Friday, November 30, 2012
Rant #855: Happy Birthday
At this blog, I have celebrated the birthdays of those who are famous, and those who are not so famous, those who have changed our lives and those who have changed our lives maybe just a little bit.
Today, I am going to celebrate a birthday that is very important to me.
This guy may not have changed or shaped anyone else's life, but he certainly did mine, and for that matter, my sister and my mom too.
Today, my father turns 81 years of age.
He was born during a different era, when things were simpler, but still pretty hectic. The Depression was a time to reflect on how or when you might eat your next meal, and times were tough, really tough.
He lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with his immigrant parents and three younger siblings.
When the family became too large, they ventured out to the then uncharted area of Queens to live, which was quite a hike for them, as my grandfather owned a butcher shop on Delancey Street, and rather than it now being in the neighborhood, they now had to trek there by car.
My father was very smart in school--he skipped a grade or two--but his role was destined. He was going to work in the butcher store, and he became a butcher upon graduation from high school. He tells us he barely got out of school, but I really think he was too smart for school.
He served in the military during the Korean War. He was a Marine Corps cook, which is funny, because up until that point, I don't think he had cooked a day in his life. But the war effort saw he was a butcher, so they figured he could cook. Go figure.
He never went to Korea. He was supposed to go, but he had two sets of papers, and while the Marine Corps sorted this out, they put him in jail, so he says he has a jail record.
He did serve in Cuba, and he tells stories that I cannot repeat here about his dalliances with the natives. Very funny, but XXX-rated.
What I can tell you is that he served during a time when the Armed Forces were slowly being integrated, but very, very slowly. He says that the Marine Corps put him with others they considered "malcontents" because of his religion--Jews, Puerto Ricans and blacks were often lumped together--and he tells of the time when he was one of the few, if not the only, white person on a Marine Corps bus in the Deep South, and he was sent out to get sandwiches for his troop, because he was the only person that would be served.
Anyway, after he served his time in the Marine Corps, he went back to the store. My father could have gone to college, and in another time, he would have. But during those days, the oldest child, especially the oldest son, went to work to help support the family and to allow his siblings to continue their education.
That is what my father did, in fact, the day after he was out of the Marines, he went right to work.
His brother became a doctor and a teacher. His two sisters became teachers. 'Nuf said.
In the mid 1950s, he was set up on a blind date and met the lady who would become my mother. They will be married 57 years come January.
I came around in 1957, and my father gave up smoking cold turkey for me. The doctor told him to stop, because my mom was pregnant with me, and he did.
As I was growing up, I always looked up to my father. He worked long, hard hours as a butcher, but he was home on the weekends. He slept a lot on the weekends, but he always had time to play with my sister and me.
We played lots of ball, and his influence really made me a sports fan. He loved competition, and while he was a very good athlete, I wasn't, but it didn't stop him from pushing me, and I loved it.
He was my coach for a couple of seasons in Little League, and we won a couple of championships in our league. I vowed as a child that if I ever had a son, I would also coach him, and I kept my vow, coaching my own son for a few seasons. I hope my son, if he ever has a son, will follow this direction, too.
In the mid 1960s, faced with the loss of the butcher store because of some grand plan New York City had to build a highway right through it--which they never did--he became a full time, licensed New York City medallion cab driver. It took a lot of gumption to change your career in midstream like that, but he did it, and did it very successfully.
He owned his own medallion for decades. He still drives a cab a few days a week to this day.
He has been very successful as a cab driver, and I still remember that I picked out the colors--blue and white--of his first cab. In those days, cabs didn't have to be yellow, now they do.
Anyway, we later moved ourselves, from Queens out to the wilds of Long Island, and the move initially wasn't easy, but it all worked out for the better for our family.
Through it all, my sister and I graduated high school, college and graduate school. We are both pretty successful at what we do in life. My mom is the most active person I know, and she enjoys life to the fullest with my dad.
They have five grandchildren, four boys and one girl. I contributed one boy and one girl to that mix. And the kids love their grandparents, and worship their Zaydee.
My father lives downstairs with my mom in the same house as my family does. It has become a good arrangement. My wife and I help out when we can, and yes, my parents help us out too.
My father is every bit as competitive as he was when he was much younger. He has that spirit that will never leave him, and that keeps him going.
His hearing has deteriorated, he doesn't seem as tall to me as he once did, but his work ethic has never left him. Honestly, with his hearing in the state that it's in, I don't know how he drives a cab, but he does, and he still is a top booker. And he is honest as all hell. He won't take you 20 miles out of the way to get to your desination. He never did that when he was younger, and he won't do it now.
He is the patriarch of our family, and although he has weathered the years, he is as strong as an ox in at least mind if not body. But that body continues to allow him to do pretty much what he wants to do, so it is OK, too.
That picture I included here is my father in 1969 on his birthday in that year, when he turned 38. More than four decades later, he hasn't changed all that much.
So I salute my dad on his 81st birthday. He is probably the most important male figure in my life, bar none, my link to my past, my present, and yes, my future too, as is my mom.
I am so damn lucky to have both of them around. I love both of them so, even if we mix it up from time to time. That is the competitive nature in me, I guess.
Thanks to him, and my mom, for being there when I've needed them, and my family has needed them.
I don't know if we could have done it all without them.
Posted by Larry at 2:54 AM