In my father’s time
Friday, March 3, 2017 6:56 AM
A little over a year has passed. The grandchildren have grown. We have planted and harvested crops. The feeder calves seem to have ballooned into full-grown cattle, but sometimes it seems like only yesterday when I sat beside him and held his hand. We talked of so many things.
He was proud to have been a longshoreman. He unloaded the giant ships that brought pineapples from South America and then filled their hulls with raw steel for the return voyage. He told us that one of the steel loads had broken loose and crushed his ankle. After that, he took to wearing high boots that he laced tight for support. His fellow dock workers called him Hollywood because of his blond hair and good looks.
He told us that there was a time when he did not even have an apartment to call home, and he slept on a park bench with his jacket pulled up over his head for warmth. When a beat cop made his rounds, he rapped his billy stick on the sole of Dad’s boot and told him to move on. When Dad pulled his jacket down and looked up at the cop, the cop softened and said “OK.” The cop told Dad that he could stay on the park bench till morning, but he’d better not ever find him sleeping there again.
Dad told us how he jumped a freight train all the way to California, and then jumped a freight train back to New York City. He never did tell us why, but we imagined as children that he did it just so he could tell us stories about the beauty of our country, a land that stretched all the way from one sea to another.
He was a clockmaker. He built the clock cases out of beautiful black wood with a clear glass face. He set the gears in a graceful arch that turned with the gentle swing of the pendulum. He sold one to a store uptown, and I remember feeling so proud to be allowed go with him when he would take his tools and clean it. I was the clockmaker’s daughter.
Still single, he moved into a fifth-floor walk-up flat on the lower east side of the city. With his boxes of clock parts spread across the floor, he looked out of the window across the park and introduced himself to a beautiful quiet lady looking out of the apartment window above. He fell in
love with her moonlit face. Years later, when they tore the building down, he returned and bribed the night watchman into allowing him to take the stone-faced maiden home, the most beautiful gargoyle in the city. Our mother smiled.
He was a husband and a father, and when his young wife told him that clock making was a hard way to support a family, he went to night school and passed the bar exam and became a lawyer. He was an inventor and helped other inventors patent their dreams. We grew up with wonderful prototypes everywhere.
He was a windmiller. Children grown and debts paid, he and our mother moved away from the city and built a museum of wind, water and solar technology. His windmills stood tall and he told us that he felt like he rode the wind when he’d climb to their tops and do his tinkering.
He was always a dreamer, but when our mother fell asleep for the last time, his dreams grew forgetful. He explained to us that he had holes in his mind, and he decided it best to let go of managing certain things. Still, he smiled with his love of life and adventure. His only regret, he
would say, was that he might not live long enough to solve his latest invention. He believed that he was close. We have his notes, his last invention was left unfinished.
Perhaps it is no wonder how much I still miss him. I imagine that I always will, but my life is so filled with his life. From our wind generator, to my love of mechanical clocks, our creek valley world is filled with his spirit of dreams and adventure. On days like today, though, when I miss him terribly, I have discovered a wonderful way to hold him near.
I simply slip his large-faced Timex watch over my wrist. The stainless steel band soon warms to my body temperature, and all throughout the day I feel wrapped in my father’s gentle touch. It is a fashion statement that I would not trade for any other, but mostly it brings me a smile whenever I glance down to check the time, in step with the past, living today, and yes, ever so much looking forward to tomorrow.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.