My Father did not reach100 years old. In fact, he made it to only 51, back in 1971. You know the story. He worked too hard, smoked for a good portion of his life, and was sent to Relocation Camp in Gila, Arizona after Pearl Harbor. Each took a toll on him.
The photo above is me, age 3, with my Father, age 29. We were working on his Ford pickup truck, in my new mechanic’s overalls, in front of his first shop across the street (Bethel Avenue) from where I was raised. He later built the shop of his dreams on the property adjacent to our home. This is my favorite photo of the two of us. I loved spending time out in his shop.
As a skilled auto mechanic and craftsman, my Father could make or fix anything. In high school, he built a vineyard wagon, as well as a self-propelled brush shredder. Much of the furniture in our home, was made in high school wood shop. He had a lathe in his shop, so that he could make parts that were not available!!!
I am not going to tell you he was the best Dad, we all think that. But I do think he was the best Dad for four wild kids, with our Mom hospitalized for almost two years, when I was the oldest (age 7) of four kids. It must have been a terrible time in their lives, but I never (I repeat, NEVER) heard them complain.
But his greatest skill was as an auto mechanic. Even before he bought his first computer (in the 60s) to diagnose engine problems, he could diagnose the problem by just listening to the motor. Often times, the three auto dealers in town would tow their customer’s cars out to my Dad’s in the dark of night, when they were unable to fix the car themselves.
I am certain he would have gone to college, but both the war and my Grandfather intervened. He gave each of his three sons some farmland. He sent my Dad’s two sisters to finishing school back east. When my Dad refused to farm, he opened his first business. My Grandfather had to call my Uncle Sus back from a career in the military to run the family farms.
Unfortunately, I did not inherit much of my Father’s mechanical skills or creativity. Maybe my brother, Bob, received some. Together, they often went drag racing on Sundays, and once held the national record in a stock division. Hopefully, I inherited some of his other traits, like getting along with diverse people, analytical skills, and learning quickly.
Nevertheless, the story ends sadly, with my Dad suffering a fatal heart attack on October 1, 1971, at the young age of 51. I was in Europe, somewhere between Berlin, and Zurich, as I recall. It was the loneliest week in my life. Back then, flights were not as frequent, and I eventually found a flight from Rome via NYC to SFO. I missed his funeral!
So, he was a wonderful Father, tough but fair. He made us work hard, either in his shop or on my Uncle’s farm. But he rewarded us at appropriate times. We knew he was proud of us, though he rarely told us. And ultimately, I got the best reward, he and my Mom allowed me to matriculate to U.C. Berkeley in 1964. I am forever grateful, as that became a defining moment in my life.