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Memories of Dad - Generations

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Today is Father’s Day, and fathers everywhere in the U.S. should be celebrated, honored and adored, because it isn’t an easy job. We, as adults with our own children, come to know what our fathers went through to get us to where we are, but it takes years and years before we admit that Dad actually did a magnificent job. I should have told my Dad how wonderful he was hundreds of times rather than take for granted that he knew.

We like to joke in our family that my brother, George, who is two years younger than me, and myself are the kids Mom and Dad had in the olden days and we “got them young and daring” while my other two siblings, Lou and Janice, were born much later than us and “got them wiser and settled.” In either family era, as siblings, we have remained an ultra-close group that would do everything possible to help each other. Mom and Dad taught us well.

My father was a tough cookie. Growing up on the rough streets of New York and being an only child with no older brothers or sisters to protect him, he had to fend for himself against the typical street bullies to hold on to his small piece of turf. There was no “running home to Mommy” in those times, and kids grew up fast.

He joined the Army and volunteered for a variety of jobs because he knew his knees would buckle at the sight of blood. The Army, however, must have skimmed over his desire because they made him a medic and that brought him closer to the horrors of war than any TV show. He arrived home safely in 1945, married my mother, and I entered the world two years later, a colicky baby who never seemed to keep down food and cried day and night. By the grace of God, even though my parents suffered sleepless nights, they kept their sanity.

My father never spanked any of his children, but we knew exactly when he was displeased. His favorite chair was a rocking chair, and it was simply the way he rocked it that gave us a clue that something was wrong. For instance, when my brother and I lived in Bayside, Queens, in a duplex, the neighbor next to us must have upset me for some reason and I thought it was my duty to grab my chalk and write nasty stuff on his front stoop.

After rocking in his chair for a bit and contemplating my punishment, he calmly gathered a bucket filled with water and a sponge, handed them to me, and said, “Go and apologize and get to work.”

I sheepishly apologized to the neighbor, cleaned the stoop, and stood before my father, still rocking in his chair.

“Peg, you never know what hurtful things words can do. The moment you put them out there, they’re there for the entire world to see. Be very careful what you want the world to see because once it’s out there, it’s too late.”

That bit of advice has stayed with me for decades and he told me this before email, computers, social media, etc., was around. Dad must have known the future would make it easier to get myself in a peck of trouble.

In high school, I decided to play hooky from school for a couple of days with my girlfriend. I called myself in “sick” the first and second day but missed the third day. The school, naturally, called my home.

Dad was waiting in his rocking chair. “Where were you today?” he asked.

“In school,” I responded too quickly before settling into a chair across from him when he motioned to sit down.

He asked my brother George where I was all day and George naturally covered for me as good little brothers will do.

“Well, that’s funny because the school says you were out sick for two days and they were just calling us to make sure you were feeling better. Are you feeling better?” he asked, rock, rock, rock of the chair, with his steely hazel eyes blazing into mine.

I remained silent since I had somehow lost my nerve and my voice.

“It’s Friday afternoon, Peg, and the principal wants to see you on Monday. I think the best punishment I can give you is fear. Think about how you’re going to justify what you did all weekend.”

I got up from the chair, the weight of the world on my shoulders, when he told me to retreat to my bedroom. When I slowly got to the third stair up to my room, and in between the creeks of his rocking chair, he very calmly said, “Oh, and you’re grounded for at least a month.”

He later told me it wasn’t so much the playing hooky that hurt him – it was that I lied to him.

My father wasn’t a religious man, and we practiced the Catholic faith through my mother’s efforts. The last time I remember speaking to my father was when he was very ill with cancer that had spread throughout his body. Hospice told us he would not make it through the night, and we had better call a priest.

This was tough for me because I knew my father’s views, but being the eldest, it had become my duty. The priest was called by me, he went into my father’s bedroom for a few minutes, and I went in right after he left and sat by my father’s bedside.

His eyes were open, and I took his hand. “I know, Dad, not what you wanted, but George made me do it, so you’re just going to have to forgive us all. What can it hurt?”

He seemed to understand.

I kissed him on the forehead. “I love you, Dad,” I said and left the room so my other siblings could visit with him.

He passed away a day later, but his memory never fades.

Peg DeMarco is a Morganton resident who writes a weekly features column for The News Herald. Contact her at pegdemarco@earthlink.net.

Peg DeMarco is a Morganton resident who writes a weekly features column for The News Herald. Contact her at pegdemarco@earthlink.net.

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