I thought it would be appropriate, as we celebrate Dads this weekend to share yet another memory of the Old Man (I can hear him asking indignantly-Who you calling old?!).
This one I call “The Night of the Charles Street Ice Capades”
Dad was a sweet hearted guy; that wasn’t always apparent, his good nature not always on display, but he was the guy they made up that statement about, you know the one that goes “He would give you the shirt off his back”. It was literal with him; I saw him do exactly that, well it was a jacket, not a shirt, but he took it off his back and gave it to someone who needed it more than he did. He was that kind of guy.
He was a poor man who considered himself rich in the things that mattered; an uneducated man who could teach a politician or a preacher a thing or two. He knew how to lead a proper fulfilled life; he had his family, his music, his beloved bungalow in Jersey, and he appreciated them all.
So having established his good character, I will say sometimes he was generous to a fault as you will see.
When our Uncle Santino died, Dad being Dad went out of his way to be as helpful to his widow Aunt Mildred as he could be. He walked the mile or so to her apartment on Charles Street countless times to help her with household chores, take her to appointments, help her shop, you name it.
So it was no surprise when one very cold winter night, when he received a call from her, that we saw him getting ready to leave the warm coziness of the apartment and venture out on the icy streets.
“What this time?” Mom asked.
“It’s the ice,” he said, “ she parked the car at the garage and needs help walking to her apartment building”.
Now I should mention here two very salient points. Years before Mildred and San were in a horrific auto accident, and as a result, she had metal pins in various places in her hips and walked with a cane, so the request made some sense; she couldn’t afford to slip and fall and break anything else. The second point is that she wasn’t what you would call svelte. Stout, yes, large, yes again, really fat, well you get my point. Still, at the time I thought it was really good of Dad to put himself out like he did, but you know, it was Dad (better man than me by far).
He asked if I wanted to go with him, and despite the cold, it was yet another time to be with him and I didn’t turn it down. We met her at the garage a block away from her apartment building. The sidewalks were sheets of ice and I could understand her concern; heck I was concerned for myself and Dad too! But we were doing good, taking it slowly, and eventually arrived at her stoop. But you know, life like football, is a game of inches. And there were a few too many inches that night to the first step. Yup – she started to slip on the ice and Dad made a grab for her, but even his formidable strength could not beat three hundred pounds of dead weight and gravity combined.
She continued to fall now with Dad in tow, his feet slipping helplessly on the ice. In a moment –Slam! Both of them went down with a thud that shook the neighborhood.
They hit the ground, Mildred flailing her arms, resembling something washed up on the beach. Dad had fallen on top of her and was frantically trying to get off of her and regain his footing as well as his dignity. But he was failing at both. Mildred was kicking her legs furiously which caused her to rotate on the ice, kicking out Dad’s legs every time he tried to stand. She had a hold of his arms as well now and showed no signs of letting go. She was clearly in panic mode.
I, of course, was totally useless, too weak to help, too convulsed with laughter to hear Dad calling out:
“Mildred – would you let go?!! Let me get up!!”
Then turning his attention to me he went into the name game.
Anytime he got excited, he confused our names and would start calling both in the hope of eventually getting it right.
“Rob,” I said meekly.
For that, I got the flash of steel in the eyes, and the famous clenched jaw.
“Get over here” he growled. You didn’t ignore a Dad growl.
I stepped forward, careful on the ice, grabbed a street lamp with one hand and extended my other in a feeble attempt at providing assistance. Mildred was still doing the Curly Shuffle, each rotation knocking Dad down to his knees again. He reached for my hand but couldn’t make it.
And then a half-drunken voice from a passer-by:
“Hey Pal – Get a room why don’t ya?”
That did it. Whatever frustration or humiliation he had suffered up to then, was replaced by pure anger. That wisecrack drove him into Warp Drive.
“Why you stupid Motherfuc…”
“Tony- Get me up!!” Mildred pleading.
“I am trying to for Christsakes!” He was yelling now “Stop moving in goddamn circles!!”
I took another step and BAM! Down I went. I may have been useless but I wasn’t stupid. I was down and I was staying down. I figured it was safer to crawl my way over.
It was slow going and I was staring at the grime of the icy street when finally I heard voices, friendly ones:
“Hold on – coming to help…”
“Here, take my hand, let me help you..”
Two guys, good Samaritans, came to the rescue and helped Dad, Mildred and eventually I get up. And Thank God they did. If it weren’t for them, Dad and Mildred would still be locked in that unholy embrace going around and around in some weird kind of carnal entropy.
Later at home as Dad was relating what happened to Mom (who was trying her best not to giggle at the image of it all), he just kept saying over and over:
“Dead weight; she was dead weight- I just couldn’t get her up….dead weight….just too much dead weight”.
It must have really bugged him. I mean the man fought his way through the bloody Pacific, fighting at Guadalcanal for God Sake – but he met his match on an icy patch of pavement in Greenwich Village on a cold dark night, trying yet again to do a good deed.
The Gods can be cruel.
This one should have probably remained in the ‘Best Left Forgotten” file, but you know me.
I couldn’t resist.