“You’re not half as sharp as you think you are missy” roared Dad on a rare good day. We both were extremely competitive and we constantly locked horns, bouncing off each other like two rutting elk. We obsessively, almost bitterly tried to outdo one another. For example, I’d never earn as much wages as he made, even as I became an accomplished adult with some pretty sharp job skills. He wanted a son.
Cocky lovable unstoppable Dad – “average Joe” handsome, slight of build, carried a threatening aluminum bat with him for protection against “road rage loose nuts behind the wheel”. He was a forty-year Teamster, a loyal “company man” long-haul trucker ferrying doubles and triples (train cars), and the occasional oxygen truck. One terrifying day, the oxygen truck let fly a cap shockingly straight into poor Dad’s teeth. Winsomely, toothlessly, he agreed I had sharper teeth than he with his newly acquired uncomfortable and slippery ill-fitting dentures.
He was spunky Pennsylvania-Dutch, always having us “red off the table” and insisting we eat spiky endive. He was also my sis’s Godfather. The day of Mom’s first marriage, Mom slapped him for betrayal against her groom. What did he do? He, daddy’s best man - asked Mom to marry HIM. He waited fourteen years, unable to follow through with three engagements. He was never a threat to their marriage – he was the rock we clung to when daddy became uncontrollably drunk.
After our alcoholic father died tragically, Dad married Mom, Barb and me. He adopted us, but we knew Dad got the sharpest deal – three for the price of one. I agree – that is hard to beat. Barb and I were eleven and ten respectively. We all “honeymooned” from Cleveland, Ohio to San Diego, California. We took the picturesque and unforgettable Route 66 – surviving all the tourist traps with minimum dollar loss. That is quite a tale in itself.
It got to be a family joke – Dad threatened and glowered and stared at a spot on my forehead while verbally thrashing me. When he said “let’s go for a walk”, I was in big trouble. When I finally realized he was all bluff and bluster – that dulled a bit of that sharp edge.
Dad teased me unmercifully. He said it would prepare me for adulthood when everyone would pit heads against mine. He was merciless, and I lived in quivering fear and rage half the time. He yelled over my attempts to explain my side – his voice penetratingly ear-splitting sharp. Surprisingly he could also be unbelievably, incomparably loving.
Mom, a lovely green-eyed raven haired gypsy unfortunately almost always emotionally undone, was extremely overwrought with me one unlucky day, and vengefully had Dad schedule a “meeting” in our bathroom. This had extreme mayhem potential, as he very slowly removed and doubled his belt and marched me in. Shockingly, Dad understood my side of the disagreement. He told me to scream like a stuck pig while he violently beat his belt buckle against the tub to satisfy Mom’s punishment requirements. Most gratefully, I agreed that was very sharp of him indeed.
Dad continued threatenings and bluster on my wedding day – “If you ever make my little girl cry (I was twenty-six) I’m coming after you with a shotgun”. I was terribly embarrassed, but I felt his love.
Then the call came – Dad had developed inoperable Pancreatic Cancer. It had metastasized from his Lung Cancer ten years prior. Incredibly, he had been in remission for ten blessed years. He stubbornly, adamantly refused to give up chain smoking - arguing he could die anytime while on the road. He said he had the right to choose which way he would die.
The only thing I could give him was love and melting ice cream sandwiches from the vending machine. He lost the “sharpness contest” for a time, chuffing on those cigarettes. Idea – offer to pay Dad’s way into a Pro-Am golf tournament! He loved the “Golden Boy” Jack Nicklaus and dreamed of just playing on the same green as he did. He agreed to stop smoking!
I watched as he too quickly melted away – his wrinkled thighs were the circumference of my wrists, his horribly distended stomach made him look eight months pregnant. He exhaustedly and painfully lost interest in life, and finally gave up his beloved cigarettes. He died the day following his decision to stop smoking.
We scattered his ashes on the golf course.
Now he plays with all his heroes – pretty sharp, eh?
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