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Lessons in Love From Mom and Dad

Lessons in Love From Mom and Dad

My father was a traveling salesman. In the 1960s, in department stores and even five-and-dimes, there were lots of little sewing things — zippers and bobbins and threads. That’s the kind of stuff he sold out of the trunk of his car. He drove from town to town calling on customers and living in motels. As with a lot of men in his generation, his job was a poor fit. I mean, he’d been a college football player and a Marine in the Pacific in World War II in some of the bloodiest, most horrific fighting of the war. After we dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, his battalion was sent in to police the city.

He never talked about what he saw, ever, but he was just 23 and I’m sure it was tough for him. Then the war was over, and this big, feisty, hot-tempered, busting-out-of-his-skin Scots-Irish type was making his living by chatting up little Southern ladies in J.C. Penney stores and had to contain himself. He did it to support his family, and I salute him for that.

But when he got home on weekends, he was ready to blow, especially when he’d had a few too many. My dad was a serious golfer and after his rounds on Saturday and Sunday, he always hit the 19th hole, hard. So there was always a lot of yelling in our home, a lot of doors slamming and fists pounding on the kitchen table. Our house smelled faintly of Scotch. By the time Monday morning rolled around, we were happy to see him go.

I remember watching him pull out of the driveway and my sister and brother and I, and my mom too, going, “Whoo hoo, we survived another weekend.” Then as the week wore along, Thursday turning into Friday, we’d all dread the moment when his car pulled back into the driveway, and it was time to take cover.

But there was a turning point in his life, and in our life as a family. My mom came down with Alzheimer’s at age 60. Dad was 65, and after being this raging weekend alcoholic all those years, he stopped drinking, gave up golf, and devoted his life to my mom, to the point where we kids were like, “Dad, you have to take care of yourself. Go hit golf balls. We’ll pick up the slack.” He made a few efforts, but his heart wasn’t in it. He really just wanted to be home taking care of Mom.

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