June 16, 2019
How ya been? So, here we are. Father’s Day again. You must’ve liked Father’s Day because you sure saved a lot of crap I gave you for it. Found it all after you died. The polished rock cuff links with matching tie bar are just as fashionable as they ever were. Granite was always stylishly classic. Not so much the figurine of the drunk guy on the cast iron bar stool. There sure was a lot of oddball junk in the cigar boxes in your dresser drawer. You didn’t even smoke cigars! Good thing I was an only child, right?
You’ve missed thirty-two Fathers Days. A lot of stuff happened in those thirty-two years, but you know that I’m sure. I think.
I don’t know how much of the mythology and Hollywood see-all-and-watch-over-those-of-us-still-on-earth from your perch in heaven I believe. I still don’t totally not believe in ghosts thanks to you and mom teaching me to be open minded. Actually, you never really said that that I can recall, but you did tell me to be skeptical but not dismissive of other ideas and other people’s ways of looking at things. That’s different from being open minded, I think. So ‘maybe’ on ghosts and signs. Still ‘no’ on sushi.
How in the hell are things in heaven? That should make you laugh or at least cock a bemused eyebrow. Ha.
Don’t know if you know this, but a part of me is pretty sure you do. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on your old turf in Highland Park. No, we don’t live in St. Paul but we are right across the river in south Minneapolis – a brief jaunt (less than a mile) over the Ford Bridge. We moved back home last fall and to be honest I wasn’t even thinking much about the proximity to St.Paul and I sure wasn’t thinking about the fact you used to live there, in that part of it. Even going there to shop a few times a week I didn’t think about it. Until I started driving through Highland Park every day to get to work.
I spent the last half of the school year substituting at a high school over by the river and I was a few days into my new commute when I realized I was making a turn on Cleveland Avenue, a block from where you used to live. It only looked vaguely familiar to me until I recalled driving down Cleveland some years ago after I found some old correspondence of yours with that address. Weird but cool. One day on the way home I took a slight detour from Montreal Street and went by your old address on Cleveland. I knew from originally discovering the letters and the neighborhood some years ago that the building you lived in was gone but considering the age of the one that replaced it you were probably one of the last tenants there. There are still enough homes and apartments of a certain vintage that the neighborhood would probably look somewhat familiar to you.
As the school year rolled on it was kind of cool to think about rolling through your old ‘hood every morning. Did a little research too. From the apartment on Cleveland you probably went downtown via Montreal to West Seventh. Maybe you drove that route and maybe you took the bus down Montreal and transferred to the streetcar on West Seventh. I drove that route every morning.
Getting this teaching gig for a half a year and driving through Highland Park everyday to get there is not exactly Moses seeing a bush-on-fire level ‘sign’ – more the universe gently tapping my shoulder and clearing it’s throat. Maybe it’s just my long lack of faith in something as dubious as coincidence. Which brings me to the lamp.
One day after work I stopped at an old hardware store on Randolph Avenue – the description of the place on Google even says ‘old school neighborhood hardware store’ – as I had an old lamp that belonged to Amy’s grandmother that needed to be rewired and they proudly offer that service. Some of your old letters that I have were addressed to you on Randolph Avenue and when I double checked I had to smile, figuring that maybe you even hit S & S Hardware to get a key made or something, as your home apartment for a time was right down the street. No burning bush at the corner of Randolph and Fairview, but S & S does carry a full line of gardening tools. So there’s that.
Once the weather warmed up and I could drive around with the windows down I took a few afternoon detours through Highland Park on my way home. I’ve driven some of the streets you used to travel and seen some of the places you lived in the years before you met and married mom and before I came along. Even walked the neighborhood extensively one Saturday while waiting for some work to be done on my car. For all of its contemporary touches and new development the residential sections of Highland Park would still be familiarto you, I think. More colorful paint jobs perhaps, but it mostly retains enough of the 1950s look and vibe that you would probably feel at home. Cecil’s Deli is still there, dad. I have been in there just once – the day I walked around waiting for my car – but I haven’t eaten there yet. I figure that needs to be a time when I can just sit and soak it in. It sits right where it was, five blocks from your place on Cleveland. Still all things Kosher. With your affinity for corned beef, pastrami, real cheesecake, and (allegedly) speaking Yiddish, it is hard to imagine that you didn’t hit Cecil’s at least once in a while.
As I have driven those Highland Park streets I’ve wondered more about some of the mysteries you left behind that I have spent years trying to unravel – and more importantly why the secrets you kept about your life needed to be secret. Years of digging up clues and piecing together the puzzle have pretty well explained most of it (at least crcumstantially) and at least now I get it. Mostly. For the record, the story I have pieced together offers me a comforting, ‘ahh-ha’ perspective and some times I find it all laugh-out-loud funny. Figures, as I inherited your rather quirked sense of humor.
But dad, the real kicker came just a few weeks ago.
I had a wedding to officiate on Raspberry Island in downtown St. Paul. I had not been to Raspberry Island for decades and what I didn’t realize until I started driving there that the access point was on the river flats across the Mississippi from downtown St. Paul. Truth is, I didn’t realize exactly where I was until after the wedding, as I was leaving Raspberry Island and saw the sign for the West Side Flats condos. I immediately pulled into the parking lot across from the brand spanking new complex. Their advertising says they offer ‘style, practicality, and luxury’ – words that I am sure you never heard as a ragamuffin kid running the streets of St. Paul’s old River Flats. The condos and other new development have rendered the Jewish ghetto that used to flood out every spring to nothing more than wispy memories and photos in historical center archives. ‘Urban renewal’ in the 1960s started the process, but what it is today…
So while none of these reminders falls into burning bush territory, there aint no urban Smokey Bear gonna shut this escapade down now. So to speak. You would enjoy certain aspects of modern vernacular.
Gotta close this out, dad. Heading down to Rochester for the annual seafood boil my son-in-law throws. It is the first year all of us will be together for Father’s Day in a lot of years and I’ll surely be thinking about you. You would love them all, dad and I know that would be reciprocated. My wife, daughter, sons, son-in-law, grandson all have rich and full lives they are very cool people. Amy, Lindsay, Willi, Sam, Brad, Felix are all something to behold in their own unique ways and even though you only met one of them, they sure miss you and your presence. But they at least have me which is kind of you, lite – so that’s something.
Thinking about you today dad, even not roaming the streets of St. Paul. Miss you. Happy Father’s Day.