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June 15, 2011

“We gotta Git to Gittin’!”

I’d heard this and a couple dozen other “Charlieisms”  over and over as a kid.

My Dad turns 77 today.

A tool and die maker by trade, he was the hardest working guy I’ve ever seen.  He’d get up before dawn – EVERY DAY – work a ten hour shift, and then come home and work another eight.  He expected his kids to do the same.  We didn’t, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s a Work Day – Not a Play Day!”

Pop is a dammit-I’ll-do-it-myself kind of guy.  Largely self-taught, he was unafraid to tackle projects which give lesser men pause.  He built a house for us – a 2 bedroom, two story cottage in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He took a pile of lumber and made a home he could lock the doors on – in ten days.  His crew was my 17 year old cousin, my mother, my 8 year old brother and me.   He swung a 20 ounce hammer so hard he would send stud nails home with a single hit.  In 50 years, I can’t recall a single time where he had a contractor come to the house for anything – it was assumed we’d figure it out on our own.

Self reliance and an ability to ‘figure stuff out’ is a rare talent these days – one I have my Dad to thank for.

“If you don’t do what I say, we’ll have go to the hospital – to remove my size 10-1/2 shoe from YOUR ASS!”

He wasn’t all ass-kicking and work, though – I can remember being a little kid, riding on his shoulders while trying to grasp a flat top of  hair.  He’d come home from work and I’d grab his leg – he’d give me a foot ride and it was the neatest thing ever.  Later, when Bob and I got bigger, he taught us how to fish and shoot.  He’d get me up before dawn, we’d trundle down to this ancient Lyman wood boat and go trolling for the big one.  I’d sit in the bow seat, laying my head on the kapok life preserver and try to nod 0ff – Pop would give the line a few quick tugs the line and I’d about pee my pants with the surprise.

He got a kick out of that.

He bought us a minibike when I was just eight.  Mom was less than pleased; Pop engineered a jackshaft setup to slow the bike down.  By then the ‘figuring out’ gene had kicked in full force – I found that by bypassing the governor, the minibike was almost as fast as before he modified it.  Later, I  filed the head down to increase compression.  Dad – if you read this, the damned thing was probably faster than stock after I was done.

My brother and I got a huge kick out of pulling one over on him.  We lived on a 2+ acre lot with 95 trees; it took over five hours to cut the lawn.  No – we didn’t get paid; we had a damned roof over our heads and that was  enough.  Bob and I would goof off all day and then – 15 minutes before Pop would pull into the driveway, we’d cut the grass most visible as he pulled in.

“Good to see you guys workin’ for a change!”  We waited until the next day to finish off the parts he couldn’t see.

“Git your Lazy Ass outta Bed – NOW!”

He was hellbent on us getting an education.  We were going to COLLEGE, dammit – there were no exceptions, no discussion.  I’d even asked him once if I could do what he did – the answer was a flat, “NO.” In hindsight – it was the right answer.  There are no tool and die makers left anymore, as there’s no manufacturing base needing his skills. When I was a little kid, he’d take me into the shops he worked in – huge factories filled with moving metal and a fog of machine oil.  To this day, if I go into a stamping facility, the smell  takes me back to Gagnier Fiber on Capitol Avenue in Oak Park, MI – a place where everyone, including me, looked up to him.

“If you don’t stop that RIGHT NOW, I’ll knock you into next week, and when I catch up with ya, I’ll hit you again!”

He was a damned rock.  Not stubborn – resolute.  He’s been married to the same woman for 55 years  – I’ve another 30 to go to match this feat.  Hell – he’s belonged to the same car club longer than most people stay married! When he says he’s gonna do something – it means he’s gonna do it or put himself in the hospital trying.  He put my brother and I into the best high school in the Midwest to insure we wouldn’t turn out to be a couple of screw-ups.  The school was more expensive than a college at the time – he did without so we’d have a whack at a better life.

Not that this was bad, mind you.  His life was what he made of it, and if there’s any satisfaction to be had, it’s in making something your own.  I’ve learned, because of him, that its the process of living that’s important – not the fruits of one’s labor.   We’ve got it backwards these days – all fruit and no labor.  Even after retirement, he works a full day – consulting, teaching, museum docent work.  He got into an argument with the head chef at his retirement community in Arizona, as the guy wasn’t living up to Pop’s exacting standards.  The guy told him if you don’t like it – you can do it yourself, dammit!

Did he just say do it yourself?

Dad cooks holiday dinners for 150 now.

He attended our daughter’s graduation in Baltimore this past May.  We thought he may not  make the trip, as his heart needed some work.  His parents both died at 72;  he was convinced he’d not live much longer than that.  He made it, though – and that was a big deal for me.

“Look Dad – I managed to get one all the way through college!”  Not bad for someone with a size 10-1/2 shoe up his ass!”

I got up at dawn while there. (Yes, the apple didn’t fall far from that tree.) I left my room for the breakfast area – I was the only person up at that ungodly hour with the exception of an elderly man with white hair.  I wondered about the old guy – why he was up so damned early – after all, who would get up before me?

My dad.

This is not how I see him.

Somewhere in my parents photo albums, there’s a picture of Dad standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. The year is 1960, and he’d just returned from a tour of duty in Germany.  They were driving cross-country in a ’57 Ford station wagon; Mom was pregnant with me.  Pop stood on the edge of the canyon, trim, fit and muscled in a white T-shirt looking out with a million mile gaze – looking at his future.

This is the man I want to remember – the man made of Detroit iron – the best iron there is and ever will be.

Dad, if you ever wanted to know what I thought of you – well, here it is.

Thank you for…everything.

Happy Birthday.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. John Morand permalink
    June 15, 2011 1:59 pm

    Hey Chuck…great stories…don’t forget he taught us uncoordinated/unathletic kids how to ski as well! The only part I raised an eyebrow at was the part about the best HS in the midwest. 2nd best I’ll give you…:-) Best to both the ‘rents.
    John M

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      June 15, 2011 3:52 pm


      Great to hear from you!

      Yes – he did teach us how to ski, along with how to drift a ’69 Cougar on the gravel roads of Northern Michigan. You know you’re doing it right when the view ahead is out the window, not the windshield.

      It’s not one of the Pheebs’ favorite tricks, tho.

  2. June 15, 2011 3:11 pm

    wot a sweet guy. cheers.

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      June 15, 2011 3:50 pm

      I realize, only later in life, all the things he did for us kids. He was never one to blow his own horn.

  3. dangerboyandpixie permalink*
    June 15, 2011 7:26 pm

    The subject of the post wrote in, and I’d like to share it with you:

    Like you said the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, but my 10 1/2 kept it from rolling down the hill.

    I liked your eulogy very much,

    Love Dad

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