Of Tom Mix and Clam Chowder
Today would have been my father’s 90th birthday.
In honor of the occasion, I’d like to honor some of his favorite things.
My father’s earliest memories included going to the theater to see Tom Mix in a silent movie. To Dad, Tom Mix was a real cowboy. (He certainly had a real hat, don’t you think?) Now Roy Rogers may have had Trigger, the Lone Ranger had Silver, and Gene Autry had Champion, but did you know Tom Mix’s horse was called Tony? What the heck kind of horse name is Tony?
Silly puns: My Dad loved silly rhymes and puns. He liked to make up stupid names for people. Whenever he spoke of Tom Mix, for example, he always called him “Tom Mixin’ Cement”. Doesn’t make any sense, but he liked it. Or he’d see Wayne Newton on TV, and he’d say, “I used to know his brother, Fig.”
How often would he say that? Every time. How often did we groan? Every time.
And speaking of silly puns – none of us will ever forget his favorite song: “It had to be stew. Meat and beans wouldn’t do.”
Dad loved peanut butter. He especially liked cheap peanut butter. The type with oil floating on the top. In his last few years, he often needed nursing home care, and he hated the institutional food. My mother would bring him his favorite snack – raisin bread with peanut butter. Now you have to admit – that is a pretty good snack.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.:
A while back I wrote about my old crush on David McCallum. I owe that infatuation to my father. Dad liked TV, but he usually let us kids watch what we wanted. When I was thirteen, I was still stupidly stuck on “The Beverly Hillbillies”. But my father heard about this new show “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” that was on NBC opposite the Hillbillies. I was upset that he wanted to change the channel. I cried (which usually worked) – but for once he insisted. “Let’s just try it,” he said. And I fell in love. And his grandfather’s name was Napoleon (truly), so Dad was delighted too.
Golf: My father liked all sports. According to my mother, he was a very good athlete as a young man, and I certainly believe it. But except for his bowling night that I vaguely recall back when I was little, I only remember him playing golf. He played well into his seventies, and I played with him a few times. He had an easy swing, and I remember him aiming to the left of the flag to compensate for his natural slice. Our local course was a short par 3. He never used a wood – he could hit the ball as far with his iron, slice or not. He may have played a mean game with this friends, but I doubt it. I think he was probably as relaxed and calm with them as he was with me.
We watched a lot of televised golf once his health started failing. (Actually, we always watched a lot of golf – I remember watching Arnold Palmer.) Dad had some moderate dementia in his last years, and he came to believe that Phil Mickelson was his golf buddy. “See that guy, Mickelson?” he’d ask me. “I used to play with him all the time.” I’d say, “Did you beat him?” And he’d smile.
My father loved clam chowder. But not the milky New England clam chowder. He liked Rhode Island clam chowder with a red clear broth that was an old family recipe. Or his recipe, maybe. My Dad didn’t do very much cooking, but he liked to make the clam chowder himself. He would spend the better part of the day creating his masterpiece. He was very particular about his chowder. He was not very particular about the state of the kitchen.
Family: Dad loved my mother and us kids and his whole family. His loved his parents and his aunts and uncles and his brother and his sisters. He loved his nephews and his niece. He loved his children’s spouses. He loved his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren.
On Father’s Day a few years ago, he had one too many martinis with my husband, and my brother-in-law practically had to carry both my father and my husband out of the restaurant. I drove home. Dad sat in the passenger seat and told me repeatedly that I was going in the wrong direction. “But I love you anyway,” he said. “Having you kids was the best thing I ever did.”
I think so too.
Happy Birthday, Dad.