While I was still little enough, my father would lift me to touch the ceiling. How I loved that! Then one day he told me I was too heavy. Of course, I weighed a solid 60 pounds in first grade, so no wonder. No wonder either, that Dad called me his “Two-Ton Galento.” For years, I assumed that it was some kind of tank or military vehicle. After I mentioned this during Dad’s funeral eulogy, a man approached me at the reception and filled me in: “Two-Ton” Tony Galento was a prize fighter in the 1940s. Dad’s moniker for me had less to do with my size than with my scrappiness. Considering my spats with my brother, I probably more than earned my nickname.
But that didn’t mean Dad let me fight my own battles or let down his vigilance for his only daughter. I was precious, and I knew it. I admired his strength, 6-foot stature, and military bearing, especially that time I arrived close to midnight at the Manchester bus stop after an edgy ride from Boston. For two hours, I had crouched against the window to avoid my unsavory male seatmate full of alcohol and overtures. When I saw Dad in his short, gray wool coat and fedora waiting for me, I ran to his side. The seatmate vanished into the shadows.
Even as Dad aged and lost strength, he still considered himself my protector. I was 50-something and swimming around the float about 50-70 feet from shore at our Merrymeeting Lake cottage. Dad, 80-ish and post-triple bypass, pulled a lawn chair close to the shore, and sat watching, just as he had done for years when I was a child. The wind flapped his pant legs and blew his hair up straight, but I knew he was still my “lifeguard.” Even though he couldn’t possibly have assisted me if I had been in danger, I know for certain that he would have drowned trying.
Dad himself escaped drowning several times on Lake Massabesic, his hangout away from the cramped cottage that housed him and Grammy and his 3 brothers. He told me how he made his iceboat from old 2 x 4s, clamp-on double-runner ice skates, and a sheet. The time the wind blew him toward open water, he had no way to steer or stop and – splash! -- right into the frigid lake. He managed to haul himself out with the help of his dog, Jock. Anyway, he lived to tell the tale. Sometimes he’d bring me along while he ice-fished. Knowing he was there made me brave enough to spread my arms and let the wind sweep me across the ice for half a mile or more. Skates and teeth chattering, I flew, giddy with the freedom Dad knew so well.
Dad spent his entire life on that lake. When I was in grade-school, he saved up for a 12’ aluminum boat and together we cruised Massabesic. When he’d open up that 7 H.P. motor to full throttle, I’d gasp in gleeful terror going so fast, hair blowing, spray flying, water churning through my fingers. Yet more outdoor freedom.
Another sweet childhood memory, thanks to Dad, was my swing under the towering elm tree in the back yard. He built a wooden frame for the sturdy seat, 1-2 inches thick, suspended by heavy chain. I spent hours swinging and singing under the elm boughs, pumping out over the shady part of the garden where Dad planted cucumbers and squash. Such was my childhood bliss.
By the time Dad turned 84, he was again in the hospital. I made his favorite custard pie for his birthday August 19, but he was rarely conscious enough to eat it. At one point he surfaced and whispered to my mother, “Can I say, ‘Happy New Year’?”
“Yes, Harry. You can say ‘Happy New Year’.”
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Dad rose from his pillow and flung up his arms like he was doing the wave. “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” So loud and clear was he, the nurses paused, smiled, and returned the greeting. Where, in 84 years of memories, was he ringing in the New Year? Which year? Apparently, it was a joyous one.
That “Happy New Year!” in August was the last thing I ever heard Dad say. May God grant him a Happy Eternity while his Two-Ton Galento faces her 18th Father’s Day without him. ###
Describe a vivid memory of your father or a father figure as seen from your eyes as a child.