As far back as my memory takes me, I recall our dad always being immaculately groomed and dressed. This was a “big deal” to him and it had a lasting effect on both my brother and me.
I’m not sure I know the origin of Dad’s love affair with cleanliness and “sharp dressing” (perhaps Rob has some insight?), but it was without a doubt present and accounted for every day of his life.
A couple of things stand out in my mind. In previous entries, Rob and I have both alluded to the fact that our dad worked as a machine laborer at Howard Clothes in Brooklyn, N.Y. There was no dress code for working on a manufacturing line in a hot warehouse for 9 to 10 hours per day. Yet, Dad would be up before the sun and always head straight for the shower. From the shower, he went to his room to get “dressed for work”. After about an hour, (Dad NEVER rushed when getting “clean and dressed”). He would emerge from the room “dressed to the nines”, always a pair of crisp, freshly laundered pants, a clean, starched, dress shirt, sometimes with the tie, mostly open at the collar, a pressed sports coat and freshly shined shoes……spit shinned: the way all good marines shinned their shoes. Perhaps what may be my fondest memory in addition to the way he was attired was the lasting, clean aroma of his beloved Aqua Velva after shave lotion. This is the way he dressed to go to work in a hot factory. He would change clothes when he got to work, but would not consider for a moment leaving the apartment and riding the subway without looking his very best. When he arrived back at home in the evening, one would never know he worked as a laborer all day, changed back into his “dressed look”, he would appear to have spent the day in a Board Room rather than on the machine line.…..and about that cleanliness? Two showers a day, minimum. One in the morning and one at night before bed. He would never consider going to bed before taking a nice, long hot shower. As the bedroom my brother and I shared was literally right next to the small bathroom, we remember fondly him emerging to go to bed. The steam from the shower would drift out after him along with the clean smell of powder, and of course, Aqua Velva.
My brother and I have clearly been influenced by this practice, as we are both two showers a day guys. Even in the heat of summer Dad would be starched and pressed. Rob has related to you Dad’s look even when we were going to spend a hot evening at the Amusement Park: crisp shirt, pressed pants, freshly shaved, and ever-present starched handkerchief showing shyly from his back pants pocket. Rob carries the handkerchief tradition on even today.
If this was how he dressed for a normal workday or trip to the Amusement Park, you can imagine how he looked on Sundays or Holidays! These were the “real” dress up days. Sport coat and slacks replaced by dark, freshly pressed suit, white shirt, perfectly starched, tie, with the perfect Windsor knot, gold cufflinks and as always, spit-shined shoes. For someone who was a laborer with little money to spare, Dad dressed with the very best of them. I remember so well on our Sunday afternoon walks looking up at him and thinking….”Wow, someday I want to look like that!”
I’m alone at home writing this post and I stop for a moment to wander into our son’s room. He is on deployment right now with the United States Navy. I believe Dad’s genes carry well, as our son follows in his grandpa’s footsteps of always being attired perfectly and groomed perfectly and another two shower a day guy.
Our son has a mirror in his room with the words “look Sharp” engraved on the frame. I look into the mirror and see him, looking clean and sharp as ever. Standing behind him, I see dad, “dressed to the nines” smiling.