Sunday, June 16, 2013
Things I Learned from My Father
My father probably never met a vehicle he didn't like. He was racing cars when he was a teenager in New Jersey and won trophies there and in California, Texas, and Australia. He also raced motorcycles and won with them. I grew up hanging around cars, motorcycles, boats, garages, and racetracks. I used to hang over the engine compartment when my father was working on a car and knew the names of most of the engine parts and tools (I'm a little out of practice now!). I started riding behind my father on motorcycles when I was about 3 years old and got my first bike at about 13, a little 75cc Yamahauler (which my 6'1" father also used to ride around, which looked pretty silly). I'm still hooked on driving; since I've been able to afford a vehicle, I think the longest I've gone without one is a week. The smell of a garage takes me back to my childhood. And one of these days I've got to get another motorcycle.
My dad was (and is) very talented musically. He used to play piano and guitar (unfortunately, he can't anymore due to arthritis). He would play and sing songs to us children. When we were really little he would do the whole songs, but as we got older he would sometimes try to skip a verse. Of course, we, being smart-alecks, always noticed and told him he had to sing the entire song. I know I got my love of music from him (especially since my mother couldn't carry a tune in a bucket).
I learned to appreciate spicy food from my father. When I was young he especially liked spicy chili. Even though it bothered his stomach, he would tell my mom to make it really spicy. Then, after dinner, he would ask (okay, yell) for bicarb (bicarbonate of soda) to help settle his stomach. I've never had to use the bicarb, but I love my chilis. I put them in almost everything.
I'm not saying my father is egotistical, but he taught me two great phrases about self-promotion: "If you got it, flaunt it", and "I'm not conceited, I'm convinced." I'm not sure how much of that I've taken to heart, but at least I remember the lesson.
Both of my parents were openminded and nonracist, which they passed on to us, but I didn't know just how color-blind my father was until I tried to track down a copy of a talent show on which he had appeared. He had told us for years that he had been on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour with a band and that they had come in second to "a female singer." That was all he remembered about her. After several years of research, I spoke with the curator of the Amateur Hour collection (now housed at the Library of Congress). He has an extensive index of the acts that had competed on the show. He found my father's band (the Court Jesters) and was absolutely positive that no recording of that episode existed, as he himself had been trying to find one for many years -- it was the first televised appearance of Gladys Knight, who won that night. And my father had no recollection that the winner had been black. For 1952, that's pretty impressive.