Biff America column: Fun days, wobbly rides
“You look just like your Dad.” On the surface my mate’s assertion that I resembled my father is a compliment; by all accounts he was a handsome man. But he was also a bit of a curmudgeon, so her mentioning my Dad’s and my resemblance is a plea for me to not be a stick in the mud. Often my lack of enthusiasm for the convoluted, multi-hour recreational missions she drags me on shows on my face. She calls it my “poopy look.”
“If you’re not having a good time, it’s your own damn fault.”
That was one of my old man’s favorite expressions. In retrospect it seems a little contradictory, since he himself was often in a bad mood. Three things that did give him joy were working hard, sipping whiskey, and shocking friends and family.
(Another one of his favorite expressions was, “If you kids don’t start using less toilet paper, you’ll put me in the poorhouse.”)
He called our forced family labor “fun days.” Fun days were reserved for the weekends when the entire six-pack of kids, most of whom would rather be anywhere else having their eyes gouged out, would toil around our home.
The drive home from church would find him extolling the joys of yard work. My young age protected me. I had nothing better to do; any time I was allowed to hang with my five older siblings without getting teased was a bonus. We’d rake, mow, shovel or paint; the old man would oversee our efforts while making pilgrimages back to the liquor cabinet, improving his mood. Upon completion, my siblings would scatter, leaving my Dad and me to contemplate the fruits of our labor.
It was after such a day of drudgery that he looked at me with mischievous eyes and said, “Let’s take Mike’s motorcycle for a ride.” My brother Michael made the mistake of joining the Army and leaving his bike behind. When no one was around I’d pull off the tarp and straddle it, never dreaming I’d get to drive it.
Between the two of us, we were able to figure out the rudiments of starting, steering and braking. We were at a disadvantage being one of us was not yet 10, the other slightly buzzed. After a few trial runs around our yard and we were ready to hit the open road. First we had to get past my mother.
“You damn fool,” yelled my Mum. “If you want to kill yourself, at least leave your son at home.”
“I can’t,” my Dad said, “He knows how to shift the gears.”
Our first stop, only a half mile away, was his sister’s house. After coming to a perfect stop, we toppled over gently on the freshly mowed lawn. My Aunt Marie was no less critical and concerned than my mother. “Why don’t you let me drive you home Harold, you’re going to break your foolish neck.” Undaunted, my old man answered something to the effect, “No thank you, I don’t trust you behind the wheel when you’re drunk.” My aunt was a devout Catholic, and a nondrinker.
Our entire tour was only a few miles, but for me a huge adventure. We made a few stops for beer and Coca-Cola at the homes of friends and family, and much to my Dad’s delight, everyone told us we were crazy.
By the time we turned the corner with our house in sight, other than the mishap on my aunt’s lawn, we had managed to keep the rubber side down. He pulled over a hundred yards from home and said, “Let’s scare your mother.”
We switched places, me in front, him on back. He worked the throttle, but let me brake and blow the horn. We drove into the driveway and made a few victory laps around the front yard. My Mum came running out of the house, she blessed herself, and said, “Thank God you’re back. Are you trying to kill me with worry?”
My excitement was almost flammable.
My mate isn’t the only one who comments on the resemblance — both physically and personality-wise between the two of us. But as I get older the comparison brings along with a reminder to keep a positive attitude and also a sense of pride.
My old man wasn’t perfect. I’ve come to find out none of us are. Yet after five decades of fearing, fighting, sometimes deriding, always loving, and finally burying him, what comes to mind are dangerous drives and the “fun days.”
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.