It’s hard to imagine that my mother could ever tire of spending unending hours with my sister and I, model children that we were. But nonetheless, Saturday afternoons frequently found us in the company of my father, visiting the Charlotte Nature Museum. We watched lots of nature movies there. This was long before Animal Planet existed.
And Sunday afternoons we often ice skated at the public skating sessions at the Coliseum where the hockey team played. I didn’t realize at the time how self-centered I was, but now as I think back on it I can’t remember if my Dad skated or if he just watched us. I never had lessons and never mastered much beyond skating forward, but skating endless loops around the rink could entertain me for hours on end. By the time we packed up to go home my feet would be aching. (And hopefully Mom, after two kid-free afternoons, would be fully recovered and ready to face another week of stay-at-home parenting.)
Dad always liked to stop for a doughnut. No matter where we’d been, it seemed like our route home always wound past the Krispy Kreme on Independence Boulevard. Once he didn’t realize till after we’d snacked that he had no cash. He went out to the car to see if he could find some change in the seats, but the staff came running after him. They knew him well enough (and knew he’d be back soon enough) to trust him to the honor system.
When I was little he worked as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft. What he actually did during the day was a big mystery to me, but in my mind having heard he was an engineer I thought he drove trains around.
His lifelong hobby was astronomy. He was probably right near the top of the list of people with the longest Sky and Telescope magazine subscriptions. I think the first time he got his hands on some money for discretionary spending he used it to buy a telescope, which served him well for MANY years. Friday nights he headed out to the observatory maintained by the Charlotte Amateur Astronomer’s Club. On numerous occasions during my growing up years he would awaken my sister and me in the middle of the night and usher us out to the front yard, or occasionally up to the school, to observe something in the night-time sky. A comet. Or an asteroid. Maybe a super-nova. Some shooting stars.
The most exciting outing happened in the middle of the day. Charlotte was situated in the path of a partial solar eclipse. But by driving a few hours we could position ourselves in the region that would experience a total eclipse. So that’s what we did. We were in a rural area where lots of astronomer type people had set-ups allowing us to watch the reflection of the sun as it was gradually covered by the moon’s shadow. It wasn’t safe to look directly into the sun! At least not until the process was complete and the sun was completely covered, except for a ring around the outside. Then it got dark. The chickens went to roost. For three or four minutes it was distinctly other-worldly.
Our house had a basement workshop that was only accessible from a door to the back yard. If he was working down there and it was time for me to go to bed, I would go to the heating duct and holler GOOD NIGHT, which always got a similar reply from him. I thought that was about the neatest thing in the world. A magic communication port.
(My delight was possibly superseded by the time we were between kitchen tables so we temporarily used the round outdoor table right there in the kitchen, I guess with a tablecloth thrown over it. There was a hole in the middle for an umbrella. Depending on what food item was sitting at the table center, you could stick your toe up through the hole and make the dish jump around. Which would immediately be followed by howls of laughter. Oh, but we were easy to please!)
When Mom and Dad visited us in New Jersey after we had kids, they’d stay for a week or so. While Mom could be entertained endlessly with the grandchildren, Dad needed a project to work on. On various visits, he installed shelving in one of the bedrooms, added crown molding to the dining room, built a structure to enable us to reach the light fixture installed in a very awkward position in the stairwell, added insulation to the attic, and built a geodesic dome for the kids.
Dad doesn’t remember any of that stuff now. Alzheimer’s has robbed him of his memories, one by one. But they live on in a cherished corner of my mind.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!