Sunday, February 16, 2014

The man of the house

On Friday, February 14, 2014, my father passed away. He was 88 years old. I'd talked to him on the phone only a few hours earlier, and though his health was not perfect, his spirits were good, and he still had stories to tell I'd never heard before.

I hung up the phone never doubting we still had years of conversations ahead of us.  But apparently, there was a different plan.

I feel very lost knowing he is no longer here, as do my sister and brother. But I've also realized over the past few days how much my memories of him are anchored to our house on Cedar Brook Road. And it seemed fitting, somehow, to do a tribute to him here.

To begin with, I think the fact that my father actually owned such a grand, sprawling house was always somewhat of a surprise to him. He'd grown up in apartments in Queens before serving in the Navy during World War II, and never lived in a single family home until he and my mother bought a modest Dutch Colonial in the suburbs of Chicago in the mid 1950s. 

The leap to Plainfield in 1968 began with a big job promotion. I don't know all the details, or why exactly they chose 920 Cedar Brook Road; they'd already spent about a week looking at other towns and other houses. But in the end, I think, it was simply love at first sight - despite its size and the very long list of updates it needed at the time.

Much of that work was completed almost immediately - which was a good thing. Less than two years later, my father parted ways with his company and hung out his own shingle. There were some lean years initially, and I recall more than a little stress over the difficulties of maintaining such a large house. But my parents somehow made it work.

My mother did a lot of carpentry, painting, wallpapering, even some plumbing work herself.  My father, who didn't know one end of a hammer from another, was more than happy to leave her to it - and focus on what he did best. Out in the world, he was a very successful salesman. Inside 920 Cedar Brook, he was the maker of Sunday breakfasts, Saturday night grilled steaks, Friday night omelettes, and the best Roquefort salad dressing I've ever had.

He mowed the very large lawn with a little less enthusiasm - but no matter how hot and humid it was, he refused to consider paying someone else to do it for him. He'd finish up and head for the pool, where he practiced his unique brand of crawl stroke - which somehow only ever moved him a few feet forward...or sometimes even backwards. We never did figure out quite how he did that.

He tolerated an endless procession of cats and dogs, and reluctantly adored a few, especially Murphy, his goofy, charming, big-hearted Irish wolfhound. He was a fanatic sports fan, and watched golf, baseball, and football on the television in the library with such concentration that it was a family joke. But he also loved opera. In fact, one of my favorite memories is of him standing in the foyer near the old Magnavox record player, striking the pose of a leading tenor and looking for all the world like he belonged on the stage at the Met.

My father was one of a kind. I'm proud to be his daughter, and will miss him always. He was one of the most real people I have ever known - funny, charming, successful, yet never afraid to simply be himself. Even if that was running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day well into his a backyard that would have seemed like Central Park to the little boy who grew up in Jackson Heights.

 It was just one of the many sides of my father I will always love. Thank you, Daddy.

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