Saturday, June 14, 2008
A Father's Day remembrance.
My father was the first Jew to climb Mt. Everest. Just two years before I was born and five years after Sir Edmund Hillary made his ascent (with help, mind you by Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide) my Dad left his garden apartment in Fresh Meadows, Queens telling my mother he was just running down the block to the newsstand to grab himself a White Owl. Two years later, my dad returned having scaled Mt. Everest (solo and without oxygen) for no apparent reason.
That was my dad. Having unceremoniously left for that White Owl cigar, so did he return. Without fanfare and only a little worse for wear. When my Mom screamed, "where have you been?" (her new boyfriend scampering out their unit through a back window) my dad laconically replied, "I was out for a walk." It wasn't till years later that he spilled his Everest beans. That was my dad. For every action there was an equal and surprising reaction.
One day we were out playing in the street, having a catch. "I climbed Mt. Everest, you know," he told me. I tossed the Spaldeen back. I looked at him, he was wearing loud Bermuda shorts with his black-socked feet tucked securely into sandals, his flaccid muscles revealed 'neath the well-worn white tee shirt he wore. He didn't look like a sinewy mountain climber at all. He pocketed the ball and walked toward me removing his wallet as he did so. He pulled from his leather Swank billfold a crumpled black and white picture. It showed him, up in the stratosphere, beaming. "That's me," he said. "I just started walking up and decided not to stop till I made it." With that he put the photo away and never spoke of it again. When he got about twelve feet from me he whipped the ball my way and struck me squarely between the eyes, the ink from the word Spaldeen leaving a mark that didn't disappear for seven weeks, leaving a cryptic "needlapS" on my brow.
Some years later my dad came home from a "business trip," piling out of his medium green Studebaker with a 200-lb. bottle-blonde stripper, her blue-dyed poodle and a midget. They moved in with us, forcing me out of the pantry off the kitchette that served as my bedroom which they took over. My father never said anything about them other than "they were family and they survived the camps."
That was my dad.
Later on in my dad's life he started making a bit of money and we left Fresh Meadows, Queens for the bucolic Yonkers. My dad came home one night wearing leather lederhosen and affecting both a monocle and a German accent. From that point forward he insisted on being addressed as "Herr Doktor." Again, no explanation, no reason. It's just the way he was.
My Dad died suddenly, as I said. He was no longer speaking German-inflected English. He had settled down and had a fairly good business teaching blues harmonica at a local music school. He was running to give a lesson and fell down dead.
That was my dad.
Posted by george tannenbaum at 10:17 AM