On Dad’s Lap

This is my childhood home.

Growing Up House

This picture appears to have been taken in the mid sixties at the time when my parents bought the white stucco house that became their home of twenty plus years. The house looks so stark in this photograph, but in my mind, it is so much more colorful and warm.

My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they truly made this house our home. During the years I was growing up there, Mom and Dad added black shutters around the front windows. They planted vibrant flower beds in the gardens bordering the front of the house. The Maple tree in the middle of the front yard grew tall and the trunk so wide we could barely wrap our arms around it. During the spring and summer months, Dad was always doing something to keep the lawn lush and green.

Inside, the house was small for a family of six, but I never noticed. The kitchen was the hub of the household. It occupied the back, northeast corner of the house. There are pictures from my early years that show the kitchen with some breathing room…

Birthday-Kitchen

My third birthday

…but as our family grew, the room seemed to grow smaller. It was a long and narrow space, accessible from our “back” door, which was actually on the side of the house. When coming in from outside, you could either go straight down the stairs to the basement which was eventually finished, or to the right and into the kitchen.

I remember the kitchen best in its 1970’s decor. The walls were a peachy-salmon color and Mom sewed bright fruit-patterned curtains and valances for the windows. The table was the same one all the years my parents lived there. It had a brown formica top and an extra leaf to expand it to a large oval. The six chairs were originally cushioned with a goldish-brown vinyl. Later when the vinal began to show wear and tear, Mom reupholstered them herself with a more subtle beige. Mom could do amazing things with her sewing machine.

From the back entryway, looking into the kitchen, there was a free-standing cabinet in the outside corner of the north wall. The cabinet held miscellaneous kitchen stuff, like the electric mixer and cookie sheets. Mom’s cookie jar was always on top, and if we were lucky, we might open the lid to find her famous molasses cookies, or maybe chocolate chip, always with a slice of white bread inside too, to keep the cookies soft and fresh.

Side by side with the cabinet was the refrigerator, and immediately next to the fridge was our family table. The table was squeezed between the fridge and the west wall, along which spanned upper and lower cupboards, and two big, white kitchen sinks that Mom hated because it took weekly scrubbing with lots of Comet cleanser to keep them looking white. And behind Dad’s chair at the head of the table was the dishwasher. I think we lost valuable cupboard space to the luxury of a dishwasher, but as one of the main dishwashers, I was grateful.

The inside kitchen wall was lined by the stove, nearest the back door, and next to it, another free-standing cabinet where one of those new-fangled microwaves eventually made its home. And finally, there was the old wooden hutch, passed down from someone on my mom’s side of the family. Inside the hutch was always a variety of cold cereals. As I said, we didn’t have much money, but Mom and Dad bought us the good stuff, like Cocoa Puffs and Cap’n Crunch. And Mom’s Shredded Wheat was always in there too.

Every chair at the kitchen table was needed to seat our family of six for a meal. But due to the space limitations, the table never could make its permanent home in the middle of the kitchen where you might expect to find it. When not in use, it was pushed against the outside wall of the kitchen. When it was meal time, the table was pulled out and my sister and I would squeeze into the chairs against the wall. The brothers got the outside chairs. And come to think of it, the spoiled, youngest brother was often eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or chocolate Malt-O-Meal at dinner time when he didn’t like what Mom had cooked. Eating an alternative meal was a privilege only the youngest was allowed, just like sleeping in church! But I’m not bitter or anything! 😉

When meals were finished and as clean-up and dishwashing began, the table was pushed back against the wall to allow room for us to pass through the kitchen.

When I think of that house and the activities that went on inside, it’s the kitchen I remember the most. Every night after coming home from work, Mom would get dinner on the stove, and while chicken or a hot dish was baking in the oven, my parents would sit at opposite ends of the table. Dad (and sometimes Mom too) would sip on a beer or maybe two, depending on how long it took for the meal to cook. Sometimes they would read the paper and sometimes they would sit and talk about their days while something simmered on the stove.

In our younger days, Dad was the “yes” parent. If permission was needed, you stood a better chance of getting it from Dad than from Mom. Looking back, I realize Mom was probably overwhelmed most of the time, working full time while still managing all of the expected wifely household duties. A kid asking for anything that required additional effort from Mom was likely to be disappointed, unless of course, you were the youngest kid and looking for a bowl of Malt-O-Meal.

