Biff America column: Memories of a mother’s love and a father’s toughness
“I’ve had worse than that on the end of my tongue.” My dad wasn’t long on sympathy. He used that declaration to describe anything from a fat lip to a ruptured appendix. To his credit, he was as tough on himself as he was on his children.
It was a rusty 3-foot piece of rebar, as thick as a finger and sharp as a spike. I didn’t see him walk into it, but I heard the curse and saw the blood. The pointed end got him in the forehead, slightly above the eyebrow and left a gash, large and scalloped.
My father owned a small trucking company located a few miles from our house, which was undergoing some renovations.
Ever the tight wad, on the weekends, he would head to the jobsite to sort through the construction trash to see what might be usable. If I hadn’t escaped the house early, I’d be dragged along. We would fill up the trunk of his Buick with pieces of wood, wire and scrap metal. He bent down to pick up a section of a 2-by-4 when the rebar caught him in the head.
He went on working for a minute or two until the blood started to get in his eyes.
I was conflicted. Certainly no 10-year-old wants to see his dad bleeding like a stuck pig, but on the other hand, I fantasized that a head injury might harken in a short day.
“Are you alright, Dad?” I asked with a quivering chin. “It looks bad. Maybe you should go to the hospital.” To his credit, he didn’t tease me for what I’m sure he felt was overreacting. Instead, he put a bloody hand on my shoulder, smiled, “It’s not that bad. Why are you crying? I’m the one with a hole in my head.”
He took out and folded a handkerchief, placed it on the gash, then pulled his scally cap over it to hold it in place. “It would take more than a little cut to send a tough bastard like me to the doctor. You’re just trying to get out of a half day’s work.”
My mother raised six children, dispensing love and discipline as needed. Being the youngest, by the time I came around, she was tired. “Why couldn’t God have sent me a well-behaved boy for my last one?” She was kind and gentle and gave me the most important gift a parent can give a child: confidence.
I used to think my father was cold and distant, but in retrospect, he might have been simply stressed and busy. Other than work, we never engaged in father-son bonding, such as playing catch or passing the football. My older brothers or sisters would sign me up for little league or attend my school programs.
I remember my mother as tired and my dad as angry. I don’t think that was particularly unusual for parents of the era. Mothers raised the family; fathers provided for that family.
I loved my mum; I loved but was slightly afraid of my father.
Like Father, like son
We labored on for a couple of more hours; no mention was made of the bloody rag tucked under my Dad’s hat. We were making our last trip to the car when a small piece of a 4-by-4, tossed by my Dad, ricocheted off the trunk and smacked into my face, giving me a bloody nose. Were I with my mother, I might have cried. Instead, I allowed myself a quick and relatively mild curse and wiped some blood on my sleeve. My father took a quick look and said, “That’s not too bad. I’ve had worse than that on the end of my tongue. Let’s get home before we do any more damage.”
Now, granted, so many years have passed and I’m paraphrasing the exact words and events, but the gist of it all is still fairly fresh in my mind. I remember offloading the trunk and stacking the refuse behind the garage. I remember walking in the house, bloody, tired and proud. I’m sure my mum noticed our injuries, and I am also sure I downplayed my wound while basking in her sympathy.
What I do recall, with a vivid clarity, was not too long after both my parents passed, my siblings and I were cleaning up their home and there was a pile of neatly stacked scrap lumber, pieces of metal and plastic, collected over the years, behind the garage, reminding me of a mother’s love, a father’s toughness and my first glimpse into manhood.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s new book, “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores and shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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