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Tales My Father Never Told Me

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I guess my earliest recollection of my father’s exploits occurred when I was about eight or nine. As was the family custom to always sit down to dinner promptly at 6, I can remember in joyous excitement when my father recounted the days when he was young. The “good old days” as my father so fondly recalled. There was this one evening when the dishes were cleared as my father lit another Camel cigarette leaned over and said let me tell you a story of how I managed to get through school. Leaning back in the comfort of his high back chair as he exhaled smoke, ” Son, back in the fall of ’23 was the best year yet. I still have my raccoon coat upstairs in that closet to the left. The one I wore to all the football games that my roommate Red Grange played. The galloping ghost they called him.” As I sat quite still leaning forward to here every word I remember how the gleam in his eye shown as he remembered his glory days of a bygone era.

As I drifted into an imaginary world depicting myself as my father was back in the early 1920′s I now recall what my father really went through. After all knowing that my generation, being a baby boomer, had it’s advantages that far exceeded those back when my father was in school. But there again everything is relative, considering back in the ” Roaring 20′s” the technology was just beginning to surface into what we grew up with in the 1950′s. But, as my father continued his story about the galloping ghost running over all it was the way the story was unfolding that made my experience so memorable. As I started to say ” Dad what was it like before you went to college?” As if shifting gears my father half listening to what I asked said ” back before World War I, I grew up in the old Irving Park section of Chicago. Some day I will take you down there and show you my old stomping ground. You see son I wasn’t always the business man you see now. I too was a precocious young man filled with anticipation on what each new day would bring. Your grand parents sought that to control my energy in a constructive manner I participated in all manner of activities at the Irving Park YMCA. The very same one where you started your swimming lessons.”

“It was around 1915 two years before we entered the first World War that I happened to become friends with Johnny Weissmuller. This was before he was recruited for the Y swim team. But even after he made it big through the Olympics and in movies we still managed to keep in touch.” Just listening to my father recount how Tarzan actually was linked to our family made me want to know more about the life my father had before I came along. So began a tradition that lasted years until I reached an age where my own athletic career was beginning to take off.

It was another evening some years later when I was about 12 that my father recounted another memory only this time a remarkable experience he had just before he graduated college. ” You see son I wore many different hats while going to school. But, this one instance when I was an apprentice plasterer one of my jobs took me to the home of none other than Al Capone on the south side, the year was 1923.” Just as the words Al Capone were said my images of the Untouchables and Elliot Ness conjured up all sorts of gangster activities that my father was actually involved in. Years later I continue to confound people when I tell them that my father actually did a job for Al Capone. Little did they know that the job was repairing the crime bosses living room ceiling.

In those pre teen years most evenings ended gathered around the dinner table listening intently as the adventures of my father back in the good old days were told. From all that was said the 1920′s really were as the term now has come to symbolize the ” Roaring 20′s.” A period that defined a nation. Then as the years went by as I entered high school the tales took a more ominous tone for my father had lived through the darkest period in our history, the Great Depression. In retelling of the Depression those instances has lingered in my conscious thought even to this day. A sobering thought of just how tough the times were and how desperate people became. Not only did the financial and economic impact hit practically every home but the whole mid west was in the midst of the greatest dust bowl crisis of the century. Even in Chicago the dust cover was almost too much for people to handle. The dust, the economic calamity and so many people without jobs and homes all took a heavy toll. Hearing my father retell how he and my mother managed to survive and even prosper to some degree in spite of all the misery around gave me inspiration to achieve my own set of motives so that I too would be able to rise above adversity just like my parents.

As the years flew by it wasn’t until long after we went our separate ways that I realized just how influential those quiet times listening to exploits of my father had on my own life. In many ways I too experienced events and met people who have also left their footprints on our history. It is as though history keeps replaying itself the only difference are the names of characters. Take for instance the Great Depression and the financial crisis of 2008 all have similarities that are too uncanny not to realize that we have fallen victim to a repeat of history. A repeat with relatively the same disastrous results. All because we have failed to understand the consequences of our initial reactions to the contingencies that pre seeded the events that led to the first crisis to begin with. If only, just like hindsight, how many times have were all heard that one played out when events dictate responses that only end up causing more harm.

The tales of my father now retold years after his passing are for a new generation to understand the importance of the events of their life in relation to the lives and events that characterized history. History as it was unfolding in a time that was not too much different from the realities of today. So fortunate I was to hear first hand accounts of events and people that played an internal part in shaping the future. For my father to have been a witness to a period of history and to interact with people who made it is truly fascinating. For the legacy my father left behind is a tribute to a life fulfilled. As for me I have only succeeded in part to my own legacy compared to what my father experienced. This brings me to that cliché “time in not on my side.” Time, waits for no man.


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