"These phony holidays were invented by the greeting card companies." That's what my dad used to say about Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day. Authentic holidays in his book were Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Easter. He found no fault with celebrating the Fourth of July and Memorial Day probably because he loved barbecues, picnics and all things patriotic. And for these days, no mushy cards were expected.
My father was a simple man, a carpenter, an immigrant. His life story is so full of adventure, tragedy and drama that it would make a great book or movie. In the future I hope to tell you more.
He was a widower when he met and married mom, and 40 years old when I was born. At the time he worked for Star-Kist Foods on Terminal Island. We lived in an apartment across the harbor in San Pedro. Before my third birthday, my parents purchased some land with a small white house in the country. They decided to go into business for themselves.
After a couple of failed attempts (including a chinchilla farm), they bought a thousand baby chicks and started an egg ranch. They raised 10,000 white leghorns and sold eggs wholesale and retail until I was out of high school.
Daddy's little helper
I didn't start school until I was six. I stayed home with my parents. Mostly I followed my dad around insisting on being his "helper." I wore a carpenter's apron like his. I learned about hammers and nails, drills and bits, saws and levels. Levels were my favorite. Dad showed me how to read those bubbles, and I went around the house, the ranch, even the grocery store, determining what was level and what was plumb.
As I got older, he taught me how to read blueprints, draw to scale and appreciate straight lines and precise angles. He pointed out the differences in woods, soft and hard, color and grain, and was particularly proud of his finish work. His training in the old country had been as a furniture maker, after all.
When I look in the mirror, it's my mother's eyes I see. Sometimes I am startled by the resemblance. But really, I have my father's eyes. His eyes are the ones I use to look at the world, to determine what is straight, what is solid, what is dear.
If dad were here, on Sunday we'd probably find some home improvement project to do. Once I became a homeowner, when dad came to visit he'd help me out by putting up shelves or building a fence. We'd sketch out the plans, list the materials, find the tools and then he'd do all the work.
But I was his helper. He'd ask for the tape measure or nails or the saw and then he'd ask, "Is it level?"
On Sunday, in honor of dad, I think I'll put the level to the family photos hanging on my walls.
Happy Father's Day to all dads and the daughters who love them.