctor was bellowing at him, but he didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him to pipe down.

He had a second heart attack while in the hospital. They tried sewing his heart back together, but there was too much damage and nothing would hold. He lasted about a week before he passed. Telling my mother that her husband of 46 years had died; and my oldest daughter, aged 4 at the time and especially close to him, were the hardest things I ever had to do at the time.

Time has passed. The ranks of that generation have thinned to where there is just a few of them left. There are few things as poignant as the passing of generations.

I miss him.

Happy Birthday, Dad.


walt said...

A heartfelt post, obviously.

Your dad and mine were about the same age. They both strike me as being very "normal" human beings, and I mean that in a good way.

It's a different world now.

Rick Matz said...

Those old guys, there's nothing like them anymore.

By the time my Dad was my age, he ran a couple of successful businesses, fought in a world war, and married the woman who would be his wife until the day he died.

Yep. It's a different world now.

Paul said...

Touching also reminds me of my father (100+!) whom I visited today. Nowadays, he can't recognize anybody, he taught me tai-chi and some Taoist stuffs. As with your dad, mine went through the wars and many difficulties during his life. I missed the stories he told me years ago a lot....I can say no more...

Rick Matz said...

100+! I hope that you and your children received that longevity gene from him.

Yamabushi said...

Heart-felt and truly inspiring. There is much to learn and appreciate about earlier generations.

Thank you for such a personal and introspective post.

Bernard Kwan said...

What a wonderful post... young people nowadays...

Rick Matz said...

Thanks guys.

The Strongest Karate said...

That was a very nice tribute. I think, perhaps, the measure of a father is how much his children want to talk about him to others when he's gone.

I'm a young blood around here, not yet even 30, and yet I still think about the legacy I'll leave. I can only hope to leave as deep an impression with my children as your father has with you.

Rick Matz said...

Thanks. As the father of two children, both now grown, I can tell you that most of the teaching you do will be by your example.

Compass Strategist said...

Good story

Rick Matz said...

Thanks. He had a good life.