My father, mother and I in front of our home, Van Nuys, California 1952.
Background is the car they called "Snubnose".
My father died three years ago this summer. He was 98 years old. He wanted to live to be 100 and we all thought he would. Perhaps that's why I was so surprised when he keeled over from a heart attack while eating his favorite food, Chinese.
Dad's family is long-lived. His mother lived to be 100 years and 3 months. His Aunt Dema, youngest of his mother's eight siblings, was still driving the coast of California into Oregon when she was in her early nineties. Her husband, a younger man in his seventies, did not know her real age until she passed. I hear he was quite surprised.
I remember sitting and talking to Dad when he was elderly, trying to glean information about his life. He was born in 1910. I'd heard much about his youth because he spoke of it often when we were growing up: his days on the Ohio River, the old steamships and paddle wheels, the one room schoolhouse, life on the farm. But his single years, while learning the ad biz in Chicago before the war, were not well known to me. There was so much more I wanted to know. Did he have fun? What were radio and ad agencies like back in the 30's? What was baseball like? What entertainments and entertainers did he see?
Dad originally worked as a copywriter and print ad designer for Florsheim Shoes. They had a large building in downtown Chicago. He worked in the basement probably starting around 1928 or '29. I know he was there in '29 because he spoke of the Stock Market Crash, seeing a jumper's body on the sidewalk of his building outside his basement window. He expected another major crash for the rest of his life.
My family circa 1957 in our second home,Woodland Hills, CA.
My little brother is on a hobby horse.
Dad participated in the beginnings of radio broadcasting. He pioneered in an exciting new business, national radio representatives, representing stations around the country to the big ad agencies like Leo Burnett and Foote, Cone & Belding. Chicago was the center of advertising in those days thanks to pioneers like Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Wards. Dad went to work for one of the early national radio representatives, Howard Wilson & Co. They sold broadcast air time on radio stations around the country to Chicago ad agencies. In those days, radio programs ran in fifteen minute segments, also known as quarter hours, and were sponsored by one major advertiser. He said it was exciting times back then; the business was young, they were young, they lived in a great city, it was all new.
Dad had access to some pretty exciting sporting events too. He was a lifelong fan of baseball going to both Comiskey Park to see the White Sox and Wrigley Field to see the Cubs. When I was a kid, he occasionally took my brother and I to Chavez Ravine to see the Dodgers. I think the Cubs were his favorite team, however. In those days, he said you could meet the players and he was lucky enough to shake hands with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the like. He saw Red Grange play for the Chicago Bears. He watched Seabiscuit and Man O' War race. It wasn't the race. It was after that. But he said it was "memorable".
Around 1939, he moved to Los Angeles to start his own rep business. He later gave it up to enlist with the Army Air Corp at the beginning of WWII. He worked in several areas including: transportation manager for supply trains across the U.S., as an intelligence photographer in Europe. He was a skinny guy, weighing in at 125lbs during the war, making it easy to hand him partway out of the plane to take photos while flying over Germany.
As kids, we would ask him, "Did you bomb anything?"
"Oh sure," he'd say. "But I don't know if we killed anyone." I don't think that was something he ever wanted to dwell on. Dad remained in the USAF Reserve after WWII, retiring as a Lt. Colonel.
After my mother died, in 1997, Dad told me he'd been married before, during WWII. It was an absolute shock; not because he had but because he never told us. He'd fallen in love with a young woman from New York. I don't know how they met but they married just before he shipped out. They wrote back and forth throughout the war. I have her letters. They are quite poignant. Sometime, prior to his coming home, she had the marriage annulled. She said her father was an alcoholic and she felt obligated to care for him and ddn't want my father to share the burden. My father was crushed and he carried the pain of it with him all those years. He erected a monument to her after he learned she, too, died of alcoholism-related illness.
Dad was 40 years old when he married my mother. He said she never knew about his first wife. I asked him why and he said he thought she'd be "jealous". I don't think she'd have been jealous; Mother had two previous husbands. But I'm sure she didn't know as we were close and shared a great deal. My brother and I are their only children.
To say we do not know our parents is an understatement. Their lives are a mystery, for the most part, just as ours may be a mystery to our children. We may never really know our parents but we should try to learn as much as possible.
Happy Father's Day, Daddy.
Dad and his grandsons, 2005.
He was very proud of them and thrilled they were boys!