Biff America: Regret and lost balloons (column)
He was born in an age before most homes had refrigerators. Instead, blocks of ice were delivered by a horse and wagon to keep the ice box chilled. When he died, 90 years later, men had walked on the moon, his life was prolonged by a quadruple bypass and I would call to wish him happy father’s day on a cellphone from the top of a mountain.
As a man of his era, he was tough, hardworking and inflexible. He worked with Blacks and Jews and he knew one gay man. He treated them all with respect but referred to them in terms which in today’s time would be deemed bigoted. He got his first job at the age of 12 and never stopped working until he was 75, and one of the greatest compliments he could pay a person was, “Oh, he’s a hard worker.”
He took a young girl out of an abusive home, married her and gave her six children. He provided all that was needed with the exception of affection.
Sarcasm came easy. He hated my brother Mark’s Fu Manchu mustache and threatened to have the undertaker shave it off were my brother to precede him in death. When, after a brief sabbatical stateside, my brother was to return to his job in the Middle East, as the taxi waited outside he came into the living room to say goodbye. My brother explained that he would be gone for nine months and would be mostly unreachable. He clarified that he had left a will and hoped my Dad would respect his wishes that he be cremated and not follow through on the threat to shave his facial hair. My old man, his eyes formerly glued to the Red Sox game on the TV, looked up, took a sip from a jelly glass of Four Roses, and said, “You be careful over there, but if anything happens, we will cremate you and don’t worry about the mustache; we’ll use that to start the fire.”
He would light cherry bombs under the bedroom windows of friends and relatives well after midnight on July 4th. When a neighbor complained about his window box flowers losing their blossoms early, my Dad spray painted his own dead flowers so, from a distance, the neighbor would think our planters were still colorful.
By the time I came of age, he was often tired and intoxicated. We both had humor, sarcasm and a learning disability in common; so though he had often mocked my siblings, he mostly left me alone.
We often argued, but he was always there at my sporting events, never yelling or cheering but rather stood apart in a top coat and fedora. When the games were over, while other parents would come out on the field, I would look to see him walking away alone. He told many others that he was proud of me.
As he aged he mellowed considerably. Perhaps due to losing his wife of 60 years, perhaps because he saw his own mortality in years not decades. I would return home often. We would play cribbage and take drives along roads where there once were farms, but now there are Starbucks and NAPA stores.
By then I bore an uncanny resemblance to the man whose looks I used to mock.
We were driving by the shells of ruined factories. Those factories had made up much of the business of his small trucking company.
The melancholy setting caused me to break our unstated agreement to avoid past mistakes and current reality. I asked him what was his biggest regret in his near nine decades.
“When your sister Martha was just a little girl, maybe before you were born, your mother and I took the kids to the Brockton Fair. We were leaving and Martha’s balloon slipped out of her hand and flew away; she started crying. We passed other places that sold balloons. I could have bought her another for a dime but I was in a hurry to drop you kids off so I could get to the race track to play the ponies. I’ve always regretted that.”
I didn’t say anything. But I was thinking that I could name many other things that were worse than that. But a man of his generation’s first obligation was to provide food, lodging and children. I’ve come to realize my old man, simply put, did the best he could.
There was an uncomfortable silence in the car as we continued by the burned-out buildings until he added, “And seeing my youngest son grow up to be a Democrat makes me regret that birth control was not retroactive.”
It’s been many years since I lost my Dad — I still miss him…….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.HolPublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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