Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have turned 78. I miss you dad.
My dad had a bit of a temper, especially when I was younger. My brothers and I were on the receiving end of more than one spanking. And dad certainly mellowed as he (or we…?) got older. But the times I remember most aren’t when he got mad at me for some stupid thing I did, but the times when he didn’t.
One time, we were at a friend’s house, loading wood into dad’s pickup truck. It was a Ford F-250, if I remember right. Dual tone, purple and white or grey. Dad really used that thing, towing his tractor and, once, even his loaded hay truck. Anyways, dad and his friend were cutting up a tree and we – my brothers and I – were loading the pieces into the bed of the truck. I didn’t want to be there. I don’t remember how old I was, maybe early teen, but I guess I had better things to do. I was grumpy and I was carelessly tossing the logs into the back when one of them bounced just wrong and went through the sliding window on the back of the cab. I was so sure I was going to get chewed out or worse, but dad just asked if it was an accident. When I said yes, he sort of shrugged and went back to work.
But the most surprising time happened when I was even younger. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, so this was before I was fourteen (Idaho has a young driving age). It was cold out, sometime in the winter, and dad asked me to start the pickup – that same F-250, I think, but he had a few different ones over the years so I’m not sure – to warm it up. I climbed into the cab and, just like he had taught me and I’d seen him do a hundred times, I turned the key and gave the engine a little gas to get it flowing. The pickup suddenly lurched forward, smashing through the garage door and all the way through the garage until it hit the chest freezer in the back, where it finally came to a stop. Mom still has that chest freezer, with a big dent in it.
The whole thing took literally seconds and I don’t think I realized what had happened for a few minutes. When everyone came out, dad asked why I hadn’t put in the clutch before starting it. I stammered, telling him I didn’t know about the clutch, that I did what he had always done and what he told me. It turns out that he had parked it in gear, which I’m sure he always did but I never realized. I’m sure I was in a state of shock. He was sure upset, but not mad like I might have expected.
I don’t remember what we did next – I guess removed the remains of that garage door and got the truck back out. I don’t recall if dad ever made it to wherever he was going. Mom and dad couldn’t afford a new garage door, so dad simply put up a couple of sheets of plywood on hinges to create a huge swinging double door. The garage sort of became his own Txoko – a place where he could do his thing, hang with his friends. He’d sit in there often, cleaning and braiding his garlic, sometimes with a few buddies and a bottle of wine, a six-pack of beer, or whiskey. His salt box, where he cured his hams, was in there too, and he’d often have a leg out that he’d slice off pieces of ham for him and his friends. They played more than one game of mus in there. Dad took the box of lemons I gave him and made some awesome lemonade.
It wasn’t until many years later, long after I’d gone to college and graduated, that mom and dad finally replaced those sheets of plywood with a regular garage door.
Ok, there is one time I remember when he got really mad at me. I don’t remember the context, but we were all at our house, and mom and dad had some friends over. We were all supposed to do something, something exciting that I couldn’t wait for. I want to say it might have been Christmas, and maybe we had to do something before we could open presents. I’m not sure. Anyways, dad was sitting in his recliner, talking with his friends in Basque. I kept trying to get his attention, because I really wanted to do whatever it was we were going to do. And we had to wait for him and his friends. Over and over, I kept saying “dad,” “come on,” “let’s go,” but he was engrossed with his friends and ignoring me. So, I decided to get his attention. I hit him in the balls. That sure got his attention! Dad got really mad. Mom said something like “He didn’t know what he was doing.” Dad shook his head, his face red in anger, and said “He knew exactly what he was doing.” I got a spanking right there and then. But, dad was right, I knew what I was doing. I was getting his attention!
Thanks to Lisa Van De Graaff for encouraging me to record dad and his stories when I could.