Despite my dad’s passing more than 40 years ago, I think of him often, which is not unusual, I realize. And, when I think of Dad, I often reflect on what he tried to teach me in my early years.
My father created his own template for what he thought I should know that would come in handy years later. He thought it important I knew his recipe for New England clam chowder that he brought to the Midwest from his native Lynn, Massachusetts, and he also thought it important when I was quite young that I knew how to tie a proper double Windsor knot, something I did almost every day before heading to 32 years’ worth of classrooms to teach.
He also thought it important I learned some things about the fine art of needling people. With Dad, who could take it as well as dish it out, he was a firm believer in levity in life.
When it came to sports, we watched a lot of early 1960s games together when he wasn’t trying to keep that creek lost at Lost Creek Country Club. We had our Cleveland Browns and the superb Jimmy Brown and our Fighting Irish in the fall. And, of course, as so many who called Ohio home, we loved our Buckeye basketball with Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek leading the way and Lima’s own Gary Gearhart making valuable contributions.
And then, there was that certain Saturday night when he felt I was old enough to dip my toes in the waters of wagering to experience either the thrill of a win or the agony of a defeat. Now, besides a friendly wager on the golf course at Lost Creek with pals like Bob Krause and Smokey Miller, understand that my father wasn’t really much of a gambler.
However, there was a time where some wagering and some needling commingled, a March night in 1963, and it remains one of the most vivid memories of growing up under his roof at 1525 Latham.
It was March Madness back in a time when the term hadn’t even reached proper-noun status, and it was also the golden era for University of Cincinnati basketball. While Dad and I were both Buckeye fans, surely my father and I were rooting for the Ohio team to vanquish Loyola of Chicago and capture the school’s third consecutive NCAA championship. In both of the previous two years in an all-Ohio championship game, Cincinnati broke our Buckeye hearts.
So, Dad and I settled into our usual viewing positions, he, in what was always referred to as “Dad’s chair,” angled towards the TV in what was indeed aptly called the living room while I was lying on the carpeted floor with a couch pillow tucked under my head and a full sleeve of Zesta saltines within arm’s reach. Consider the scene an early sign of my near addiction to salt and the precursor to my current blood-pressure issues.
Cincinnati raced out to a huge lead, and five minutes into the second half, that lead had grown to fifteen points, so, after polishing off another saltine, I proclaimed to Dad that there was no way Loyola could win.
It was then Dad cocked his head and said, “No way, huh?” He went on to say he’d wager two of his dollars against my one dollar (which, for this eleven-year-old was about 20 percent of my net worth), and he’d take Loyola. I gladly accepted what I thought was a sure thing. Of course, with each Loyola bucket and foul shot that chipped away at the lead for the remainder of the game, Dad was needling, and, sure enough, after a buzzer beater at the end of regulation tied it and in overtime, a rebounded shot and put back won the game for Loyola, I was so angry as my dad chuckled and headed off to bed telling me I could pay him in the morning.
In a fit of poor-sport rage, I went into my room, dug out two dollars in change, went out into the hall and screamed, “Here’s your money” and threw the change down the hall at the door. The change hitting that wooden door sounded like pistol shots in the silence of that day’s twenty-third hour. Within seconds I regretted my rashness and braced myself as best I could for an irate father with bulging eyes to come flying out of that room.
Now, I’m not certain what went on behind that closed door, I’m guessing there was my mom’s grabbing of his arm as he started to swing out of bed and some soothing coaxes just to let the night’s drama lie in repose with the rest of us and then discuss the issue in the morning. But, the bottom line is the door never opened as I crept down the hall to gather the coins and whisper, “I’m sorry, Dad,” a down payment to the Sunday morning apologies I knew I would make.
While my father was a passionate man who did have a temper, it was one he held on that chilly March night, summoning the same patience that I tried to remember years later in raising my own kiddos.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]