My father was that guy, or at least he was to me. He was tall, magnanimous, handsome and funny. My great-uncle Dana called him “a prince among men.”
Heads turned when he walked into a room, particularly with my mother on his arm. He had huge hands, but they never landed on me in anger. He was often restrained when I expected him to be furious, and he found joy in the everyday mundane. He loved to paint the house; he said it was relaxing. (That’s not to say he never lost his temper; I learned many 4-letter words while he watched the Packers.)
Perhaps his best attribute was his sense of humor. He was incredibly and effortlessly funny. Not only could he generate humor, but he really appreciated it. He loved to laugh, and he did it often. He lived a lively, happy and abundant life.
My parents threw epic parties. They had a merry band of friends who knew how to have a good time. This was when folks drank Old Fashions and Manhattans. Men would wear jackets, and the ladies would get their hair done. Inevitably, around midnight, someone (usually Vinnie Crane) would push some unsuspecting bystander into the pool and much like a line of dominoes, so went the rest of the guests. My sister and I would peek through our bedroom window and laugh along with the guests.
Among other things, my father was a patriot (he felt espionage should be the only capital offense) so naturally, he bought a boatload of fireworks in Mexico and smuggled them back to the states for the Bi-Centennial of these United States of America. I don’t know how he did it, but I’m fairly certain if he tried it today, TSA might have something to say about it.
After a ridiculous lead-up of bunting, potato salad, invitations and fanfare, Frank D. Woodworth celebrated the Bi-Centennial with his very own fireworks display. He somehow managed to get a permit from the city that allowed us to shoot off m-80s all afternoon, only to follow it up a full-blown, private fireworks display at night on the beach. The weather was perfect, the burgers were grilled to perfection and he was surrounded by his close friends and family. The smile never left his face; it was a glorious day.
Later in life, my parents traveled quite a bit. My dad was pretty crappy when it came to languages, so he never really tried to fit in, but he always managed to learn one phrase in the native tongue of wherever he visited, “Hold my cheese sandwich, I’ve just been struck by lightning.” He would write it down on a 3×5 card and he would use it on waiters and the Maitre’d. He loved to make people laugh.
One of the coolest things my father ever did was to buy a 1935 Seagrave Fire Engine. I secretly believed he bought it so he could finagle himself into parades. He loved parades a lot and would drag us around to catch as many as we could. He loved the bands, the floats, but mostly, he loved the show.
Every once in a while, in between parades, he would get out his fire engine and drive it around the neighborhood, asking kids if they, “smelled smoke.” He would also drive it to the edge of the lake, and check if the hoses still worked. (It had working pumpers that allowed him to suck up lake water and spray it into the air. He was in heaven, as was every dog and kid in the neighborhood.)
It was always in my plans to involve the fire truck in my wedding, but unfortunately by the time Kriner and I hooked up, the truck had been sold, and my father had passed away from a brain tumor. His two best buddies walked me down the aisle and we released a balloon in his honor. Not quite a parade, but I think he liked the gesture, just the same.
When I turned 40, I half-jokingly told my husband that instead of a present, I wanted a parade. On the night of my birthday, we had a glorious party, and sure enough, Kriner had parceled together enough friends who played instruments, and even found a baton-twirler. We marched around the block, and called it a parade. Back at the restaurant, there was a band, decorations, food and booze.
I was surrounded by friends and family and had one of the best nights in my entire life. It was a glorious affair. Later, I realized how incredibly lucky I have been in my life, in so many different ways. I love my lively, happy and abundant life. But after all, I had a great role model.