With Father’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking about my dad.
It’s been 24 years since he died, so when I think about him these days, it’s not about the way it ended — cancer — but about the way he lived and lives on in the stories I tell my kids. He would have loved them. And they, him.
India and I went to see Dylan and his band, Strikes Again, play in Bismarck last month. I immediately recognized the ’70’s-era blue bowling shirt worn by Garv, the lead guitarist. The back read “Frederick Equity Exchange,” where my father worked for many years. His name, “Norm,” was sewn in script on the front.
The shirt, passed from Dad to me to Dylan and now to Garv, is too small for Dylan. He has another in bumble-bee black and yellow that fits. As I stood there listening, I wondered what my father would have thought about his shirt fronting a rock band. I imagine him grinning.
He loved music. When they changed the records in the jukebox at the Ponderosa Bar — you know, the ones that flopped — he’d buy the 45’s for a dime. The hits cost a quarter, but he was too frugal for that. Thus, I grew up listening to obscure discount recordings, the most memorable being Leapy Lee’s “Little Arrows.” It’s worth the Google.
He played accordion — Dad, I mean; I don’t know about Leapy Lee — and bonded with my sister, Sherry, over Elvis movies on our black-and-white Zenith.
My friends loved him, despite the fact he won from them just about every bet he placed against the despised Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes were “got-damn luck-asses” when they beat the spread. He didn’t lose much, but when he did, he was a poor sport.
My sister-in-law, Michelle, and I bet on the Vikings in the playoffs one year and really rubbed it in when they took the lead. “Don’t count your chickens,” my father groused. So, with each subsequent score the Vikings racked up in a romp, we clucked gloriously like chickens. Arms flapping, we crowed.
He did not take it well and in the morning he was still surly. We met in the kitchen to settle up and he slammed 10 dollar bills, one at a time, like the worst spanking ever, on the table. If he could have paid in pennies, he would have. It really wasn’t much fun to win that bet. We made not a peep the rest of the weekend.
If he was sore loser, he was a worse dresser, this by design to torment my mother. We’d all get ready to visit relatives, clean and polished, and, predictably, my father would walk in with frayed work pants and a tee-shirt holier than any Sunday.
Once he’d elicited the equally predictable response from Mom, he’d protest feebly — what could possibly be wrong with his attire — go back up the stairs, grumbling, and come back wearing something slightly less atrocious.
One Saturday, before the two of them were headed out to see his folks, Dad emerged in the most horrible thing he could find. Mom took one look and, without a word, went upstairs and changed into some putrid pedal-pushers, grass-stained tennis shoes that might have had a little toe jutting out, and a stretched-out, paint-spattered sweatshirt, all in colors that clashed violently. As if Diane von Furstenburg had thrown up.
“You’re not going like that!” he sputtered. She insisted she was and so he threatened to leave her behind. Tentatively, he walked to the car, glancing backward at the house. She didn’t emerge. He started up the car and waited. Still nothing. He slowly crept away, circled the block as she watched from the window, and then finally drove off without her. I’m calling it a draw.
He was a bargain hunter, so the fridge was always full of almost-expired processed meats, with day-glow orange and green stickers. Things like head cheese with less than a week left to live. Seriously, how does one tell when head cheese goes bad, and is that even possible? It can only go worse, right?
One night, a Hutterite came into the bar with one last chicken to sell. This was no ordinary chicken. It was from the Steroid Era and was strapped to the man’s pickup like a mule deer. It hadn’t been cleaned, so my father “got a deal.”
Once home, he tossed it in the sink with a thud, crawled into bed and demanded my mother get up to clean it. Like that was going to happen, so he found himself in the kitchen after midnight gutting an ostrich. I think Mom used a chainsaw to cut it up. You could have pole-vaulted with the drumsticks.
That was Dad — fashion rebel, collector of obscure records, poor sport, and savior of expiring meats. He was also a pretty fair bowler.
I miss him.
© Tony Bender, 2017
Tony Bender is the former Editor of the Adams County Record and current President of Redhead Publishing in Ashley, ND. He has been a featured columnist around the state and earned multiple awards for his writing.