Thursday, January 14, 2010

My father looked out the front window of our house in Delanco, N.J., and sighed.

There I was pushing my sister's baby carriage through the puddle at the end of our driveway. Over and over again, laughing hysterically.

"At least he has his boots on," my mother consoled. "He'll grow out of it."

Over the years I grew out of nearly everything, except the thing my father feared most.

In sixth grade Sister Helen Ann, tired of tardiness, ordered the class to write a theme entitled: "Punctuality: the Etiquette of Kings."

My friend Jimmy Cooley and I each penned papers feigning ignorance and wondering how having good punctuation had anything to do with being a king.

After that incident I got an F in Helen Ann's art class for continuously making a mockery of her assignments.

Dad had no choice but to shave my head.

When it came time to go to college, even though I had aced accounting classes in high school, I insisted on becoming an English major.

Dad knew he was losing control of his only boy.

"Where did I go wrong?" he thought. "I knew I shouldn't have worked night shift all those years."

Actually, even though dad and I didn't see much of each other during the week, he had an indelible impact on my life by way of the Bernie Herman Movie on Channel 48.

Every day I'd race home from school, drop my book bag on the floor, and Dad would be sitting down with a giant bowl of oyster stew. He'd toss me a couple of those dense oyster crackers and start explaining the day's movie to me.

"This may be one of the greatest movies ever made," he would invariably begin.

His all-time favorite was "Gunga Din" featuring Victor McLaglen, Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

"Though I've belted you and flayed you, by the livin' Gawd that made you, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!" Rudyard Kipling wrote in his famous poem by the same name.

Despite all his efforts, when I moved to Berks County in February 1995, and joined the Reading Eagle staff, I also made a trip to the courthouse.

It was there that I was true to myself and registered independent.