A Facebook post on a page about the city in which I grew up brought back a memory that fairly illustrates growing up with my father in the 60’s and 70’s. Not a deep thinker nor calming influence, he.
Throughout the 60’s the Big Boy franchises were very popular. As soon as teenage boys got hold of their licenses they headed to our local Frisch’s Big Boy. The glass-front building was trimmed in red. In the rear was the drive-in area. You parked your car in the best spot you could, one that would make sure you were seen and also that you could see everything going on. The best spots were pretty much “owned” by one or two guys; whenever they arrived on the scene, whoever was in “their” spot vacated immediately to make room for the man in charge. My brother, Terry, was one of those men. He was athletic, tall, and was given the best genes in the family. He was a naturally gifted football player and the local public high school competed against the local private Catholic school for his attendance at their schools so he could play on their team. Whenever Terry and his friends arrived at Frisch’s, they were guaranteed a spot in the drive-in.
Through Terry my father learned about Frisch’s Big Boy being the local teen hangout. This is important because my father thought he was way more clever than he really was, and thought he understood teenagers more than he really did (if at all). So when one night we endured an onslaught of eggs from a carful of local kids, he was certain he was going to catch them and make them pay.
My mother worked 35 years for A&P. She began in the meat department shortly before the store, just 10 blocks from our house, opened, and retired as head cashier when it closed. Most of the time Mom walked to work and home again. But once in a while my father took a night off getting drunk on beer to pick Mom up. He spent a lot of time at the little grocery store behind the Sears store where he worked, drinking with other Sears employees and L&N railroad employees from the next block. We got to know the grocery store owners very well. I used to call, anonymously, and ask them really clever, funny questions, such as:
“Do you have pickled pigs’ feet?”
“Yeah, we got ‘em.”
“Well, put some shoes on and no one will notice!” Then I’d hang up the phone and roar with laughter.
Another good one: “Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can?”
“Yes, we got it.”
“Well, you better let him out before he suffocates!” Again, roars of laughter pealed through our house. Really, I should have been a writer for ‘Saturday Night Live’…I’d be a Billionaire!!! (Actually, I have the “Hee-Haw” television show companion magazine to thank for these zingers.)
I did this, not because I disliked the store’s owners (actually liked them very much), but because it was one way of dealing with my anger at my father’s drinking.
Anyway, on these nights my father wasn’t holding up the little store’s meat and cheese display case, he, my sister, and I would pile into the car to go pick up Mom after she got off work. My father always parked on the street, out front of the store.
One very hot summer evening we were all getting into the car. Dad jumped into the driver’s side, I slid into the middle, and my sister spread out in the back seat. Mom had some groceries and was putting them into the car when another car, full of teen boys, pulled up alongside ours and lobbed three fresh eggs through Dad’s open window. The eggs smacked open on top and on front of the dashboard, slowly dripping down into the heater vents, onto the floorboard, and, of course, all over us.
My Dad’s first reaction, as usual, was to blame Mom.
“If you weren’t so goddamn slow we’d have been gone before they drove by.”
Mom just took it, as usual.
Mom’s first reaction was to clean things up. She wanted to go back into the store to get some rags to clean up the car, and us. But Dad would have none of that.
“Get in the goddamn car; I’ve gotta’ go find these little sons of bitches.”
“Oh, Glenn, how are you going to find them?”
“I know where they hang out. They’ll be at Frisch’s in a few minutes, probably bragging to Terry about what they just done. I’ll bet they’re friends of his. Hell, he prob’ly put them up to it!”
Terry and my other brother, Bill, are children from my Mom’s first marriage, so of course they never could do much right, as far as my father was concerned. My Mom was forever trying to take up for them; my father was forever blaming them.
Dad drove us home, practically shoved us out of the car, and took off for Frisch’s to catch these local snot-nosed thugs who pelted our nice Ford station wagon with chicken embryos. Mom wanted to clean the car, first, but Dad said no.
“I’m going to make those little bastards pay. They’re going to clean every inch of this goddamn car and make it look brand new.” We stood on our front-porch steps, watching Dad frantically throw the car into reverse, practically taking out the utility pole that stood in front of our house, jammed the gear shift down to D, and took off towards Frisch’s. Wow.
I pictured a carload of bloody teens, returning home and trying to explain how some man had beat the living shit out of them. Because if my father had found those kids, that’s exactly what he would have done. He had an irrational temper, and many times in my life did I witness it come to its tempestuous fruition, not the least being the time he was playing football with my brothers and fell and cracked a rib. He broke a coke bottle against the house and threatened to slice both my brothers open at the necks.
“They did that on purpose!” he said, finishing off another beer.
The car sped up Grandview Avenue, barely slowing down at the busy intersection with Breckinridge Lane.
Two hours later Dad returned home, dejected and exhausted from all the anger. He couldn’t find the kids that perpetrated that heinous crime, but he had threatened about a dozen kids to call him and tell him if they learned who had “destroyed” his car. Yeah, he understood teenagers really well.
He came into the house and went right to bed.
The next day was a Saturday, so everyone was off work or out of school, except Mom. That’s when Dad decided the car should be cleaned. But by then the eggs had dried solid, almost melding into the plastic of the beige dashboard. We scrapped and scrubbed, scratching the dashboard in places, until we had removed as much as possible. It wasn’t until the following winter, when Dad first turned on the car’s heater, that he realized we hadn’t completely removed the eggs from the car.