Monday, August 15, 2005

Dad's Eightieth

My father's eightieth birthday is tomorrow. I can't go to Vegas to help him celebrate because
  • any temperature over 75F feels unbearably hot to me,
  • my patients threaten me if I use any syllables in the word 'vacation', and
  • have I mentioned recently how far overbudget we are on our remodel?
So, instead, I offer this short bio of my dad's formative years. (Don't worry. He got a card and a gift certificate, and he'll get a phone call, too.) He was born in Boston, at the west end of Bowdoin Square near Scollay Square. Here's an image of a post card showing Scollay Square circa 1900:
I really wanted to scan in some photos from my album, but Karen's had a devil of a time getting either of our scanners to work. Just as well; my dad has seen all of those photos anyway. Maybe he'll have more fun with these. His father was a grocer -- one of those small stores that predated chain supermarkets (predated, but not by much, as you'll soon hear). Little Arthur waited on his first customer at age 3. Probably sold someone a pack of playing cards, if I know my dad. His pop's name was Hyman, which (if I remember correctly) was Ellis Island's way of spelling Chaim. Hyman moved around a lot in those days. By the mid-30s, he'd moved the grocery store to Roxbury, across the street from the synagogue.
I found this while surfing for "Roxbury" images. It's a picture of Boston Latin School. Recognize this one, Mom? My dad went to Roxbury Memorial High, but I couldn't find any pictures of Roxbury High. Back to Hyman and his war with the rabbi. He kept his store open on Saturdays (for you heathens, that's the Jewish sabbath) and his clients were, you guessed it, primarily other Orthodox Jews from the neighborhood . . . thus proving that my issues with organized religion go back at least two generations. Hyman must have thought this all great fun; in the late 30s, he moved to Dorchester, right across from another synagogue.
You understand, I'm winging it. Maybe this was the synagogue Hyman locked horns with; maybe not. Maybe my father had his Bar Mitzvah here. A life, reconstructed through Google Images. By the late 30s, the big supermarket chains moved into town, grinding small businessmen like my grandfather into the dust. Damn you, A&P! Hyman moved on and became a soda pop wholesaler. Meanwhile, the now not-so-little Arthur found work as a supermarket stock boy and mechanic's helper. He was a big kid so he hung out with older boys. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, many of his friends went to Canada to fight with the British. Arthur was still too young (14). Come 1941, he'd graduated high school and moved on to Iowa State. I imagine he had a blast that year. Not only was he big; he looked more mature than others his age. His older friends got carded at the bars, but not him. Hyman had taught him well, so Arthur also scored big playing pinochle with these suckers. They were his financial aid plan. If you try, you can guess the rest. When America got into WWII, my father's friends enlisted, and he followed suit. No one bothered to ask him for proof of his age. Two blinks later he found himself in boot camp in Fort Benning, Georgia. He managed to hit many of the high points (low points?) of the European theater of action: first in Africa, at Kasserine Pass,
then the Allied Invasion of Sicily (that's my dad in the helmet*),
and the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach,
In Aachen, some German soldier got in a lucky shot and clipped my dad in the knee. That gave him some primo rehab time in a Paris hospital, where they pumped him full of toxic levels of penicillin and buffed him into shape in time for the Battle of the Bulge,
Woops! This Battle of the Bulge:
The Army kept Arthur around for the German occupation, too, and discharged him in January 1946. One of my dad's favorite war stories was the time a shell dropped into the foxhole right next to him and blew him clean out of the hole. He sustained no injuries (save for some noise-induced hearing loss. Sorry, had to work that in -- occupational hazard), but the shell killed a friend of his who had been a great deal farther from the blast. This, and doubtless countless other experiences like it, turned him into a Calvinist Jew. Well, he's not much of either, but he does seem to have a belief in predestination. Something must happen to you when you see all your friends dying around you day after day, month after month. Survive that, and the rest of your life must seem like a gift. Gravy. Frosting. Borrowed time. One of those must surely fit the bill. My dad's other war stories tend to fit one of two patterns: 1. Green lieutenant arrives. He's too arrogant (and/or stupid) to listen to the voice of experience, and promptly does his best to get himself and the rest of the guys killed. 2. They try to promote my dad, but he won't put up with the brass's BS and always manages to get busted down to sergeant again. He got back to the States and found himself in the "52-20" club: all vets received an unemployment wage of $20 a month for 52 weeks. By June of '46, he was doubtlessly bored silly, and went back to school at Iowa State. He took a degree in statistics. Later, he married my mom in January of '48, and they moved to California shortly after he graduated. He worked in banks for a while. Eventually, he became a high school math teacher, and kept that up for MANY years. I suspect his students had the same impression of him as I did, growing up.
(In case you can't read the upper bubble, it says: "Did you clean your room???") I'll save early memories of my dad to a later birthday. Did I leave much out, Daddy? Anyway . . .
Happy Birthday, Daddy, and many happy returns!
D. *Just kidding. That's Patton!

4 Comments:

Blogger mm said...

Happy Birthday, Doug's dad.

8/16/2005 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Jona said...

Hope he had a super day!

8/16/2005 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Stamper in LV said...

I really enjoyed reading this and got a few chuckles out of it.

8/16/2005 05:20:00 PM  
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