by Minnie Apolis
(previously published on 6-13-2012 on Newsvine.com site)
I recently finished reading Big Fish, by Daniel Wallace. It
is a humorous and warm look at the author's father, but with a twist.
It is almost as if the father were a mythological being. He outlines
the Three Labors which his father accomplished, one of which was
saving a three-year-old girl from a wild dog.
I can be proud because my father also accomplished several labors
in his life, twelve in all like the immortal Hercules. So there.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
ONE- He finished the upstairs. The house my
parents originally built was a simple one-story salt box Colonial,
with a living room, kitchen, bath, master bedroom, and children's
bedroom for the two toddlers. This was a huge improvement over what
was basically a small apartment in the city-run housing development
after the war. But when a third child was on its way, the one-story
had to be exploded into a two-story. I doubt this is ever done
nowadays, but basically the roof was cut off and lifted up so a
second floor could be inserted under it. You could still the line if
you looked closely at the stairway walls.
So anyway, he paid for someone to raise the roof, for plumbers to
put in the second bath, for electricians to put in the wiring. Then
he went to work plastering and painting the walls, laying rubber
tiles on the floors of four rooms, and moving the older children's
furniture up there so each would have his and her own bedroom. He
threw sand into the plaster so that it would have some texture. He
mixed the paint colors himself, always adding a touch of blue no
matter what the final color was.
And then he put his foot thru the floor of the unfinished storage
room. At that point, there were just the joists and ceiling plaster
between the storage room and the master bedroom below it. Well,
somehow dad's foot slipped off a board and his leg up to the knee
protruded from the bedroom ceiling. Cussing up a storm, he managed to
extract himself and go about mixing a batch of plaster to patch the
hole. If you looked at the ceiling in the right light, you could
barely make out the outlines of where the hole had been.
He went to the library to find a book on how to build a garage.
When the inspector came, he thought it looked like an old-time
carpenter had done the job. When the outlines of the walls were
constructed, us kids and mom all came out to hold an old-fashioned
barn raising. It was fun, even without the big feed that was supposed
to go along with barn-raisings in the movies.
Anyway, he had some
help from a brother to put up the big ceiling beams; those were
massive and even my dad's muscle was not enough to control such long
beams while trying to nail them, too.
THREE, FOUR and FIVE- Raising a son and two
daughters. Doting on them is more accurate. No one grew up to be a
doctor or lawyer, but at least we all stayed out of prison.
SIX- He managed to stay married for fifty years
to the same lady. Never sent flowers to her, just kept coming home
every night for supper, and handed over his paycheck to the
bookkeeper of the family.
SEVEN- He worked on the bubble chamber project
for the Argonne Lab. His company got the contract to build the magnet
for the bubble chamber (the University of Michigan received the
contract to build the main unit). This was a huge job, the magnet
when complete was about the size of a city block. And precision up
the wazoo – the tolerances for each piece were measured in
ten-thousandths of an inch.
EIGHT- Fought the good war, you know, that WWII
thing. Fixed the fighter planes so that they stayed up in the air and
gave the pilots a chance to get their licks in. Got four bronze
stars. Never told us kids what those bronze stars were for – oh no,
that might seem to be bragging, and anyway the real heroes didn't
come back home. I do know that one time he had to hang out the plane
and manually crank down the landing gear, which refused to budge
NINE- Spoke two languages, he said. Polish and
broken English. He was only kidding, his English was pretty good –
he rarely had to point at stuff to get what he wanted.
TEN- Teaching all of us kids how to drive. Sure,
we had the Drivers' Ed classes. But someone still had to put a family
car at risk of scratches and dents and let us practice the parallel
parking and Y-turns. And he had to teach Mom, too, ages ago. Now that
was a good one. How they managed to stay married thru that, I don't
know. He told her to put on the gas, and she did. In reverse, right
into some shrubbery.
ELEVEN- He told me he loved me. Telling a family
member that you love them often falls into the category of
stuff-you-wish-you-had-done-and-now-it's-too-late. Well, he did this
one years ahead of the point of imminent death.
TWELVE- He died without complaining to everyone
within earshot of every ache and pain. After a lifetime proclaiming
that dying was easy, it's living that's hard, now he had to prove it.
Dang, don't you hate it when you have to live up to one of your
personal mottoes. Went in the hospital on a Thursday, died on
Saturday, my that was quick n easy.
Some forgotten book I read described a father's death like this:
You know there is that mountain over yonder, looking like it will be
there forever. Then one day you look and the mountain is gone.
That's what it is like when a good father dies – the mountain
vanishes, it's like it was never there, and only you and your
memories are evidence that at one time, there was a beautiful
mountain in that spot.