Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad.

I'm an unemployment statistic if my boss reads this, but I will not have access to a computer for a while and wanted to put this into the slipstream.

My father's birthday is approaching; though he is gone now, I still think of him. My father was a machinist, a gear cutter, back when gears used to be cut in America. He was a veteran of WWII, serving in the Army Air Force. He 'flew The Hump' in the CBI, amongst other things.I did not find that out until I was in college.I mentioned I might like to go to India. His reaction was immediate and surprising: a loud 'no' with a long and vivid list of reasons why I should stay away from there. I think the war killed any wanderlust Dad may have had, along with eating certain vegetables. Apparently once canned carrots was all there was to eat where he was stationed, and he made a Vow, I guess. When the machine trade dried up, he took a job as a custodian at a trucking company, the place that eventually killed him.

We had some great battles when I was growing up; he wanted me to go to college, and I wanted to be a machinist. He won that one. He was being like every other father who wants something better for their children. He was also not like the fathers of
people I knew. One pal of mine's Dad would stop at the local bar every night on the way home. Not Dad: he would have a drink or two at a party (single malt only), but I don't think I ever heard of him stopping at the Local. Seeing my brother and I were both interested in mechanical things and mechanically inclined, he took us to places like the American Precision Museum and my personal favorite, the Higgins Armory Museum. A machinist colleague had a part time job as a projectionist at The Cameo (back when it was just one screen, not two shoehorned in), the local movie theater , and gave Dad passes, and my brother and I reaped that benefit. What an education: we saw every Roger Corman Poe film in luscious Technicolor with Vincent Price chewing the scenery; all the 'surf' movies, things like "Jason and the Argonauts', Hercules movies, and strange horror flicks. Those experiences, fodder for another screed, inculcated my interest in sitting in the dark watching a story unfold.

When the plant closed down, Dad got a job at the trucking company I had worked at to pay for college. He seemed to like it; he was not as stressed as the precision jobs made him, and things were swell. My mother died, and Dad, lost, married a woman he met. One day, while backing a forklift out of a trailer, he did not realize the driver had not checked the box when he pulled the chocks away and pulled the trailer. The forklift crushed my father against the loading dock. It would have killed a smaller man, and probably should have killed him outright. It did not. He had to use a walker afterward, but there were circulatory issues and that was what killed him. When a new doctor interviews me and asks what he died of there is always a one measure hesitation when I tell them the first cause of death on his death certificate: gangrene. That is a long and terrible story, which I will not get into here.

Before he died, my father wrote a book, and he lived long enough to see it in print. He was an antique firearms dealer, and had a life long interest in Vermont gunmakers. Like so many authors, he had looked for a source and could not find one to satisfy him, so he wrote it.

Sometimes, when I am tinkering in the garage and come up against a problem, I think "O, I'll call Dad, he'll give me the business but he'll tell me how to do it right". Then I have to stop and remind myself I cannot do that anymore. Dammit.
Happy Birthday, Dad.


Barrett Bonden said...

My uncle survived WW1 but it left him with all sorts of weird tics. Less weird was the vow he made that he would never eat canned plum jam again. Apparently they used to bulk it out with turnip.

I warmed to the fact that your Dad was a precision machinist but later in your post I realised my reaction was pure sentimentalism. We who have lived more coccooned lives tend to think that skilled work like that must be self-fulfilling. Never that it would be stressful. But why not? On reflection I'm sure it was hard and harassing. You're right about gangrene. Just the word is enough. I tell myself civilians don't die of that but they do. And I suspect many are drivers of forklifts, said to be the biggest source of industrial accidents.

Do you reckon with a bit of time warping your Dad would have blogged?

Relucent Reader said...

Thank you for the comments, BB.

My readings of WWI memoirs(Goodbye to All That, Storm of Steel, etc) and histories tell me just coming home was an achievement.

Although Dad could really get going on a topic once warmed up, I doubt he would have been a blogger. When he was writing his book, I suggested he use a computer to make his life easier. He would have none of it.He said he was 'too old', etc. Never did convince him.

I won't have computer access for a while after today, so let me take this opportunity to wish you and yours (and my other 5 readers) a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.