Below is a small portion of a long character sketch I wrote many years ago. This little slice of life essay is about a man, my father, who established for his family the true meaning of the word “Father.” I believe there would be fewer problems in the world today if only most men were still like my dad.
To augment his schoolteacher salary, for a number of years, back when corner stores were better known than supermarkets, my dad filled in as a grocery store clerk at one of the larger such stores in our community. The cash registers in those days rang up sales but only after someone tallied up the sale total. Dad could run his pencil down a long column of figures listing customer purchases and speedily arrive at the correct sum.
Later on, after the corner stores went the way of the dinosaur, Dad had another career as a taxi driver, first driving for a local cab owner and later buying the business and running it for some years—although in this case “business” means one car, used as a taxi and also as his personal vehicle.
We never went anywhere with Dad, even out of town, that he did not meet someone he knew. His three jobs had one thing in common—they kept him in the public eye. He was so well-known that we were sure that in any city in the United States he would meet someone he knew in the first half hour.
My mother suffered from several different chronic illnesses. As the years passed, they grew worse, even as a total of five children were born in the family. We all lived in a house with only four rooms, a circumstances I’m sure was shared by many of our neighbors in those post depression and war years. Perhaps, however, some of those families had more ready cash than we did. Even though Dad usually taught all day and worked at the grocery all evening, with all the medical expenses we incurred, there wasn’t enough money for us to own a car. Dad hitched rides to school with other teachers during most of his teaching career. There was a bus he occasionally rode to and from the grocery store, but many times he saved the dime by riding the distance of around four miles to and from his extra job on his bike.
The bike was about the only way he went anywhere. Mom often had to call a taxi to take her or us to the doctor because the bus required walking at least a country block to the bus stop and Mom’s asthma seldom allowed her to do so. Dad however, usually went places on his bike. For me, as a pre-schooler, there was a little wooden seat Dad called his “buddy seat” that was fastened to the “boy” bar of his bike. That way, as he rode, I was always right in front of him and encircled by his arms.
At that time I used to stutter and I had a serious inability to pronounce the letter “R.” As we rode along, Dad, ever the teacher, would talk with me, encouraging me to think ahead about what I was going to say so I would be able to get it out without error.
He used to take me to town on Saturday mornings and one place I loved to go was the junk yard. Dad was always working on bikes for one of us kids and he would scavenge the junk yard for parts. One time, how-ever, he incurred my mother’s wrath by taking me with him to a pool parlor. Mom didn’t think much of pool parlors.
Some years later, after the grocery closed, Dad worked as the night manager of a pool room for a year or two. Mother never did like that. She thought that as a school teacher, Dad was compromising his integrity by working in such a den of inequity.
I was always proud that my father was a well-respected man. I used to think being a teacher made him a special kind of person, but today I realize that the most special thing about him was not his career, but the way he persevered. The mantel of respect always falls on those who consistently do their duty and that’s what my father did.