During those days, I could wander through the kitchen and while my siblings watched television in the nearby living room, or played in the boys’ bedroom down the hall, I would often climb up on my dad’s lap while he sat at the table during the pre-dinner hour with my mom. He’d wrap one arm around my waist and hold me against him while they talked. Usually, I’d interrupt at some point.

“Dad, can I have a sip of your beer?”

“Sure,” he’d always say, and I’d lift the bottle of Buckhorn to my lips.

I didn’t like beer. I asked and took a sip, only because Dad let me. I must have mentioned once that I thought it could use some salt, and I can remember Dad telling me that some people put green olives in their beer for just that reason.

I never asked to sit on Mom’s lap. It never would have occurred to me to ask. She always seemed to me too busy and hectic for such a thing, although I remember my youngest brother being quite comfortable there. But Dad always welcomed me, and sitting with him gave me a sense of comfort, and allowed me a rare bit of his sole attention. We four kids came into the world quickly, each one of us arriving two years or less after the previous child. We were a handful, always competing for our parents’ attention, and constantly bickering with one another. The youngest kids needed and received the most notice. I was sandwiched on the older side of the middle and although my oldest sister and I were expected to behave and stay out of our parents’ hair, I always seemed to be causing them exasperation. I didn’t mean to. I was just that kid. Those few minutes of sitting on Dad’s lap and sharing his beer made me feel loved and important, in spite of my challenging behavior.

… I just wanted to remember something good about my dad…

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6 thoughts on “On Dad’s Lap

  1. You got me crying again!
    What a sweet, sweet story of the good ol’ days with your dad. It’ll do you good to remember these times when he’s not being so nice. You know he loves you, he’s likely just feeling out of control. Not that that is an excuse.
    I’m envious of how vivid your childhood memories seem to be. Mine are so vague. I blame having little to no pictures, and not living any where near where I grew up. Or maybe I just blocked a lot out. I can guarantee I wasn’t sitting on my dad’s lap.
    Sending more hugs your way.

    Like

  2. My mom got her start in the 1920’s. She died on her birthday at 87, after Four Score and Seven Years of remarkable life. Dad died 24 years sooner….a smoker, caught with emphesema.

    I saw their grave this week.
    Someone left a Christmas wreath and red bow on mom. Nothing for Dad.

    Last Easter, I drove one sister (of 8 originally) to our parent’s grave.
    (Ooh, 3 brothers too).
    Someone left a plant with mom.
    Nothing for Dad.
    I noted this to my Easter-visiting sister that no one gives dad flowers or mementos. The chilly air went absolute frosted in her reply…with zero smile…
    “You reap what you sow Keystone”.
    WOW!
    We left.

    I recalled dad with oxygen tank in his livingroom for his final 5 years. My next younger sister came in and sought mom.
    My Dad called her from across the room saying :”Sit down with me and we’ll talk”. She replied “I don’t think that you have anything worth talking about!”, and she searched for mom.

    5 years later, Dad was dead.
    I had spent the entire last day for him (unaware it was last) gabbing from 8am to 3pm alone. I now know he ikely knew his time was up….based on what he told me all day, and what he gave away to me…a box I opened 31 years later.

    You did things Dad’s way period.
    I made a vow that fatherhood would be easy by simply doing the opposite of my Dad. That worked out both charmed and cursed.

    I had written a eulogy to speak about Dad…no one else did. Enroute to church among family of pall bearers, the proest informed me that only he would speak. I tucked my paper of reminisce into my black suit coat and stayed quiet.
    (The priest personally apologized to me that he was wrong to shut me out…an apology made 7 years later.
    Too Late!

    But before we pall bearers carried him out of the funeral home that Monday after Father’s Day to go to his dreaded Mass, the funeral director needed to close his coffin.

    It was loaded with all our Father’s Day cards he woulda got. And his favorite fishing pole.
    And his favorite golf club.
    His favorite candy bars.
    A Veteran flag folded.
    And a $20 bill in his windbreaker pocket…not a suit guy…he never liked going out anywhere without some dollars in that pocket. (The brother from Hell that is in every family later got upset that a $20 was 6 feet under and proclaimed that had he known, he would have taken the $20, but replace it with his personal check.
    Can you feel the love?

