Sunday, June 17, 2007

It’s Father’s Day again. . .

Every year around this time I find myself thinking back, and thinking about my Dad specifically.

It’s often hard for me to write about him. Not because there isn’t anything to write, but, because just thinking about him often brings home how very much, I still miss him. I find myself, at times, as I write, actually having to stop, to wipe away tears that make it hard to see.

My Dad was a great guy. He had faults, and I, at one time or another triggered every one he had I’m sure… if I didn’t, it sure wasn’t for a lack of trying on my part.

I spent many, many, years trying to get out “from under his shadow”… I’d give anything today to have just that shadow cross my eyes one more time.

I do wonder sometimes though how he would have faired as this country shifted into a nation of people offended by every little thing… He was a man disposed to action, not talk, and swift action, or maybe better yet, reaction when things went awry.

Years ago, as in almost 40 years ago, in the fall, about the time the first snow fell in Upstate New York, the store he managed would experience what we called the “Tire Rush”.

It seemed every car owner in town would show up that morning and line up to get a pair of “snow tires” (anyone else remember those?) put on.

I remember this one year, I had to be 17 or 18, we were in the middle of this ‘rush’ which was so crazy we workers didn’t get to break for lunch, instead he’d send out for burgers and cokes and we’d all work and grab a bite between cars (I’ll bet you don’t see much of that any happening these days either).

One of the standard things on the work order in those days, was a note indicating what the customer wanted done with the ‘take offs’ (the tires you removed from the rims to install the snow tires). Many customers would have us pull the front tires, put the new snow tires on those rims and rotate the back tires to the front, so these instructions were clearly spelled out.

(In the days of rear wheel drive cars, most folks had the best tires on the driving wheels.)

Some people had us throw away the old tires, others wanted them put in the trunk to use again in the spring (remember cars with a trunk large enough for two full sized tires?)…

Anyway, back to the story. We pulled a car in, and it stated clearly on the work order this woman wanted the tires placed in her trunk. However, in the heat of battle, the tire buster (that’s the guy who actually removed and installed the tires on the rims) had some sort of brain fart and tossed the tires on the cast off pile instead. No one noticed what he’d done at the time, and as there were two of us balancing and removing and reinstalling wheels on the cars while he put tires on the rims, it wasn’t hard to miss.

An hour or so later though, the woman returns to the store after discovering her tires were not placed in the trunk as requested. I remember Bernie Zanowski, the tire salesman came out and talked to the guy who was at the tire machine, an argument ensued and ended with Bernie exiting the garage and slamming the door.

Now as a little background, Bernie was one of those guys who could sell ice water to a drowning man… I once saw him sell a refrigerator to a man who didn’t have electricity… and he was a very hard worker as well, and had been with the company for probably 20 plus years… He also had a very loyal clientele, people who came to the store year after year, and asked for him by name. He remembered every one of those folks too. If Bernie sold you something, he’d remember you forever.

So back to the story…

About 2 minutes later, Bernie, the customer and my Dad come walking into the garage.

There’s about a 45 second conversation, and the next thing I know Dad’s got this guy by the collar and the belt, and literally tosses him into the used tire pile (which by the way is like ten feet high and 20 foot around at the base).. along with the admonition “… and don’t come out of there until you’ve found this woman’s tires!! Come see me when you’re done.”

I was instantly promoted to tire changer (tire buster), my buddy Mark moved up to the balance machine and one of the other stock boys got shown how to use the air wrench.

The beat went on… snow tires continued to get installed…. Barely a blip in the action…

Eventually the guy found the woman’s tires, we loaded them in her trunk and she drove off. The guy went in the store to talk to Dad, he never returned to the shop that day, or any other day for that matter.

Justice was swift in Dad’s domain. This guy was fairly new, less than a month on the job, and he’d broken the two fundamental rules:

1. The customer is always right
2. Do NOT argue with the boss

I wonder today how that would have to be handled.

A week or so before that happened, on the way home from work one night I’d mentioned that this guy was working pretty hard, my Dad’s response was “A new broom always sweeps clean”.

He went on to explain that anyone can handle the normal days, it’s the crazy days (like the tire rush) that sorts folks out… it certainly sorted this guy out.

There was the other side of Dad’s coin too… I also remember Christmas Eve (that same year I think), it was probably around 6:00pm, we’d locked up the store, made the bank deposit filled out the reports, etc. and were headed for the front door and home when the phone rang.

Uncharacteristically, Dad answered the phone, thinking it might be Mom wanting him to pick up something on the way home.

It wasn’t Mom though, it was a customer and the guy on the phone was panicked, he was supposed to have picked up his kids Christmas toys from Lay-a-Way on his way home (remember Lay-a-way?) but, he’d stopped off after work for a couple of holiday beers with his co-workers and had lost track of time.

He was obviously drunk, but said that he could be at the store in 30 minutes.

Now Christmas Eve was one of my Dad’s favorite nights. It not only signaled the end of the shopping season and six weeks of 12 hour days, but, it was “family time”.

At our house, Christmas Eve meant all the kids were home, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, friends and even shirt-tail relatives came over for the evening, and around 11:30 we’d all go to “Midnight Mass” after the get together… He truly looked forward to this night all year. It continued every year I can remember until he died.

I watched his face as he talked to this guy on the phone, listened as he explained *he* had a family waiting for him too… but in the end, he told the guy to come on over.

We waited, for nearly an hour before the guy finally arrived, got him his stuff and after we helped him load his car, headed home, late, ourselves.

On the drive, as usual, he explained why he did what he did. I don’t recall asking, but he was prone to just saying what was on his mind as we drove.

“I was thinking about the kids” he said to me, “and their faces tomorrow morning if there were no toys. I just couldn’t stand the thought of those kids being disappointed.”

He went on to explain to me, that while a man has to be able to go out, have some fun, and drink a cold beer with his friends, he can never forget his obligations, his promises.

“Billy” he said “It’s not always so much what you *do* that will define you as a man, but, often, it’s what you don’t do because you’ve already made another promise that will define you.”

That, my friends, is why I don’t make promises I can’t keep.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!! You are still very much missed.

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Lorna said...

Lovely story Bill. Like you, I miss my dad very much, and yet, always have him with me in the choices I make and the things i consider important.

Bill said...

Lorna - Thanks again. I think, if we're lucky, we never stop missing them. You're definitely right, I see him in many of the choices and decisions I make every day!