“See the streaks?” my father asked, pointing at the window. “Do it again.”
I protested since I had ‘cleaned’ half the windows in the house already. He showed me how to buff the window and I did it right the next time, having learned a tough lesson as a young child.
Father assigned chores around the house and we worked at the family business. My brother and I worked summers there full time and every weekend of our young lives since I can remember.
One summer I got hooked on the soap opera, Santa Barbara. My father turned off the TV. “You’re not going to watch TV all summer. You can sit here and watch people live. Or, you can get up and live.”
He had similar expectations for school and everything else: get good grades, work hard and pay attention. We knew early on that we’d better figure out a way to pay for college. That was our burden, not his. We both earned full scholarships to college.
Looking back I’m grateful for that. His tough love and work ethic taught me a lot about independence.
But, Dad wasn’t all work. He read to us often, even in high school, from Kipling to the Psalms and his own stories. Other times, he’d sing old folk tunes playing his guitar at bedtime. We fell asleep with the lyrics and characters in our heads.
In the morning, he’d ask “What’s the importance of today, March 15th?” We didn’t know so he’d tell us, “It’s the Ides of March, Julius Caesar’s fateful day.”
He showed us there was so much to know about the world.
I took my oldest daughter to visit my parents recently. Exploring the house, she observed, “Grandpa has shelves with three guitars on them.” A Martin, Gretsch and Gibson Les Paul filled those old cases.
“Yes, “ I said. “Grandpa’s played guitar all his life and he played throughout my childhood, just like I play piano for you. But grandpa doesn’t play anymore.”
My father’s in his 70s. His medication affects his memory and he’s lost a lot of his balance so he stopped driving this year. He’s packed away the books from his life and travels; now dust covers the empty bookshelves in his office. But he works on jigsaws and reads the new books that I send.
I went over to the old Kimball upright I learned on as a child. I marveled at how much of him I’ve become as I played tunes for my Dad. Songs he once played for me.