Quotes of Dad

Social IssuesRelationship

  • Author Arthur Gevarnick
  • Published September 4, 2022
  • Word count 1,367

Chapter 10 Quotes of Dad

Dad was born in 1933, in Pittsburgh, the surviving twin of a single parent, his twin having died at birth, making him a survivor right from the start. His mother had left Canada to escape the shame of pregnancy out of wedlock. The world was in depression and times were tough. She found work as live-in cook for a millionaire widow. Her life, never easy, was made harder by the fact that she was largely deaf, depending on hearing aids at a time when that technology was little better than sticking an “ear-trumpet” in one’s ear. She had coiled wires hanging out of her ears leading to a sizable battery box and can remember how those cumbersome hearing aids would sometimes spontaneously erupt, producing a loud, piercing squeal, which would illicit a hard involuntary hand-slap to that ear. Her son was raised in a succession of Catholic boarding homes, essentially orphanages. Not an easy start, and one he would never elaborate on, even when pressed.

He quit high school so he could start working and earn some money, so as to become self-sufficient, initially taking jobs washing cars at car lots. That sparked a life-long interest in cars. He said, “They would let him do some tinkering from time to time at the car lots.” He learned what he could and made some friends along the way. He learned how to roller skate and became so good at it, he was once offered an opportunity to go on tour. He was able to do all those jumps and spins and intricate dances on roller skates, like you see ice skaters do now.

Finally entering a training program he spent years of hard work and study going through the many levels of “journeyman” and then “apprentice” that were required to become a mechanic. Dad could fix anything. In his own words he said, “A mechanic has to be part engineer, part electrician, and part plumber.” He even sometimes made his own tools, welding pieces of metal together to build some complex apparatus he needed but could not afford to buy.

As his family grew he moved us out of the city and into the suburbs protecting us from the city’s rising crime. He was right to be concerned. Areas where people had once pushed strollers would, within a decade, become locales where gangs regularly shot it out. This gave him a considerably longer commute, made more difficult in winter. Before the climate tanked, we measured our snow in feet. No matter. Between snow tires, studs, and putting on chains, he always made it to work though many others didn’t. And he put in a good day’s work once there, which is why he found it congruous that I could forgot the one chore he had assigned me-putting the trash cans out to the street on Wednesday nights for early Thursday morning pickup. So, at such times when I did forget, then hearing him dragging those cans up, in the dark, before work, I felt bad. Then I’d want to make it up to him. So I would do stupid shit like painting his work bench in multi-colored stripes, thinking it might please him, or, more practically, cleaning out his garage. He never got too riled when he could have, as he was always more level-headed than I.

He worked a full-time job, a part-time job, and fixed cars in our own garage downstairs in his “spare time.“ He didn’t do much yard work, having never had a yard, so we kids pitched-in and learned to do a pretty good job of that. To get to spend time with Dad I would help him in the garage every chance I could, which usually involved holding the light so he could see, while he crawled around an engine. Or sometimes I’d pass him tools, as if he were a surgeon. He had slung a chain over the I-beam that supported the house and used it to lift engines out of cars. It’s amazing how much work went on in that little garage. Once I tried to hand him a torque wrench as he was starting to bolt the head on an engine. He just smiled, continued using what he had and said, “I am a torque wrench.”

He never talked much while working, preferring to smoke his pipe. It got so that I started thinking of him as “the sphinx,“ and would start doing the talking for both of us. After finishing some lengthy oratory, and having received no response from him, I would say, “Now if you talked, you would probably say…” to which I would equivocate his likely response. At such times he would only smile, maybe letting out a little chuckle, never saying one way or the other what he thought of all that.

I knew he realized that I really didn’t have much aptitude for mechanics. I would never be the kid who would “soup-up his car, “ or engage in drag-racing. I saw a car as transportation enhanced by a good stereo, and was perfectly content to ride around in whatever I had with my beer buddies.

Dad sometimes drove a big tow-truck that was designed to haul tractor trailers and occasionally would take me with him. We went all over. Sometimes to New England, sometimes to the East Coast. One morning Dad asked me, “Did I want to go with him to Cleveland, to deliver a truck to some band.“ I declined that day preferring to go cruising with my beer buddies and potentially missed out on a chance to meet Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who were then touring.

Dad passed away a few years ago, and with that passing I have come to realize how very much he taught me. His words come to me now at odd times. He said lots of things, that maybe then I didn’t always hear… Things like: “Strike while the iron is hot.” “If the shoe fits, wear it.” “Beggars can’t be choosers.” “Empty cans make the most noise.” And sometimes his words were tailored as advice: “Let that be a lesson to you.” “Don’t get ahead of yourself.” “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” He could be cynical: “Let’s not and say we did,” or “Moses was slow, but he was old,” and sometimes just thoughtful or practical: “We’ll see which way the wind blows.” “If you want to save money, stay out of stores,” or his, “Don’t get into a pissing contest…“ He steered clear of “John Law“ but wasn’t above stretching the rules in order to survive. One snowy morning, when a reckless driver was careening across four lanes of traffic, aiming for the little gas station at the end of our road, Dad seeing this, suddenly gunned his engine, in an effort to position the ass end of his Chevy so the guy would hit it. When the “Mario Andretti” narrowly missed us, Dad sighed… then said, “I almost had a new car back there..”

After working late in the garage and finishing a big job, even at 2:00 am, he would sit down on a stool with a pail gas, take out a clean shop rag, and carefully, methodically, clean every one of those tools he had just used. I asked him once why he spent so much time doing this now, so late at night. He said, “These are the tools that provide for our family. They are like friends to me.” I understood and adopted that habit, hopefully along with a few others. In his declining years he joined a pool team at the local sportsman's bar. When one of his eyes started wandering “to the East”-affecting his vision, one of his less compassionate teammates took it upon themselves to mount a rifle scope on Dad’s pool stick. He took it in stride… Later, even when he lost the use of his legs, from all the abuse his knees had taken crawling around garage floors, he never lost his smile. He was loved and will be missed.

Arthur Gevarnick

Former naval officer, retired VA dentist, enjoys chess, reading and fly fishing.

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