The original Mr. 20 Prospect was a hard working man. He had little time for hobbies, and when he wasn’t at work, or leaning under the hood of one of our Chrysler’s trying to get it started, he spent his free time watching TV, and reading the newspaper. Usually both at the same time, while holding conversations with Mom who was in the kitchen.
I was the tag along kid in our family, a full 7 years younger than my nearest sibling. So by the time I came on the scene Dad was already in his late 30’s, and wasn’t the “have a game of catch” kind of Dad that some kids had. Maybe it was a generational thing, but it just never occurred to me to ask him to hang out in the backyard tossing a football around with me, or get down on the floor and wrestle. Like most of the parents “his age” on Prospect Avenue, he wore slippers around the house, drank coffee with his dinner, and told stories on the front porch. It’s just the way the grown up world seemed to work back then.
Now before you start thinking this post is going to turn all Harry Chapin “The Cat’s in the Cradle” and bring a tear to your eye, let me clarify something.
It never bothered me.
Like I said, none of my friends Dads were the play football in the back yard kind of Dads. In fact, it always struck me as weird when I did encounter a kid with a younger, “more hip”, Dad who wanted to be their buddy. Something just seemed wrong about that.
The world isn’t like that anymore, all of my friends who are Dad’s play with their kids. It’s their primary parenting function. Mom get’s to be the grown up, and Dad is the other child in the family. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Perhaps it’s the fact that our cars are more reliable that we seem to be able to make time to play catch in the yard, or Xbox, or chase them around the house with a Nerf Gun. Or maybe it’s just the “Harry Chapin” effect that song had on our collective psyche. Digressing…
Even though we didn’t play catch in the yard, Dad and I still found ways to connect with each other. Watching sports, and documentaries on TV were two passions we shared. The other was the art of bummin’.
Let me explain bummin’.
Bummin’ as an art form consists of spending a day out and about together with no particular destination, or plan in mind. It was an activity usually reserved for weekend afternoons during mud time, when there were no decent sports on TV, and it was too cruddy outside to play. It was also our favorite thing to do when I had a day off from school. Since Dad was in the Electrician’s Union, he always had more vacation time than my office working Mother, so when we had a religious school holiday at St. Joe’s, he was the parent who took the day off to stay with me.
He’d rise at his usual time, and make coffee and breakfast as Mom got ready for work. WBTA, our local Am radio station would be playing in the kitchen, as he listened to the news, interspersed with the commodity reports. (Pork bellies are up 15 cents!) I’d make my way downstairs in my PJ’s, and eat a nice big bowl of sugary cereal, and watch the morning cartoons. Once Mom had left for work, Dad would wash the dishes in the sink, and then turning to me while he was drying his hands he’d ask “You want to go bumming?” That was my signal to run upstairs, and get dressed.
Our destinations always varied, and he never would tell them to me until we were in the car. Then he’d say “Let’s go get apples and see the geese”, or “Let’s visit Ma”, or “Let’s drive over to the lake”. Sitting on the front seat of the big boat Chrysler, as we headed out of town always made me feel like a big kid, even if I needed Mom’s cushion to see out the window.
The fields and farms of Western New York would roll by outside the window, for Dad always took the scenic route. The direct road anywhere was for people lacking time and imagination. Instead he’d take every “short cut” he knew, driving up to Lyndonville on back roads, so we could go through the tunnel under the Erie Canal, or taking a route past the Salt Mine in Retsof, so he could tell me the story of how deep, and far the mines tunnels stretched underneath the ground.
He knew the history of every place we passed. What the significance of the place names meant, which roads were located along the path of old Indian trails, which hill once had a runaway Semi-truck carrying gasoline crash into a house. Dad’s stories always tickled my imagination, until eventually the whole of Western New York was like a story book I could read by looking out the window of the car.
Whether in the country, or up in the old neighborhood in Buffalo, we’d stop for lunch at some little Mom and Pop diner. He’d order an open faced turkey sandwich covered in gravy, and I’d have a Grilled Cheese sandwich, with potato chips, and an ice cold Coke. My folks were never too hung up about kids drinking caffeine. Given the fact that they drank coffee with breakfast lunch and dinner, it only seemed natural to let the kids get wired too.
After lunch we’d head back out to the car, and see where the road took us all afternoon. Maybe we’d drive out to one of the Finger Lakes, or up along Lake Ontario looking out at the wide blue expanse of water, squinting to see if we could spot the tip of the CN tower. It didn’t matter where we went we always found something interesting to look at.
When the light began to fade we’d turn for home, and get supper started. Maybe we’d have picked up some Polish Sausage at the Broadway market, or some other delicacy that could only be found in the stores of the big city. When Mom got home from work she’d ask “What did you guys do today, go bummin’?” and I’d fill her in on our adventures.
Not surprisingly, those are among my favorite memories of my youth. Even today I could drive those back roads, and tell those stories as if they were my own. And even though I’m a 21st Century Dad, that coaches my kids sports, and spends most of my free time playing with them, I still make time to take them bummin’. I hope someday they have the same fond memories of mornings spent driving around town, or parking to watch the trains go by, or sitting at the counter in the donut shop. These are the treasured moments that I wish I could hoard away in the bank. Instead they slip by like scenes outside the car window; a flickering home movie of memories that will be passed on to another generation.