I saw a post on social media recently that waxed on excitedly about a child’s learning to tie his shoes, and it brought back-sharply-a memory of my own father teaching me to tie my shoes. As a toddler I definitely had an ongoing issue with shoes, including misplacing them, as Mama has written about in the spiral notebooks.
Papa’s approach was one of infinite patience, in the setting of the teacher. He taught me to ride my first bike, which Mama’s notes indicate was Christmas of 1957, a few months after my fifth birthday. His approach was simple and to the point.
“Now you’re going to get those feet going round and round on the pedals,” he instructed, “and I’m going to get you going fast, and then I’m going to let go.”
“What happens if I crash, Papa?” Catastrpophizing at such an early age.
Frankly, the only flying I have ever done, has occurred while sitting in an armchair, with my bong as captain and sole navigator.
Then there were kites, and the hugely successful efforts to get them up. I remember Papa tying the string around one of the buttons on my shirt, which then left me hands-free, and having the button pop off under the strain.
The hunt was on! I had to scour back yards of the housing tract a couple of streets over, but that was part of the fun of flying a kite. Our chemical makeup as kids, did not allow for a kite to simply be abandoned. Fifteen cents (the cost of a kite), was fifteen cents, and I’d go to the ends of the world to recover a kite, even if I destroyed it in the process.
That occurred routinely when trying to extract a kite from a tree.
|Noel, Papa, and Matt, June 1972, La Paz trip|
Papa taught us how to play baseball, and he used to play catch with us. He helped Bob Kinney coach flyweight league one year, because Brian and Jeff Kinney were playing. JT and I used to go to the games, but we never watched them, being far too busy exploring wherever we were, probably searching for coke bottles.
Not pop bottles, or soda bottles, or Pepsi bottles, but, simply, coke bottles, as in, “If you’re going to the store, will you get me a coke?”
“Sure, what do you want?” If it seems like a dumb question, it wasn’t.
“Bring me an RC, will you? I’ve been hitting the Double Cola a lot, so I want a change of pace.” What I didn’t drink back as a kid, was either Coca-Cola, or Pepsi-Cola, for the reason that both were only 12 ounces, compared to the aforementioned RC and DC Colas, which were 16 ounces. They all cost the same, fifteen cents, plus the three-cent deposit.
Of all the memories of Papa teaching me, though, the one that stands out clearest, is when I was slated to give a speech in front of my eighth grade class, some 43 strong. Harry S. Truman was the subject of my speech, a topic that my father was most enthusiastic about.
“Harry made the decision to drop the bomb,” he informed me, “thus ending WWII. You might want to pose the question in your speech, “Should Harry have dropped the bomb?’ You could give the point of view from both sides, and then end your speech with a question!”
I loved it, followed his advice, and was pleased with the results. Mostly, I was just pleased to have it over with, but Papa’s interaction had been a pretty cool component to the whole assignment.
We shared an interest in collecting coins, particularly Lincoln pennies. Brian would bring Papa rolls of pennies from Sunrize, and he would go through them, culling out the Lincoln pennies and sorting them out by year and mint.
Finally, we shared the fact that of his seven sons, I was the only one to serve in the armed forces, as he had done in WWII. I remember coming home on leave, before heading overseas to Korea, and greeting him as he came home from work.
I had taken my Nova down off the blocks, and had been tuning it up, prior to Papa’s coming home. I had downed several tall Oly’s and had a stellar buzz going on. As he got out of his pick-up and ambled over to me, I stuck out my hand and damn near crushed his in my enthusiasm.
Surprised, he looked at me, looked down at his hand, looked at me again, and gave me this very funny look, while shaking his right hand. The look said, “I get it,” so plainly, that nothing else needed to be said, and he headed on into the kitchen to have his afternoon libation, before tackling dinner.
Leaving for the military, in January of 1972, saw Papa and I spend the next ten years apart, until I moved up here to the mountain, in May of 1982. Until his passing in 1996, we spent countless hours together because I worked his little retirement patch for him, doing the grunt work, but also the sexing of the plants, because he just couldn’t see well enough to do the job himself.
|Instead of buying pier blocks, we made our own|
out of tar paper.
He helped me with the foundation of the original 16 x 20 cabin, that now serves as our kitchen. As always, he was teaching as he went along, showing me how to measure kitty-corner, from each of the two parts of the x, in order to assure that the building was square. "If your floor is out of square, then you're fucked from the get-go, when it comes to framing."
He got no argument from me.
Eric was the oldest and acknowledged leader of us kids, Brian was the brain, and Noel was the favorite, but I had the military connection, and at the end of his life, the connection with cannabis. He taught us all that to live was to work, but that if possible, we should be happy in our work.
I have always found that to be admirable advice and have followed it through all of my careers: store clerk at Sunrize, personnel records clerk in the military, auto parts clerk in San Jose, tradesman on the mountain, and middle school teacher in the Laytonville Unified School District, at the middle school level.
Being happy is more important than being rich, I used to teach my students. You may not think so now, but if you are happy at work, you don’t care what time the clock says; if you’re unhappy, that’s all you care about.
Or you could be like me and work on a farm, where the only clock that exists is the one in the sky, and where we are all happy in our work.