Riding Life!

Riding Life!
Life is like a wild horse--Unless you ride it, it will ride you! (from the movie: "Princess of Thieves.")

Sunday, September 28, 2008

V: The Empty Chair: Part l: Paul Newman and my dad






I felt sad when the news anchor broke in to announce that Paul Newman died a few weeks ago. Shortly after, my youngest daughter called to be sure I had heard the sad news. "He reminded me of grandaddy", she said. Yes, he reminds me of my father too. The same coloring, silver hair, blue eyes, handsome features, and athletic grace. My dad was pretty "cool" too. He was a pool player extraordinaire who had played with the best of them - Minnesota Fats and Fast Eddie of The Hustler movie fame. Fast Eddie was the best according to my authority! He loved that movie and even more the Paul Newman/Tom Cruise movie, The Color of Money. When my dad passed away, there were people lined up wanting to buy his custom made pool cue, which of course my mother would never sell! I'm exaggerating just a little! lol

Now it may sound contradictory to say that someone who hung out at the pool hall was a gentlemen. I conjure up imaginations of a smoky, sleazy atmosphere, and it is definitely a man's domain. No question about that! Women do not hang out at real pool halls! My dad started hanging out at the local pool hall after school when he was sixteen, because he worked there. Probably not the best place for a teenage boy to be he later told me. When my dad told my mom with his customary "wink" that he was going to the office, we all knew he meant the pool hall. I recall a few times when mom took my sister and I shopping downtown and needed to get in touch with him. We would walk to the pool hall and she would open the door just a bit and motion to the nearest man to fetch my dad. Hearing a few chuckles of laughter as someone went to get him I remember peering into the dark, smoky, mysterious room, waiting for dad to come to the door. Years later, newly married and working downtown, my car wouldn't start. This was long before cell phones, and I walked to the pool hall to see if my dad's car was there. It was. So, I went into the furniture store across the street. I walked up to the salesmen and said: "My car won't start, and my dad is in that pool hall across the street. Can I use your phone to call him"? They were greatly amused!

There were other "perks" to being the daughter of a pool shark. In the sixties and seventies, dad would often win anything from $40. to $100. on a good day--the days off from his "regular job" at the newspaper. This was tax free money since it was under the table, so although we were never rich by any means, and we took few vacations or trips, there was always eating out money and my mom never had to work. When I was in high school, dad opened up a neighborhood recreation center with pin ball machines and six pool tables. So every guy in town wanted to play pool with my dad! I'll bet you can guess where C and I spent all our free time! My dad owned our hangout place!

When dad died 17 yrs. ago at the age of 69, an old lady in her late eighties accompanied her grandaughter to the funeral home to pay her respects. She had never met my father herself, but she stood with me at the casket and said to me "my your father was a handsome man". In the midst of grief, I had to smile to myself, because although dad was charming in many ways, he was also reserved and just a little vain! He knew he was handsome. Everyone told him he was his entire life, so he just knew it! He had a way of winking when he laughed,so even though he wasn't even conscious of it, he looked like a flirt! Women loved him, though he was shy and always faithful to my mother. You see, although he was gifted in many ways, my father and grandmother had been abandoned by his father before his birth, so he never quite accepted that he was good enough.

When dad was 9 yrs. old, my grandmother remarried to a man she admittedly did not love. Both of her parents had died by the time she was 30 and they were left alone at the family farm. My grandmother's brothers had already moved to town. She told me that she felt she had no choice because she was stuck out on the farm and she thought her son needed a father figure. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith wasn't the best father figure. On one occasion when my grandmother wasn't home, he beat my dad with a chain because he forgot to feed the pigs. My grandmother told him if he ever laid a hand on him again, he was out for good. One afternoon when my dad was 13 yrs. old, my grandmother had gone to town to shop she was contacted by the police to come pick her son up at the station because her husband had shot his business partner and killed him, supposedly in self defense. My father was alone at the house and unaware of anything that had happened, but the police went to the house and found him and did not want to leave him alone out there in the country. My grandmother packed Mr. Smith's bags and that was the end of him in their lives. She moved to town where she bought a small bungalow and got a job with the county as a Home Extension Agent. Mr. Smith never went to trial because his brother-in-law was the Governor of Arkansas and kept delaying the trial until the statute of limitations ran out. Because she was working, she relied on her brother and his family to help out, so my dad spent a lot of time with his three cousins and partners in playing hookey and pool. To nip it in the bud, my grandmother paid a teacher friend to take him to school with her out in the country where they had lived before moving to town. So that squelched the playing hookey routine! My dad once told me that although his cousins were more like brothers, he also felt that they felt sorry for him because he had no father around.
In his early twenties, dad joined the navy during WWII and spent 4 years in the South Pacific on an aircraft carrier. He had pretty much raised himself and never gave my grandmother any real trouble. His letters reveal a good son always concerned for his mother. So it may sound silly, but whenever I see a Paul Newman movie, or catch a glimpse of an older man with silver hair out of the corner of my eye, I always think of my dad. - V

1 comment:

Susan said...

V, I remember your father well. I was a frequent vistor of his rec center and stayed alot of nights at your house. I was friends with your younger sister! Keep up the good work!

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