THE DAY WE LOST DAD

It was that awful day we lost Dad….for over an hour.  It later became one of those entertaining family stories that everyone enjoys except for maybe the leading man. Dad always left the room when I began to tell this one.

He had  driven Mom and me out to watch the Holy Name Parade in Hackensack one Sunday afternoon. I was only five and was quite impressed, especially with the big Mickey Mouse balloon Dad bought me.

Parking spaces were scarce in Hackensack that day. We finally found one on a side street and had to walk back several blocks guided by the lively music of a marching band.  We didn’t get any such help returning to the car after the parade. In fact its exact location turned out to be a matter of opinion. “It’s down this street, Jim,” Mom said after we’d hiked for about 10 minutes.

“No, Nora, we have to walk a couple of blocks more,” Dad said.

“Well when you find out you’re mistaken you can come back here and meet us at the car.  We’ll be waiting,” Mom replied.

“When you get tired of your futile search around here,” Dad said, “just walk two blocks over and turn right. I’ll be waiting.”   I thought it best to stay out of the debate, so I just played with my smiling pal Mickey who was floating above me on a string.

Mom and I soon found the car, but it was locked, so we stood at the curb and we waited………and we waited. Eventually Mom began to lose patience and Mickey began to lose altitude.  Finally she flagged down a passing patrol car and reported a missing husband.  “Lady, it’s a parade day. He’s  probably having a beer with his buddies. Don’t worry, he’ll show up, ” the cop said and pulled away.

A half hour later I watched Mickey flutter to the gutter just as Mom was hailing another patrol car. This one held a surprise.  Dad was in the back seat, helping the police find his “lost family” and “stolen car”.  He was absolutely certain he’d parked two blocks further than where we’d found it, but he could never convince Mom of his theory that some smart aleck  car thief had hot-wired the DeSoto and relocated it as a joke.

A SOLEFUL TALE

One of the first things Eve must have said to Adam as they trudged wearily out of Eden was, “Ouch, my feet hurt!”  Adam’s  probably started to carry his wife, but he would soon weary and suggest wrap-around footwear using nearby heavy palm leaves.  “No,” Eve would say. “That shade of green would clash with my fig leaf outfit.  We’ll keep looking. And I think you should cut down that apple tree over there and carve out some heels. Watch out for the serpent.”

Historians tell us we humans have been wearing some kind of shoes for about 7,000 years. I think it must have been farther back than that. Sure, archaeologists are finding remnants of pottery, weapons and other hardware in ancient ruins, but discarded worn out shoes would have turned to dust long before they started to dig.  There’s an old pair of loafers in the back of my closet now that are  beginning to resemble decomposing chipmunks.

I still have my very first pair of shoes and must admit they’re in perfect condition after more than 80 years, but that’s because my mother had them bronzed in 1940.  I don’t think a Bronze Age mother in 3000 BC would have gone to that kind of expense and trouble even if bronze workers then were into the shoe-coating thing.

Many of us have an innate resentment of shoes. They’re often the first articles of clothing removed at the end of a work day and always with a sigh of relief.  If you have a keen sense of smell, you’ve probably noticed a lot of shoes are removed by theater-goers as soon as the lights are dimmed even though their liberated tootsies might swell up during the show and no longer fit back into their wingtips and wedgies.

Little boys are probably the largest anti-shoe group. On the last day of school they look forward to a couple of carefree shoeless months. I know I did, but back in those nicotine days we boys had to be wary of discarded smoldering butts that turned sidewalks and park grounds into minefields for the barefooted.  A cast-off glowing ten-cent corona once put me on Unguentine rehab for a month.

STREET GANG MEMORIES

I was a street gang member during my early youth.  We called ourselves the 9th Street Musketeers and we clashed regularly with the 7th Street Robin Hood gang doing battle in the middle ground of the 8th  Street woods.

Our weapons included homemade bows strung with butcher twine, and stick arrows, swords and lances whittled from skinny branches.  Our shields were trash can lids that we had to get back in place before our parents and the neighborhood cats and dogs got wind of the exposed garbage.

According to our unwritten rules of engagement even the slightest touch with the point of an enemy weapon would render a warrior “dead” and committed to the sidelines. There were no referees so “fatal wounds” were often contested, but we managed to settle these arguments peaceably without fisticuffs.  Actual injuries were rare, a scratch here and there and maybe a nosebleed if a distracted charging swordsman ran into a tree.

Once during the heat of battle a Musketeer shouted,  “Hey you guys, blackberries!” and an immediate truce was called as all combatants gathered around the new-found blackberry bush and gorged. When hostilities resumed we were all dripping with berry juice, looking like walking wounded.

Usually after a battle, the winners and losers, the quick and the “dead”, traded comic books and searched the woods for deposit bottles and debris that the local junkman might consider salvage.  Later we’d spend the profits on a two-gang picnic.

That was almost 80  years ago.   If there were combat contests like that for kids today there would be compulsory helmets, face guards, chest protectors and expensive plastic weapons. Smelly trash can lids would be completely out of the question.  There would be an official rules book, adult coaches and  field judges,  waivers of injury claims forms and post-battle counseling for the losers.  The 8th Street woods has since been replaced by a parking lot so the contest would take place on an Astroturf field with grandstands, cheerleaders and a first aid squad.

There would be no searches for blackberry bushes, deposit bottles or saleable junk, but every team member, winners and losers, would receive a trophy.