Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remembering Dad--Part 2

Some months after my 8th birthday, we were obviously more prosperous because we moved from out first home on 8th to a new home on 18th. We were moving up in the world, both economically and geographically. The home on 18th was designed not only to be a symbol of increasing prosperity, but also of Dad’s partnership with George Hargraves. That was symbolized by the fact that we lived almost next door (one house in-between, whether they were unable to get adjoining lots or whether being side by side all day and all night too was too much, I was never able to find out) in houses that had exactly the same exterior and the same floor plans. When I say exactly the same exterior, I mean the same shape, they were different colors on part of the house.
The house on 18th was a fun one because it was at the edge of town. When we first moved there, there were no other houses between us and the hills behind us. On two sides we had open fields. It was also fun to help Mom and Dad with the landscaping, mostly because after a hard evening’s work Dad would take us to the root beer stand where we could get a mug of cold root beer for a nickel. The two look-alike houses, did not look-alike long, however. As soon as the landscaping was done, Dad began tinkering on the house--a process that did not end until we finally moved. One of the first changes was the conversion of the garage into a bedroom. Of course, after that we had a wall with a window, where Dad’s partner had a garage door, so the two houses ceased to look alike except that for a couple of years Dad left the driveway in place and would, in fact park one of the cars in the driveway. The driveway was very steep and came to an abrupt demise after Mom lost control of her car when backing out of the driveway and hit Dad’s car. A few days later we came home to find that what had been driveway was now just an extension of the lawn.
Part of the reason that the driveway suffered so quick a demise was the fact that when Dad filed a claim with the insurance company, they refused to pay the claim. When Dad demanded to know the reason for the refusal, the agent simply said, "We won’t pay it because we know that you won’t sue your wife." It seems to me that Dad, being a lawyer--and by all accounts, a good one--could have made mincemeat of that argument, but Dad who was always eager to fight for other people’s rights, seemed strangely reluctant to fight for his own. He accepted the refusal with good grace and simply switched insurance companies--making him one of the few community leaders who was not insured with Farmer’s (they had a regional office in Pocatello). When ever anyone would ask him how he would dare to insure with another company, he would simply tell the story of their refusal to pay a claim based on the fact that "we know you won’t sue your wife". I suspect that in the long run, it cost the company more in lost business than paying the claim would have done.
As Dad’s business picked up, I think he got tired of tinkering with a house that was essentially George Hargrave’s (his partner) dream house and wanted to build one of his own. That finally happened when he built the house south of town--and it really was a dream house. But even more than the house, was the property on which it was built. We had 2½ acres of beautiful forest land--in fact, a national forest actually began just a block or so behind the property. We had a warm-water creek running through the property beginning with the source spring, which was also on our land.
We lived on the hill next to "Snob Hill" where many of the wealthiest people in Pocatello lived, and I suspect, that Dad wondered why more people were not eager to live on our hill. After all, to get to Snob Hill you turned up from the golf course and turned left at the top of the hill. If you turned right, you went down a dirt road and arrived at our new home. The most probable reason that we didn’t have any new neighbors (there were two families living there long before we moved in) was that right at the turn-off there was a chicken farm. Dad, who had very bad hay-fever, and consequently, could hardly smell anything, did not notice when he bought our property that whenever the wind blew west (which, in Pocatello, it almost always did), we got the smell of the chicken farm. Fortunately for us, occasionally the wind would blow east, so that the rich, and influential, folks on snob hill used that influence to force the chicken farm people to buy some sort of anti-smell device. But every now and then--usually about once a month--the device would break down. Mom would call out and Loni and I would frantically run around the house, closing all the windows and doors, while Dad sat blissfully out on the front veranda looking out over the golf course across the street and the Portneuff valley beyond, no doubt wondering why no one else had bought property on our hill to get this magnificent view for themselves. Had he thought about it, he may have realized that the reason was somewhat connected to the fact that his own family was carefully closeted inside the house burning scented candles.
We moved South of town when I had just started at Poky High. A few years later I was elected Student Body President and early in the year, I was expected to attend the Homecoming Dance. Since many of my friends had told me that they were getting a new suit for the occasion, I somehow felt that, being the important person that I had become, I ought to be wearing a new suit myself.
I can still remember everything about the conversation in which I asked Dad if he could buy me a new suit. I expected that to ask was a mere formality and that he would simply say, "You bet, we’re so proud of you being student body president and all. Anything else you need?"
