Really now, that bit of flash is getting me depressed and although I am very thankful for all of your comments and warmth and messages of love, the inevitable must and will happen. Now I reckon that it's about time that I stopped being maudlin. I am dredging up another story and although it's a bit of a read, I am hoping it will eradicate any and all of the darkness and leave you all with a bit of lightness.
Some stories once heard, are impossible to forget. I’m not talking about great classics of literature or stupendous cinematic epics. I’m talking about the kind of tale you heard at the dinner table one night after the dishes were cleared away or something a person related to you over a cup of coffee in an overcrowded all-night diner at three o clock in the morning. Yarns shared around the campfire and on long drives seem to stick with me far longer than the stuff I read in books.
My father was a drinking man; foul mouthed and quick with his hands, he never let an insult slide and corrected a breach of manners with the back of his hand. He never had any qualms about cheating a man out of his money at a card table and would go out his way to rile any priest, preacher or rabbi he met.
Strange as it may seem he was also the kind of guy that all the kids in the neighborhood loved. One of those tough and rumble guys that kids saw right through and knew that if they timed things right, they could get him to spring for a round of ice cream when the Good Humor man came around.
At home he was tight with money. That guy could squeeze blood from a quarter. I once overheard my mom say to my older brother when she didn’t realize that I was in my bedroom reading comics, “He’d eat shit twice to save a buck.” To avoid spending anything he’d go out and get a whole carton of eggplant and cook up a dozen trays of eggplant parmesan. We ate that stuff for what seemed an eternity. I never had to ask what was for dinner. My mom would just pull another frozen block of food and leave it on the kitchen counter every morning before she went to work and we’d pop it into the oven before she got home from work. To this day I can’t eat the stuff. I can’t even sit next to a table where someone else is eating it.
Dad liked his pretenses. Cheap as he was with his own family, he’d give the shirt off his back to a relative stranger and if someone needed a helping hand around the house he would be the first to show up with his toolbox in hand to fix whatever there needed to be fixing or move whatever needed moving, especially if the woman of the house was a looker. I had heard on a number of occasions that my dad was quick to make his services available and as I grew older I came to understand why there were some friends homes that I wasn’t welcome in any longer.
Eventually the late night arguments about the booze, the gambling and the indiscretions as well as the violence, both in and outside of the house came to a head and my mom squeezed it the way a teenager pops a recalcitrant zit on his chin. My father was given his walking papers and told to never darken our doorstep again. He didn’t go quietly, not quietly at all, but with some coaxing by my brother and a baseball bat-he went.
I did not see my father again for many years. He lived in the same city, but he might have been in Borneo. He didn’t make much of an effort to visit and it wasn’t until much later that I discovered that he was willing to wait until I was ready to come to him and if that never happened, well, that was just how things were meant to be.
I grew up and in the course of doing the things that happen to people I met and married my first wife. Shortly after we had settled down into our own little lives, the subject of my father came up. While we were dating I didn’t speak about the man and after a few failed attempts at finding out about him, she learned not to ask. Now as a wife she felt that she could broach the subject and not worry about upsetting me. After fishing around the subject for a couple of days she just plain flat out told me that if he were alive and hadn’t done me any real wrong doing than it was just plain stupid not to go and see him. I was startled to find myself agreeing with her and picked up the phone then and there and dialed his number. It was as simple as that. One short phone call was all it took. We made plans to meet on the following Saturday afternoon
As The weekend approached I started to feel the apprehension grow and build like a bad case of heartburn. My inability to concentrate at work was matched by an ever increasing testiness around my wife. The very idea of meeting a man; who for the most part, was almost a complete stranger, yet partly responsible for my entrance on to the stage of life was becoming more and more like the way you feel when your boss calls you into his office after a major screw up at work
Saturday arrived and you couldn’t have asked for a better day. The leaves on the trees had turned the neighborhood into a panoply of colors and it was still warm enough that you could wear a sweater under a jean jacket and be plenty comfortable. We arrived at my fathers place, a garden apartment with a beautifully kept garden in front. Seeing it reminded me of springtime when I was a kid and my dad used to drag me to the nursery on Sunday mornings to help him carry out the seedlings, soil and fertilizer for the garden he’d kept when we were still all together.
