I was born in northwest Ohio. My mom and dad split when I was 5. She met my stepdad shortly afterward. They married when I was 7 and we moved to Accokeek, Md. Every summer, we packed into my mom’s Pontiac and made a trip to meet my dad in Breezewood, Penn. Our six weeks with my dad was on.
My bio dad drove a 1970 Mach 1 Mustang. Badass! Red, with a black stripe down the center of the top. A 351 Cleveland engine. “Mag wheels.” I’m not sure what that meant, but I heard it uttered several times those summers. He took us to countless car shows. I love muscle cars because of him.
From Breezewood all the way back to Columbus Grove, Ohio, he smoked at least two packs of cigarettes, with the windows up. I don’t remember if we wore seat belts, but I doubt it. We’d fake cough, hoping he’d get the point, but he was oblivious. We always listened to a lot of Meatloaf songs on that drive.
We might as well have thrown our toothbrushes out the window on the drive back. I can guarantee we didn’t brush them once for 42 days. He didn’t care. As long as we didn’t annoy him, there were literally no rules, just the freedom to do whatever the hell we did or did not want to do for six glorious weeks.
Sounds effing amazing to any 7-to-10 year old, right? Here’s the catch: He lived in a hot-ass trailer, with window A/C units and clear plastic tarp hanging in the hallway entrance to keep the bedrooms cooler at night. Many nights he sat in his chair in only his tighty whities. I can still recall how his belly smelled from the sweat. It wasn’t a B.O. smell, but it was distinct.
My brother, sister and I slept sideways on a queen-sized mattress on the floor. There was always ice cream in the fridge, though. I remember him telling us, “You know where the refrigerator is. If you starve to death, it’s your own damn fault.” He drank. A lot. He napped a lot, too. Before he fell asleep, we watched at least five episodes of “Tour of Duty” and “The Twilight Zone,” which was exactly what those 6 weeks felt like.
Don’t read into this too much. He was a good dad. He was no Charles Ingalls, but he meant well. He played pitch and catch with us at the baseball diamond. Took us to the playground. He saved up during the year so he could take us to Cedar Point. That’s still the best amusement park in the world, IMO. Granted, I’ve only ever been to Jamaica outside the U.S., but trust me. When I was 10, they had 19 rollercoasters. Nineteen!
He’d take us to the gas station and buy us candy cigarettes, drop us off at the local pool while he cleaned the VFW or American Legion. He always gave us a couple bucks for more sweets while we went swimming. Between not brushing our teeth for six weeks every summer and eating all that candy, I can’t believe I still have never had a cavity.
My dad lived in a trailer, but he still, to this day, grilled the best steaks I’ve ever eaten in my life. Butter. The secret was butter. You’re welcome. We had a picnic table outside, because everyone who owns a trailer has to have a picnic table under the awning. Everyone in his trailer park did. It was if they were all prepared to have a neighborhood cookout at any hour.
Sometimes we got to watch him drink at the VFW. We ate our body weight in pretzels and got to open little, folded ticket books with numbers. Gambling. He had us doing the unfolding and the scratch offs. Sometimes he let us pick numbers when he played the lottery. I’m not sure what his medium sized dream was, but he was sure some set of six numbers were going to make it a reality one night.
My dad died died from complications of esophageal cancer when I was 25, on June 10, 2002. Those summers weren’t the picture of a Norman Rockwell painting, but I swear I actually had a good time. It’s the little things you miss. He had virtually nothing, and yet I’d give almost anything to spend one more day with him.
Hang on tight to the memories, folks. One day your mom or dad will be gone, too.
❤ The WAXlorette
Previously: Introduction to The WAXlorette