Monday, June 15, 2015

Things My Father Taught Me

Lessons of Life

As Father's Day approaches here in the USA, most of us think about our fathers.

I am no exception. (I missed posting for Mother's Day this year, but I will make up for it.)  My Dad was an amazing man. I'm not sure he set out to teach me all the things I learned from him but intentional or not, the lessons stuck.

Born in New York City, he came to the New Jersey farm just two houses away from where I live now, as a small child. His mother, Grandma, had decided that the city was no place to raise a family, so she and my Grandpa bought a farm and moved. Grandpa continued to work in New York as a tailor, and Grandma learned how to make a living as a farmer. She sold milk, eggs, vegetables, and always had a big garden to feed her large family.

My Dad inherited her green thumb. He acquired a plot of land from the family homestead, ordered a do-it-yourself house kit from Montgomery Ward and built our Cape Cod house on the land. He was an electrical engineer--worked on the electrification of the Pennsylvania Railroad--and did all the wiring, plumbing and whatever the house needed by himself. Still standing after 60 years, the home is a tribute to him and my Mother.

Dad was a master handyman who could fix just about anything. Living out in the country, we had to be pretty self-reliant and Dad always rose to the occasion. I learned that same kind of self-reliance from him and, for good or ill, if I have problem, I always try to solve it myself before asking anyone for help. I've tackled lots of jobs a wiser woman might not have even tried because of the values of self worth and "I can do it," instilled in me by my father's example. I've even done a few minor electrical repairs on my own, but I am careful--I'll hire a real electrician for the serious stuff.

I cannot recall my Dad ever missing a day of work. I'm sure he did, but those times were so far and few between I never noticed. When he left the Railroad, he became and Inspector for the Federal Government and traveled all around the State to various plants and factories as a Quality Control Inspector. He'd leave early in the morning and come home around 5 PM or so and then do some kind of work around the house. Well, after dinner, that is.

We always had a full family dinner together. My Mother was a teacher and she worked as hard as my Dad. But every evening, she would fix a dinner for us all and we'd sit to eat. My Dad would tell us long tales of his day at work, and I got to know a lot about places in New Jersey through his adventures. Even today when I drive around the State. the names I heard him say ring in my memory: Eatontown, Springfield, Summit, Farmingdale, and more. I learned there was more to the State than my hometown--a world beyond our back door.

But out the back door was my Dad's pride and joy--his yard and garden. He loved flowers and always planted rows of them with beds of roses and peonies that still bloom today despite my neglect. Gladious were always one of his favorites, and he never forgot his wedding anniversary when he would have a huge bouquet of them delivered to my Mother on January 1. He worked as hard in the garden as he did on the job.

I learned to enjoy the taste of fresh vegetables. Sweet corn picked a minute before being plunged into a pot of boiling water was the sweetest thing on earth. And tomatoes of all kinds were good to eat right off the vine with a little salt and no bother of preparation. Peppers, lima beans, string beans, peas, squash, eggplant, asparagus, cucumbers and more graced our table every summer and my Mother would can and freeze baskets of produce to keep us filled up through the winter. My Dad provided for his family with hard work on the job and hard work on the land.

My Dad was good too about getting things for both my brother and me. More than once he surprised me at Christmas with the doll I had longed for. One of the best gifts was my bicycle. Ours was a lightly traveled country road at the time. Across the way was a sandpit with tons of dirt roads and behind us a vast woodland with winding trails and farm fields with dirt roads. My Dad saved money to get my brother and me Schwinn middleweight bicycles, high-end models. I'd learned to ride a two- wheeler on one of my cousin's bike. So when I got the new bike I was all ready.

And here's where one of the most important lessons my Dad taught me comes in. My brother and I had to promise that every time we needed to cross the roads with our bikes we had to get off and walk them across. If my Dad ever saw us or heard that we were riding, he would take the bikes away. This was, of course, a safety issue, to make us pay extra attention to watch for traffic. Today, as I drive my car, that lesson sticks with me. I always look once, twice, three times before entering an intersection, even if the light has just changed in my favor. I cannot tell you how many times that extra ounce of caution has saved me.

I think my Dad knew one day that lesson would matter. He may not have known how much his work ethic impacted me to be a responsible employee myself, or how our dinners of good healthy food and family conversations molded my character, or even how I learned to love and appreciate the beauty of nature because of his flowers, but he did know about that bike.

And every time I reach an intersection, in the road of in my life, I always remember his lesson of love.

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