Things My Father Taught Me

There are many things that I learned from my father that have stayed with me all my life. Like, if you agree to work for a man, give him the best you have, regardless of how much you are being paid. Another is, when you have a dirty job to do, do it well enough so that you won't have to come back and do it over.

He taught me about loyalty and to have pride in our city. He had been a glazier nearly all his life. He was proud of his part in helping to build the city. I believe that he had either installed or replaced a window in every building in town. I can still see the expression on his face the first time I ever heard a joke about his profession. Q. What does a glazier do when he breaks his glass? A: He drinks out of the bottle. Then there was the time his boss asked him why a simple job was taking so long. His reply, it's this damm glass. I've cut it twice already, and it's still too small.

There were other lessons learned from experience. Don't tell someone not to do something unless you tell him why. I learned this lesson one winter night, when my father came down to the basement where I was planing to stoke our old coal furnace. After removing the glowing clinkers and stacking them on the cement floor, he began to go back upstairs. Then, strangely, he looked at me, and said don't pee on the clinkers. Filled with curiosity over this strange comment, I walked over and proceeded to write my name in the glowing ashes. I soon learned why. A foul odor quickly rose up from the coals and filled the house. I was afraid that dad would kill me, but amid the noise of doors and windows being opened, I could distinctly hear him tell mom, "It's my own damm fault, I should not have said anything." I could not have agreed with him more.

My dad had a great sense of humor and loved a joke. I loved it when he told stories of when he was a boy. He would brag that he went to church like he went to school, in the front door and out the back. He would tell of various adventures he had with some of his friends. Stories about the cable cars that ran in those days. How they would lie in wait for the streetcar to come by, then they would jump out, and grabbing one of the guy wires that helped support the poles that carried the power line, would began shaking it, until the power line began to bounce, causing it to break contact with the mast of the cable car. This would cause the cable car to suddenly stop. Laughing, they would run away as the driver got out, and swearing profusely, climbed up to re-attach the mast.

Sometimes they would go to the back of a restaurant and stack the garbage cans by the door. Then when the cook opened the door, the cans would be knocked over, making a wonderful racket. Dad would laugh as he told how the cook would call upon all the forces of heaven and hell to punish the perpetrators. I had often wondered how dad had acquired his colorful and extensive vocabulary.

Dad also introduced me to the joy of reading. He had a wonderful library of books from his own childhood. He had been severely burned climbing on one of the power transmission towers that ran along the foothills just outside of town. While he lay in the hospital, his mother would bring him books to read. There were books by Edgar Rice Burrougs, Jack London and Conan Doyle, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Tarzan. These books gave me countless hours of pleasure, as well as filling me with a desire for adventure.

One evening, my best friend Bud and I decided to check out the latest public works project. The city had dug a long trench to repair a water line. The workmen had placed wooden barricades and at night they would light red kerosene lanterns, a warning to keep passerbys from falling in.

It's a funny thing about a road barricade, people respect them. A barricade means stop, go back, and they do. We decided to have some fun. We began dragging them over and placing them across the road. A car would approach, stop, then turn and go back. This was great. It wasn't long before we had several intersections blocked off, always with the same result. Well, almost all. One driver stopped, moved a barricade, drove through, stopped again, got out and carefully replaced it.

We then began taking the lanterns and hung them on several porches in the neighborhood. As we surveyed our evening's handiwork, we laughed as we realized we had created our own red light district.

I guess that not everyone appreciated our sense of humor. Someone must have complained. As Bud and I walked to school the following morning, we could see that the city workers had been out early replacing the lanterns and barricades. We apparently had one supporter, a lady about 80 years old complained when a worker removed her lantern. She thought it looked real nice hanging there, and, it reminded her of her childhood.

That day, there was a story in the evening paper about some vandals who had moved barricades and rearranged the lanterns. That made me feel bad. I did not consider myself a vandal; I hadn't destroyed anything, just sort of moved things around a little. My dad nearly died laughing as he read it. I managed to keep a straight face as I left the room. I was afraid I would be in big trouble if anyone found I was involved, and besides, I didn't think it was a good idea for dad to know that he had been my inspiration. That was another thing I had learned was, that there are times when silence is truly golden.