Friday, June 08, 2007

In A Nutshell

It's been a while since I did one of these; time to get back to it

63-A. I remember this about my step-father's work and responsibilities: I have to say that this drawing is perfect for Daddy's work. He was a salesman, and he could, indeed, have sold ice boxes to Eskimos.

Daddy grew up the son of Irish and German immigrants in the days when "No Irish need apply." His father was usually very underemployed and it was a large family. Daddy sold newspapers on street corners in Oakland in 1908, when he was five. He was always small, spending some time as a young man as a jockey, and he often had to fight older and bigger boys for his corner. When he was in his 70s, he was threatened by a young man in a parking lot. The newspaper account kept saying things like "the 73 year-old Ward took a length of pipe from the back of his car and backed his 26 year old assailant into a corner." (The local paper always covered anything he did and said, because he had acquired a reputation as a colorful person when he was on the city council.) He may have been frightened, but he probably was frightened when he was five. Once you learn to fight for yourself, apparently you never forget.

While I knew him, he was a salesman. In the course of a few years we moved from Stockton to Puerto Rico to Denver to El Paso to Roswell. Where ever we went, Daddy flourished. When I was starting high school, he requested an assignment that would allow us to stay in one spot. So, he was given a territory in San Francisco, and we moved to San Mateo.

It was after we had moved to San Mateo that the company was sold and the new owners decided to winnow out the older workers. Daddy's territory got smaller and smaller, until he could call on all of his customers by noon on Monday. Since you can't call on people more than once a week, he spent a lot of time in movie theaters for a while. The thing that amazes me is that he didn't spend any time in bars, since surely what was happening to him was enough to drive many people to drink. He told me once, decades later, that the only dream he could remember had been when he was working in San Francisco -- he dreamed that a snowball was chasing him down a steep mountainside, getting bigger and bigger and closer and closer. He said it terrified him, even thinking about it then.

Daddy decided that he was not going to be able to wait this out until his approaching retirement, and quit to start his own business. Because all of his California contacts were in Stockton, he moved the family back there and opened his own printing business. And when his partner embezzled all the money when Daddy was almost 60, he closed that and started over. He was not only a good salesman, he was a sharp trader, which allowed him to feed his family through the worst of the embezzlement crisis. He started with a wheel barrow and traded up, one step at a time, keeping the family fed just on trades. Once he had tied up that situation and started the new business, without a partner this time, as soon as there was money he bought half a steer and filled the garage with canned goods. He wasn't ever allowing his family to come that close to hunger again.

Daddy worked until his late 70s, cutting down on hours but going in five days a week. He left my mother in a beautiful house and well provided for. He has been gone now for over 20 years, Mama is 84, and she need want for nothing.

Once, when he was about 76, a neighbor asked him how he had ended up with such a beautiful wife and he answered, "I'm a good provider." I think it is sad that he never realized that although his ability to support his family was impressive, it was by far not the best thing about him. I think it is sad that so many men don't realize that they are worth more to their families than just the paycheck.


kenju said...

Even sadder is that in some families, the only thing dad is prized for is his paycheck!

joared said...

Your Dad's story reminded me of the play "Death of a Salesman." Seems so cruel how they forced people out. He sounds like quite a remarkable man, being able to persevere through all life's challenges.

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

Wow. What a story of "picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting all over again" several times!

Sounds like quite a man.