As a child, my father walked five miles to school in three feet of snow with nothing but a sweater to wear. It might have been uphill both ways. I’m a little vague on that detail. He quit school after eighth grade, not because the walks wore him out or exposure to the elements was too much bear. He quit school because his clothing consisted of mended hand-me-downs and the other children made fun of him for his shoddy attire.
Putting this notion in the context of the depression era, one has to believe that, if my father’s clothing was an embarrassment to him, then he couldn’t have been very alone. Wages that my father earned from working after he quit school were taken by his father to support the family. The injustice of it all was that his older brothers, who were given the best clothing, continued on to graduate from high school.
Sort through this how you may but, whether exaggerated or not, it helps one to understand why my father worked two jobs most of his life to give his children better than he had while growing up. His workday started at 8:00 AM or earlier and didn’t end until 12:00 AM. Add in a four packs of cigarettes per day habit and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand why he left the earth with only forty-one years of physical life behind him.
The saddest part of my father’s short life was that he could not have been enjoying life very much with no time to relax and share with the children that he wanted so much for. He used to talk of taking us to Chicago on vacation so that we might take in the museums. It never happened for one reason or another.
My wife and I took our own children to Chicago when they were little more than toddlers. A few years later we went again on the children’s suggestion. They had been impressed enough with the trip to want to make a second vacation in Chicago.
It was times like that that I missed my father most. He would have enjoyed watching his pre-school grandson awe at the dinosaur skeleton exhibits at the Field Museum. He would have had real life experience to add commentary to the visit to the Museum of Science and Industry. My father often talked of going to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. His grandsons did so in the Chicago Stadium but without knowing the pleasure of their grandfather beside them.
With all of my father’s youthful experience of braving the elements, I know that sitting out an entire Bears game at Soldier Field would have been easy for him a few years later in Chicago. I would have happily given up my seat to him. I can picture him there in the nosebleed seats of the end zone wearing nothing but a sweater while the Buccaneers pounded the Bears.
My father was less of a football fan than I was but he would have treasured the reaction of his twelve-year-old grandson as the Bears came to life in the fourth quarter and almost took the win away from Tampa Bay. The thrill of it might have warmed him enough cast off his sweater. My children never knew their grandfather but it was during these times, when I know that he would have enjoyed them, that I missed him.