My father was born in 1911 into a Pennsylvania Dutch family in Johnstown, the home of the famous flood of 1889. His father was a self-educated dentist, practicing without a license. The family was extremely musical and all are to this day. Most of the music was practiced and/or performed only in Church, however. Music was only for “devotional” purposes. They’re Holy Rollers. Speak in tongues. Some may have even handled a snake or two. I do know this: one of his sisters abandoned her family and moved to Israel and spent nearly her entire life there . She was (in her estimation) called by God to convert the Jews. The whole “schmeer” as my father might say – he was full of a combination of Miami Beach Jewish phrases and Pennsylvania Dutch speak (“Red the table!” – meaning clean up). Meet my father. The Black Sheep.
Bill’s early childhood musical training was on the violin. He soon made his way to string (stand-up) bass. He was also a singer, and traveled to clubs around the country in his early days. Did radio gigs. Did a bit of reefer from time to time. Into his thirties. It wasn’t until he got out of the army after WWII (MP) that he settled down, got married, hooked up with the Mal Malkin Orchestra and spent the rest of his musical career as the singer and bass player for that band which played most of the Miami Beach hotels in the heyday: Algiers, Eden Roc, Fountainbleu, Americana, Doral. I’m sure there were others.
There were always two orchestras going, one spelling the other. My Dad’s band played the standards (which my father sung) and while they were on break, a Latin orchestra took over. Rhumba, Cha-Cha. All that. On his breaks he’d read – always had a book going. If not reading, he’d sketch in a book he carried. He wasn’t a bad caricaturist. Back then (the forties and the early fifties), Miami Beach was also the model for Las Vegas (less the gambling). All the big acts of the day came, and he played them all: From the comedians (Joey Bishop, Don Rickles, Jackie Leonard, Jimmy Durante), to the singers (Sammy Davis, Jr., Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat “King” Cole, Johnny Mathis, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme), all the way down to juggling acts and Senor Wences! Gambling finally killed the big show scene on the Beach, and the crowds followed the money to Vegas, hoping for the same entertainment and the easy buck.
So my dad worked at night and along about 8 o’clock he’d head on over to the Beach across the causeway, already decked out in tux and cummerbund. Since he worked at night (he’d get in around 3 AM), he’d usually play golf several days a week. Too much golf maybe. To this day he blames all of the golf he played on his hip problems of later years. Over 30 years ago it was suggested that he have hip replacement surgery. “Hell, I won’t be living all that much longer anyway”. He’s now 98. While my mother was working (and she worked for several years at an Insurance Agency), my father was the cook. Even today, he does most of the cooking. Well, all of the cooking for my mother (Martha Elizabeth) and my sister Carol. His specialty is what he calls The Kitchen Sink. The name is fairly descriptive. Now they all live together in a ranch development in Columbus, Georgia. Columbus is an army town (Ft. Benning) and my mother’s childhood home and it’s where they settled after my father retired.
My father spends his days noodling around on the computer, reading, watching sports on tv. And of course, cooking and eating. When I visit, it seems that as soon as breakfast is finished, they’re preparing to think about lunch. Getting up from the Barco-lounger into the walker is painful to watch. He still (shudder) drives. Getting into the car is a 1/2 hour process. And out. Other than that, his health is as good as can be expected, other than the skin cancers that he has excised from his face now and then. Golf again, and all that time spent under the Florida sun. My mother slips in and out of lucidity, though she doesn’t seem to have slipped much in the past 10 years or so, actually. Still, to have your mother look at you and ask “Who are you?” cannot fail to give a chill.
Neither of them have much of a passion for life. My mother sleeps a lot and wanders around the house in her “housecoat”. My father I believe hangs on in a fierce determination that he won’t go until his wife dies. Then I’d expect him to pass rapidly. Well, die, really. “Passing” connotes a movement into another realm (preferably Heaven) if you’ve chosen Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as your guide. For my father, after death: Nothingness. Bill didn’t believe in any of that “crap” as he called it. He’s just biding his time until he can leave (another of his favorite and oft-used terms) this “veil of tears.”
I look at my fathers picture from the old days, and I see nothing of myself in him. Of the current one, I fear I see much of myself. I’m morphing. Time is not kind to the faces of Man nor Woman.