    My siblings insisted I do mom’s eulogy with 10 of her kids there, and most of her (then) 99 grandkids. It is a Catholic thing I guess.

    That request took me back to writing adios to Dad long ago. Before piling in the pall bearer car for Dad’s last Mass, the funeral boss came to me in a panic.
    “We have to get the show on the road. Cars are filled and we have to get to church.”

    “What’s the problem?”, I asked.

    He simply pointed at Dad resting in the wide open coffin that they could not close. My sister, “You don’t have anything worth talking about Dad”, that one,…. was the sole person at Dad’s side and had no intention of leaving.

    “We gotta go”, insisted funeral guy to me. “Do you wanna talk to her?”

    I walked down the aisle alone, leaned into my 30 year old sister staring at Dad, and softly said “Sis, we have to go now. It’s time”.

    I never saw it coming. She turned her face left, never moving her body, looked at me wordlessly, unsmiling,…and delivered a right hook to my face that sent me sailing backwards to the floor.
    Man that smarted.

    The director was now running toward me but I waved him away and to wait.

    I stood, rubbed my jaw to make it work, walked up again to my sister still standing inches from Dad, staring at his face. I wrapped BOTH my arms around her shoulders and spoke softly:
    “Everyone is in their cars. We’re going to church now. We have to go. I will take you to the car you are in”.

    She said nothing.
    My arms never left their surrounding her all the way out. I saw funeral people going pronto to close the lid. In the decades since I got smacked to the ground, my sister has never revealed why she stood over Dad and stared.
    She does recall totalling me to the ground, a shocker since she is the most gentle member of our family.

    I think your writing about your Dad here Tee….will one day protect your brother’s face from getting punched out.

    I tended to be mom’s favored all my life, and find it confirmed with the sheer volume and magnitude of stories mom told me, and apparently no one else over the years. I told my siblings a few at mom’s open casket a couple decades after dad. They were astounded to hear and knew they were true mom stories.

    The priest actually included one in his talk before me. Of 99 grandkids, 10 siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and more, I had one Thank You note from one niece, who drove 1,000 miles to be there.

    My siblings pretty much took all mom’s stuff. My oldest sister pointed out to memento grabbers that “Keystone bought that for Mom” or Keystone gave that to mom”. Including her final home….sold by a sister with me unaware, working out of state at the time. (The sale would not have happened if I knew. I would have bought it period, especially galling was selling it for $100,000 less that its value. (That sister who sold lives 3,000 miles away and had no clue of home value). Idiot.

    But I got a call from a neice saying my mom stored a lot at my neice’s home. It was nearby. I came over to get mom memento for me.
    Gee, a strand of Christmas lights from the 1950’s. Some VCR tapes mom watched. Her BIBLE! No one took it ???

    I opened it up and found four$100 bills…mom did not trust banks after the Great Depression; the Bible pages were her bank. Siblings did not know.

    My oldest sister was in assisted living, despite having 10 children and only one of those live a 5 hour drive away, the rest are local. My oldest two sisters were in the living room of my neice when I came up from the basement with pitiful few mom mementos.

    “All of you took all mom’s stuff before I came here. How did you miss four $100 bills?”

    They were shocked I spoke, for no one knew of the money and would have just pocketed it.

    I took my 2 oldest sisters to Mom’s favorite restaurant, adding that they get anything, cuz mom is buying.
    The change from that 1 hundred, plus all 3 remainig $100 bills I gave to my oldest sister…in assisted living.
    (One of her 10 kids finally got her out of that place and moved my sister into my neice’s home).

    I was in my basement tonight looking at mom’s minimal stuff I got years ago. Many magazines are there.

    And that is why I wrote tonight.
    Mom loved Reminisce magazine.
    The stories she read were all 1920, 30, and 40’s. She had shared her rugged start in life with stories to me over decades of life.

    This would be a good Christmas gift for your Mom and Dad cuz it goes up into their decades of 1950′, 60’s, 70’s too.
    Check it out at
    http://www.reminisce.com

    Do not show them online reading.
    Online is NOT them. Magazines are that generation….moving from Saturday Evening Post, to Reader’s Digest, Life, Look, etc.
    Order them Reminisce (appropriate decades) and address it to their assisted living address.
    I miss mom.

    Keep writing on both parents while you can Tee.

    Memory allows us to have roses in December.
    Plant your roses here.
    Keystone

    Like

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