Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rolling for Dollars

He was just a little guy, shiny blonde hair, not all that evenly cut; with big brown eyes and wearing a long sleeve blue shirt and brown corduroy pants, staring at the world in wonder around him in the very early 1970s.  His mom loved him, and he was with her wherever she went, and when his dad was around, something special was clearly going on.  Oh yes, the bond between mother and son was obviously there.  Mom would sit on the couch and watch TV on the big Zenith floor model tube that sat on a brown carpeted portion of the linoleum-decked livingroom, and it didn't really matter what was on.  He would lie down there with his head on his mom's lap and just enjoy her company.  But when dad was around, he would go off on a different little world.

His dad and him would go out on walks around the neighbourhood, breathing in the fresh air of the multitude of surrounding trees in the summertime, with everyone in the houses around sitting outside on their lawns or porches on nice days, mingling among one another.  Everyone knew each other in those days.  There wasn't a neighbour on the street that you didn't know by name.  The houses on the street and all the roads around were populated with war-time houses that weren't all that old at the time, but were built to be around for what seemed like forever.  The dad and his youngest son would walk to different places, and Dad would stop by to see a friend sometimes, and the little guy would gleefully tag along.  There was something about those two.

The kid was raised as the youngest of seven, and as you might think, it would prove to be a bit of a challenge, as he would show up in the world late in his mom and dad's lives.  But he would be no less loved than the others.  Maybe even a bit spoiled; a lot even at times.  He would come to love Saturday nights when most of the family gathered together around the the big Zenith, as the crew all awaited Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling to air on the Moncton channel.  The dad would make his legendary fried clams for everyone, and it was like a party atmosphere every weekend.  The family would prove to be a tight one in the years ahead.  No one would come between them, no matter how they tried.  Somehow, the father of the family laid the groundwork early on to make sure that everyone knew their place in the framework of the kin and where they belonged.  One day, all five boys and the two girls would marry and have families of their own.  Even if this dad didn't realize it, despite his faults and shortcomings, he would be programming family unity in his kids during those close and intimate times with his wife and kids.

The youngest... oh, he got away with a lot though!  He especially loved the trips that his dad took to the Dominion grocery store and brought him along.  Because the little guy actually knew how adorable he was, and he used it to his advantage to get things that he really wanted.  Like that jar of Schnoogle peanut butter spread, that box of ice cream, or the cans of Flair fruit dessert or root beer you could make yourself at home, even if it sucked.  Why not a chocolate bar or some sugary junk cereal too!  He'd get it all.  His dad couldn't say no.  But his mom wouldn't be too impressed when they got home!  Oh well, it didn't happen all that often.  When the little fella got to go to the grocery store with dad, it was rare and always a treat.

And it was always a treat at 4 o'clock every weekday for the little packrat chihuahua/terrier mix dog named Mitzi they had for a pet at the household, because when the whistle blew at the CN Shops on those days, she would march happily to the end of the hallway in the house to the back porch door and wait for her master to come home.  Boy, that dog just loved her daddy.  And shortly after 4 when when he got home, she would hear him come up the back steps, and her ears would fold back, her tail would wag and she would lick her liver lips waiting to give daddy kisses when he came through the door.  And what a sweet sight it always was when those two were reunited after a long day of separation.  To the little black packrat of a dog, the house wasn't really a home until her daddy got back.  Then all would be well with the world.  She would get his leftovers after supper, on top of her Dr. Ballard's dog food or Gaine's Burgers that I or one of my siblings would feed her.

The little blonde son would make his allowances by rolling up cigarettes for his dad on those old ancient cigarette making machines.  One made them one at a time.  You would stuff tobacco in a slot, put an empty filter sleeve on a despenser side at one end, and turn a crank handle to stuff the tobacco into the sleeve.  The other cigarette maker was a longer one, about 8 inches long, where you press tobacco into a groove covered by a leather sheathe, which you would then roll with a slip of cigarette paper and then cut the mother cigarette after it was made on the grooves at the edge of the maker.  Each cigarette made would net the little guy 2 cents.  Sometimes there would be quite the stockpile of smokes!  But the father didn't mind.  Sometimes payment had to wait until payday, but he was always good for it.  I'd often get a good two dollars out of it.

On Father's Day, the little fella didn't have any real money to buy anything for his pop, so he would make a big batch of cigarettes for him, and do any errands that he could.  He would make homemade cards for him out of lined loose leaf, and maybe go to the corner store to fetch him a Mars Bar and a can of Coke, his favorite snack.

This is one father who loved his garden in the backyard.  And his youngest little boy often spent time back there helping him pull weeds or pick vegetables, or whatever it was he wanted him to do.  His dad took great pride in this garden work of his.  It's where he spent a great deal of time in the summertimes when he wasn't working.  He prized his cucumbers, carrots, beets and rhubarb, and his wife would prepare them for the family when they were picked and ready, and they were always the best tasting veggies you could imagine.

Those two... the dad and his youngest... were two peas in a pod at times.  The dad would always have hugs and kisses for the little fella.  He'd tickle with his 5 o'clock shadow beard, laugh along with his deep, throaty smoker's laugh.  The two would just sit and talk about whatever came off the top of their heads at times.  "You know what, dad?" the little guy would chirp.  "You're fifty years old right?"

"That's how old I am.  I'm an old guy," he would affirm gently.

"Well ... people live to be a hundred!  Did you know that?"

"Sometimes they do," now knowing what he was getting at, dad responded.

"So then your life is only halfways over, right Dad?  You're going to be here a long time!"

The dad let out a hearty laugh and a smile ear to ear, and reached out and hugged the boy, offering his kisses and little beard tickles.  An example of the multitude of sweet moments.

But sadly, only seven years later, Mitzi would wait by the back door in the hallway and Dad would not be coming home anymore, and Dad would pass away.  I was 12 when it happened on February 28, 1978.  When Fathers Days come around now, each one that takes me further away from the last time I could be with my dad on that day makes me reflect a bit more.  I look around and see people whose dads are still alive, and tell them to be grateful for their time with them.  Because one day, they will have to see it through the same eyes as I do now.

My Dad had his troubles, and trying times, but I choose not to focus on that.  I remember my father for the good in him.  For the things he did to make me feel like I mattered.  For teaching me to love my future daughter in that same way he loved me.  I remember my dad for being a family man, for doing whatever it took to make a house a home.

And now, it's up to me to be that dad.  To perhaps replace those fried clams with chicken wings!  To bring my little girl to the store and let her con me into getting something dietarily questionable.  To form that unbreakable bond that will always be in our household.

I thank you, Dad, for helping to make me who I am.  I know you and Mom are waiting for us to come home.  I'm sure you're feeding Mitzi plenty of leftovers.  One day, we'll go shopping again at that big Dominion grocery store in the sky!

I love you, Dad.  I miss you.  Happy Father's Day.


  1. That is a very touching story of your father, I wish I could have the that wonderful man who created such a wonderful family. On this fathers day I will tell you this you are just the man your father was and I love who you are. Never change.


  2. Very well written Mike...if only I could write and speak out the way you do. I don't always remember the past, but seeing the way you have written this brings back the wonderful memories.
    Thanks for sharing, and Happy Fathers Day Bro,
    Bro Rick

  3. Mike this is really a very touching account of you and your father.....Loved IT!!
    Cousin Karen