On Father’s Day, the best times are remembered first.
The first: The Funny Papers
Sunday mornings in the big red armchair, a living room fixture that would have been Archie Bunker’s envy. I was small enough to sit in your lap while you read from the funny papers. Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Peanuts. You found them funnier than I, but it didn’t matter whether I got the jokes. Reading the funnies later became breakfast conversations spurred by whatever Herb Caen wrote in that day’s Chronicle or the poignancy of Art Hoppe’s satire. I didn’t know it, but that was the beginning of a career.
The second: The Walter Mitty League
A four-block walk to the parking lot behind the Golden Gate Park Senior Center, a decommissioned police station. There was no one there on Sundays; the parking lot, empty, made a suitable place to practice my swing while the beige stucco wall was a serviceable backstop. You’d toss a tennis ball underhand; if I connected I ran the bases. But the drama was Koufax pitching to McCovey, the ball blooped over your head a grand slam to center that gave the Giants the pennant over the Dodgers. Always over the Dodgers.
The third: Free Bologna
Saturday afternoons. Pick up the laundry, wrapped in blue paper and tied with string, then on to Balboa Super for a week’s worth of groceries. The butcher counter was the place. Tell him what you wanted but don’t order by weight; just tell him how many you’re feeding. T-bones and filet mignon for Saturday night, some stew meat for Sunday. And for me, tagging along, the butcher would pass a slice of bologna over the counter, some weeks a hot dog, but always for immediate consumption. Raw hot dogs never tasted all that good, but they were the best thing ever.
The fourth: O Tanenbaum
An annual Saturday morning trek to the Christmas tree lot where a couple from Oregon sold trees from their farm that were delivered by rail. A Douglas Fir, of course, maybe a Silver Tip, but always an agonizing selection. Right height. Right shape. Home atop the Rambler station wagon to start a three-day decorating ritual with light sockets wired into place and tinsel laid in precise geometric loops. My jobs were to ensure two same-colored lights didn’t end up too close together and to take the twine around the base and guide the finished tree into the corner of the living room, careful to mind the large ornaments on the bottom branches when I crawled out. And every year there was the admonishment: “Pay attention. Someday you’ll have to do this by yourself.”
The fifth: Mr. Lincoln
Finally, at age 12, we moved to a place with a backyard. A tiny one, but a yard nonetheless, and we made the trip to the nursery. The fuschia bushes on the south side were fine as they were, but there were planter boxes for marigolds on the north above a strip of dirt that would accommodate 72 gladiolas. And on the east, behind the short yellow Coprosma hedge, there was room for eight staggered rose bushes. You let me choose one; I chose Mr. Lincoln, a deep red rose named for a man I admired, still one of my favorites but less because of the rose than the memory.
The last: Black velvet
Too soon, I turned to look. The wrong moment for a 15-year-old, just in time to see the men wheeling you from the staircase to the front door, your body covered in a black velvet cloth.
© Ted Streuli 2019