I chose the time when we were sitting in the car together. Dad had driven me in for seminary and he was then going to work. Just before I got out of the car, I made my request.
To my surprise, Dad did not respond immediately, Instead, to my amazement I saw tears forming in his eyes. This amazed me because Dad was not emotionally expressive--not at all. In fact the only times I could remember Dad getting emotional at all was the two times he got angry enough to spank me. The first time occured when we were living in Germany and I was about 5. Dad had asked me to do something which I didn’t want to do so I got mad at him and hit him in the face and busted his glasses. The thing I remember most about the spanking that followed was that, considering the provocation, it was remarkably mild, and that Dad was remarkably controlled. The other time occured when we were living on 18th and I was about 11. This time Mom had asked me to do something which made me mad and I had given her a mild swipe. Dad, who saw me hit Mom, was standing at the other end of our living room. The room was divided into two sections by a couch that stretched 3/4 of the space across the room. Dad came straight for me, jumped over the couch, laid me across his knee and spanked me. I don’t remember anything of that spanking because I was in such a state of shock at seeing my dad, who was not an athletic type at all--quite the contrary, jump over the couch.
But now he was silently weeping. "I’m sorry son," he finally said. "But I can’t get you a suit. Since I signed the right-to-work petition, I’ve barely made enough to pay my office help and rent. Our family has been living on savings for a year."
"Oh, that’s alright," I quickly responded. "I really don’t need a new suit." Which, of course, was true, I really didn’t. Looking back on it, I’m surprised I even asked. I have never been much of a "clothes horse". But even more surprising, and more troubling, was that Dad could have been struggling for so long and that I was completely oblivious to it.
Although I didn’t get my new suit right then, I certainly got it--with interest. I left for college the next year and all through my college and military career, everytime Dad would come to town and see me, or when I would go home, I knew that times were better for Dad, because almost invariably he would say, "Son, you look like you could do with a new suit." And unless I could prevent it by pointing out that he had just gotten me a new suit a couple of months previously, I would get a new suit.
The suit I remember best came at the end of my college career. "Son," he had said at graduation, or shortly after, "since you’ll be looking for work now, what you need is a new suit." By this time Dad was working as a Federal Judge so, I suspect, that since he was covered up by black robes all day, the suits he wore tended to be a bit on the flashy side, but nothing he ever wore or bought for himself could ever match, in flashiness at least, the suit he bought me. It was creme-colored with rust-colored stripes (or vice-versa) and must have been made of material that included iron filings. I remember going to the interview that eventually landed me a job. The company was about half a mile from closest bus stop and the roads to the plant had only dirt sidewalks. While walking there a car drove by splashing me with mud that covered my pants from the bottom to well above the knee. Since it was winter, I simply used snow to rub off the mud. After undergoing a process like that a normal suit would have looked like you had pulled it out of a trash pile--that suit looked almost as good as when I wore it out of the store. I have always felt that the suit had a good deal to do with my being hired. The man who hired me was not LDS and did not like BYU, but I suspect, that he took one look at my suit and thought, "This kid only went to BYU because his parents forced him to."
It took me several months to find work after graduation. It was the midst of a recession in which engineering was particularly hard hit. I got dozens of interviews, and many companies said that they were interested in me, but they had a hiring freeze (or were laying off) but that they expected to be hiring again in a few months. But, of course, in the meantime I had to get by. I was living in an attic of a house in Salt Lake, and, although, the rent was low, so were my finances. Finally, I realized that I could not hold on any longer. I had exactly enough (or so I thought--mistakenly, it turned out) to pay my rent, but no money for food or transportation. I cried almost every night wondering what to do. Should I bite the bullet and confess my poverty to my parents hoping they would offer to take me back in until I could find work? Should I simply start living in the street (rather unpleasant in Salt Lake in December)? It was while I was thus at my wits end that I got a call from Dad. He was flying from Virginia--where he was living at the time--to California but had a short layover in Salt Lake. Could I meet him at the airport for a couple of minutes? I agreed. I was wondering if I should lay out my problems to him. But when he came it was obvious there was no time. "I’m sorry son," he explained as he came off the plane. "I only have a minute to catch my next plane." I walked hurredly with him to the a near-by gate where he checked in. We had less than a minute or two before he had to board. As he boarded he handed me an envelope. "Your mother wanted you to have this," he said as he walked through the boarding gate. I waved good-bye and then opened the envelope. In it was a check for $300. I had never really understood his problems, but he always understood mine.