Tuesday, 10.11.05: More About My Dad
You don't have to be famous to be legendary. My dad had such a repertoire of stories and sayings about himself that he wound up creating his own persona -- Brand Curly -- the ironic, self-deprecating man-about-town, who could have been another Bob Costas, someone who knew enough about everything to engage in a conversation, more interview that lecture.
In a family of storytellers, the storyteller is king. He loved to brag about his knack of getting parking places right in front of his destination. So now the husband of one of my cousins tells me that, whenever he has the same luck, he says, "I got an Uncle Curly!"
My dad liked his man-about-town image, even into his eighties when his daily destination was the parking spot in front of the TV.
Still, I want to make sure I'm remembering the real man before there is nothing left but the legend.
My siblings, their spouses, the grandchildren, and other close family members have the experience of my father during his 28 years of retirement -- an easygoing man with all the time in the world for entertaining, mentoring, and nurturing grandchildren.
But my primary experience of him was before I left for college, when he was in his 30s and early 40s -- a working man. It seemed like his main role was putting us to bed and, on memorable occasions, organizing military-style housecleaning details. He taught me how to make neat, tight corners on bedsheets and how to polish brass knick-knacks. At bedtime he would sing us songs and tell stories, sometimes putting himself to sleep before us. When we were particularly restless (and maybe when my mother was particularly tired of us), he would do sentry duty outside the bedroom door, trying to be the disciplinarian he never really was.
Even this experience is divided into two parts. During the 1950s, we lived in an apartment in north St. Louis, we spent the weekends at my grandparents' clubhouse, and my dad took the bus to an office job for National Lead. In 1959 we moved to a house in south St. Louis, weekends at the club diminished, and my dad took a sales job for the Dutch Boy paint division of NL and got a company car.