Sitting at the dinner table with half of a bottle of Dewar's between us My father started to open up to me in the only way he knew how. Through stories. A born raconteur, I believed that he could sell ice to Eskimos and turn a profit. The particular part of his life that he decided to share with me was the time he'd spent in Europe during the war.
Dad was not a hero. He didn't like the army and would do anything that he could to avoid anything that looked like work or that seemed dangerous. You might say that he spent more time dodging MPs than he did bullets. He had a penchant for "finding" things and then trying to make a little money on the side, so that he and his buddies could afford the finer things that army life provided.
Near the end of his duty he found himself in a small Italian city whose name I can't recall, it is lost, slipped between the warp and weft of my memories and not all that important anyway. Father and his cronies were in trouble again and this time they weren't quick enough to avoid being caught doing something that they shouldn't have been doing by his Sergeant. This provided him and two of his mates with the responsibility of setting up sanitary services for the all of the platoons that were sharing the hospitality of that particular, nameless, Italian burg. The two most valued things to a serviceman, aside from his physical well being, is a place to shower and a place to shit. Squatting in a field, day after day or crapping in a hole that's been used by dozens of other men can't possibly be something you look forward to.
Given the honor of setting up the latrine something dad was not a stranger to. He didn't like the idea of spending the day shoveling dirt and laying planks over a ditch that he would have to, at a later date fill in and cover over with the very same dirt that he'd already shovelled once before. Instead of doing things by the book, he and the other two morons went into a bombed out building and requisitioned any existing commodes from their crumbling home. They then positioned them over several holes along the street that they, in their infinite wisdom, believed to be drainage ducts leading into the sewer system. Voila! the perfect system. All they had to do when they were ready to move out was to knock down the partitions and put the grates back over the holes when finished. No muss no fuss.
The crappers were a success. For the next ten days, everyone in the outfit took a dump in relative luxury. The trio strutted around with self satisfied expressions on their smug faces thinking that not only did they provide the guys with the finest sanitary conveniences, but they did so with a minimum amount of work and no more effort than it took to carry a shit stool out of a building and into the street.
It doesn't take a great amount of imagination to consider the amount of shit that was being deposited by all the military personnel. Over the course of time, the quantity of material aggregating beneath the streets of the city must have been staggering.
Then came the night that everything hit the fan. Literally. The Germans were still active and decided to pay a visit to the town. Both sides had plenty of bombs to be dropped on and it would seem such a waste to let the war end when there were still perfectly good munitions lying around. The air raid sirens alerted the citizens and soldiers alike propelling them into action with one main difference; the GIs took up fighting positions, manning anti aircraft guns and preparing for battle and the populace ran for cover into the air raid shelter. Every man woman and child, every last person including the Mayor himself, grabbed what they thought was important and made the mad dash for what they thought was the safest place to be.
As the bombs began dropping residents stampeded into the tunnel and right into ten days of U.S. regulation, non-com crapola. The forward surge, fueled by fear, was such that those in front, had no opportunity to stop the onslaught from the rear, ending up in what can only be considered a most ignominious situation. Those who followed had to choose between the horrible stench in front and the possibility of being blown to bits by the falling bombs that were being graciously provided by the German air force. It seems that bombs can be a fantastic motivation and the entire town spent most of the night in the shelter.
My father never mentioned just how much trouble he got into for turning an air raid shelter into a cistern of sewerage. But you can determine for yourself just how upset the mayor of the city was when the Germans finished their work and went home for a shot of schnapps and some sausage. There were words and gesticulation and condemnation that of course rolled downhill as shit is wont to do, piling up upon the shoulders of the intrepid trio who spent quite a long time shoveling out all the crap that was not carried away by the citizens on their clothing and person. Although at the time it was a gruesome task, my dad told me that every time from that day forward; whenever he picked up a shovel, the image of the infuriated mayor ranting and raving, stomping his feet and covered from head to toe with ten days worth of American shit, never failed to make him crack up inside.