Tuesday, January 7, 2014


My father is rarely mentioned on this blog.  I'm not sure why that is.  He passed away in 2009, so he couldn't sue me for anything I write.  My siblings all I know whatever I say, now matter how absurd it sounds, is probably the truth.  The old man was, at his best, aggravating and crotchety.  At his worst...well, we won't touch on that.  My mother, who has the patience of Job, divorced him after 25 years of marriage.  In this day and age that marriage wouldn't last two years.  She often comments that we can't get through a holiday (or sometimes a weekend) without him being mentioned.  I remind her that we're not remembering him fondly and lovingly.  We're usually remembering some crude remark or annoying habit or his Archie Bunker-like abuse of the English language.

Over the weekend I was doing some decluttering and found an e-mail I sent to my sister at work more than a decade ago.  At the time I was about eight weeks pregnant with my first child, deathly ill with morning sickness, and had told no one but my mother and sister.   We lived in a tiny house then, situated on one of the busy main streets of our small city and had no on-street parking.  This is relevant to the story.  I reprint the e-mail here, exactly as I wrote it to her (questionable punctuation and all).  I couldn't capture my father better if I wrote six pages of pure description.  The thing is, I got phone calls from him like the one I write about several times a day on average.  He was also the king of having a discussion, hanging up the phone, giving you just enough time to get back to whatever you were doing, then ringing again.  The Helen mentioned in the e-mail was my stepmother.  She divorced him later...not surprisingly.

September 28, 1998

I'm curled up in a fetal position, trying to keep the room from spinning, when the phone rings.  Thinking it might be the roofer who is supposed to show up sometime early this week for my estimate, I answer it.  "Yeah...call me back."  I know dozens of people with phones and answering machines, yet only my old man makes me constantly call him back to check to see if his answering machine is working.  Apparently he had the flashing light, but when he hit play nothing happened.

So, I call back and leave a message.  The phone rings a few minutes later.  "Yeah?" he says.  "Yeah?" I say.  "Well, you gonna leave a message?," he says.  "I already did," I say.  Well, he didn't hear Helen's voice and he didn't hear me.  I tell him I left it and was he sure the volume wasn't turned down.  "The what?"  The volume switch.  "What's that?"  The switch that lets you control how loud or soft the voices are.  You can turn it off if you're taking a nap or something.  "I have a on/off switch," he says.  No, a VOLUME switch.  He then reads me all the switches he DOES have, none of which are volume.  He then goes into asking me when we're going to blacktop the driveway.  I said we're not gonna do it this year.  He then tells me the stuff's on sale and I repeat we don't want to do it this year.

He goes back to explaining to me for the fifth time how he gets the blinking light but nobody's voice.  I said are you SURE there's no volume switch?  What about on the side of the thing?  Yep, there it is.  He didn't even know there was such a thing on there.  I tell him to turn it up.  He says he doesn't know which way is up.  I say turn it the opposite direction from where it is now and see if it plays.  He tells me he can't hear messages when he's on the phone!  I tell him to hang up and listen.

A few minutes later the phone rings.  Yep, he got Hazel's message and my message.  Helen must have hit it while dusting (he tells me twice).  Then, I'm told to pray for Helen's surgery and he goes on about that before going BACK to harassing me about the blacktop.  "Hell, they got all the stuff on sale, even the brush."  I tell him my husband is having too much trouble at work right now to be bothered with that.  "Hell, he don't have to do nothin'."  I tell him my husband is the one who'll have to park four blocks way in the subdivision across the street and walk home all the time.  "Why can't we park in the grass?"  We can, but we can't get to the grass if the driveway is wet with blacktop.  "Why can't we go over the curb?  Why can't we put a piece of wood over the curb and drive up it?"  I said that the street's too busy.  I can't be putting hunks of wood in the road.  People'll just knock it down and drag it halfway down the street.  "Okay," he says, all dejected.  

Giving a drunken rendition of "Up Against the Wall, You
Redneck Mother" at his second wedding reception.
My sister commented at the time that she could just see him with that damn phone machine in his hand, turning it every which way trying to find the volume dial, as well as jamming the play button over and over and getting wilder and wilder because there was no voice coming out.  She shared the e-mail with friends, noting that this was his "benevolent side."

I found this pin in my father's possessions just before he died.  Yes, I pinned it inside the suit in which he was buried.  He always said he wanted to be buried upside down so the world could kiss his ass.  This was as close as I could get.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, the memories. Although he's been gone for over 4 years, I still expect to see the answering machine blinking whenever I walk in the front door. His phone calls were indeed legendary.