Still Smiley

When we were kids and played on the same Little League team, UJ was known to our teammates as “Smiley.”  He was the kid who always hit doubles and could run like a deer, as opposed to his tubby brother who was afraid that a pitch would hit him on the nose and break his glasses.

10511205_676359375752497_4658884759017098909_nI’m pleased to say that all evidence indicates that UJ remains “Smiley” at heart.  If you look at his Facebook page, it’s full of smiley photos.  UJ is never introspective or contemplative in these photos — he’s usually wearing a bathing suit in blazing sunshine, tanned and squinting and flashing his gleaming white choppers with a lady friend on each arm.  Our family dentist, Dr. King, no doubt thinks UJ is one of the greatest living advertisements for sound dental care and careful toothbrushing and flossing that ever walked the Earth.

It’s nice to know that some things haven’t changed since the Little League days.  Come to think of it, I’m probably still afraid of being hit on the bridge of the nose by a pitched ball.

A Father’s Little Mysteries

On this Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking about my father and wishing I knew a little bit more about certain parts of his life.

It’s not that Dad was a person of conscious mystery.  It’s just that, for the most part, he was a quiet man who kept his earlier life to himself.  He didn’t dominate the conversation when we sat down for dinner at night or regularly regale us with stories of his childhood in Uhrichsville and Akron or talk about his college days.  As a result, there are parts of his life that are a bit of a mystery to me, and those little mysteries will probably never be solved to my satisfaction.

IMG_3910For example, when he was a young man Dad had the nickname Lucky Pierre.  I’ve now inherited the 60-year-old caricature drawing of Dad that shows it.  Mom says that when she first started dating him, she thought his real first name was Pierre, because that’s what Dad’s fraternity friends and other members of their crowd always called him.  In those days, the frat guys would invite their dates over to the frat house and put on little comedy skits and shows for entertainment — something that it’s hard to imagine the father I knew doing — and in the skits he was called Lucky Pierre.  He played basketball on a team with his friends and had a jersey with Lucky Pierre on it.  It obviously was a moniker he liked.

These aren’t things Dad ever talked about; they are little bits and pieces of his life that I’ve heard about from others over the years.  So, how did a regular guy named Jim living in Akron, Ohio come to be called Lucky Pierre?  Mom doesn’t know, she says.  I have a vague sense that it involved some kind of vulgar fraternity humor that twenty-something guys find hilarious — but what incident was responsible for him getting that name in the first place?

I’ll probably never know the complete answer to this question, and a bunch of other ones, too.  Maybe it’s good for a man to have his little mysteries, but on this Father’s Day I wish I knew a little bit more about the back story of the Dad I knew and the course that his life took before UJ, me, Cath, Margaret, and Jean arrived on the scene.  It would help to round out my understanding of this man who played such a huge and essential role in my own life.

The Family Garage Sale

When we cleaned out Mom’s condo, we were left with a bunch of stuff that she doesn’t need and no one really wants.  What to do with it?

IMG_0226Yesterday we put it before the general public in a subdivision-wide garage sale at my sister Margaret’s neighborhood in Hilliard.  Cups, clothing, plates, books, pots, Christmas decorations, golf clubs, CDs, children’s games . . . all of it got assigned a price and put on card tables.  And then we waited for the browsers.

My guess is that most people who sell things in garage sales overestimate how much the sales will bring.  They think their stuff is nice and should fetch a good price from grateful visitors.  The reality, unfortunately, is that nothing looks particularly valuable or enticing when it is crammed with other bric-a-brac on the top of a card table or displayed in a cardboard box on a driveway.  When you see stuff laid out in such a fashion, you immediately begin to recalibrate your pricing down to nickel and dime territory.  Our niece Amy led the mark-down brigade.

IMG_0227Garage sale patrons seem to fall into categories:  those who are looking for a particular item they are collecting, those who are hoping to find a bargain to supplement their wardrobe or home decorations, and hoarders.  The people in the first category come early in the morning and zip in and zip out, the second category visit throughout the day and take their time, and by the end of the day you’re just hoping for the hoarders to come and take away whatever they want.  We had an end-of-the-day hoarder and were happy to load up her car and bid her adieu.

At the end of the day, we made $223.95 for hours of work, met some nice people who were happy with their purchases, had some laughs, and sold about two-thirds of what we offered for sale.  The remainder got boxed up and delivered to AmVets.

His Way Was “My Way”

NPR has been running a series on “Mom and Dad’s record collection,” where celebrities and average folks talk about a record their parents had that was associated with a particular memory or otherwise had a special meaning.

In the Webner household of my youth, Mom and Dad had an eclectic album collection — including some 78 rpm records — that featured classical pieces, swing, big beat, and the OSU marching band.  They didn’t often listen to music, but when they did, one song stood out ahead of the rest:  Frank Sinatra’s recording of My Way.

My father was by nature a quiet person, but give him a drink or two and My Way would be taken from its place of honor on the record rack and played like it was the national anthem.  If my Uncle Tony were in town, he and Dad were likely to stand up, spread their arms wide, and belt out the song with great gusto.  The lyrics, about a dying man who reflects on his life and the blows he’s taken but is proud that he did things his way, obviously spoke to something deep within them.  To others, the song might seem like a maudlin and over-the-top bit of self-congratulation by a stubborn egotist.

What was it about My Way that has such resonance for a car dealer and a stockbroker?  How many shopkeepers, pharmacists, accountants and other members of the corporate culture of the ’60s and ’70s similarly identified with the character in that song?

I think the attraction of the song was aspirational.  These were men who had their jobs and did their jobs, providing for their families and, in the process, undoubtedly making countless compromises.  They might go out for a drink after work, but for the most part they played their well-defined role in the world.  They identified with the rugged individualist in the song who insisted on doing what he pleased, even if their lives didn’t necessarily permit them to be that person.  When the song was played, it was a chance for them to let that tamped down inner individualist roar, in a way he never could in real life.

Big Bro B-day

Today is my older brother Jim’s birthday.

We shared a bedroom the first 13 years of my life, he’s put up with my foibles and quirks with good humor for more than 50 years, he has stayed skinny and black-haired even as the years have weighed heavily on the rest of us, and he now lives an easy-going and comfortable partially retired lifestyle.

In honor of this birthday, I labored hard to compose this brief ditty, to be sung to the tune of Frere Jacques:

Happy Birthday,

Happy Birthday,

Brother Jim,

Brother Jim,

You are 55 now,

You are 55 now,

You don’t look it,

You don’t look it.

Happy Birthday!