Sunday, April 01, 2012

A is for Anthony

He was only in my life for five short years, but his legacy of generosity lives on.

My father-in-law's name was Anthony, but everyone knew him as Tony. Or Dad. Or PopPop. One of ten children born to Polish immigrants in Baltimore, Dad grew up in a poor, Catholic neighborhood where he was schooled by nuns. World War II erupted when he was 18, and he was "called up" to serve as a medic in the United States Army. Later he worked various jobs including as a butcher's apprentice and plumber. His lifelong vocation was plumbing, his avocation crossword puzzles. You might say he had an abundance of wrenches and words at his "DisposAll."

He met and married a slim, pretty young lady named Marcella in the mid-40s. He liked her legs and outgoing personality. She couldn't resist his dimples and his ability to "cut a rug" to the Beer Barrel Polka. Their brood included five sons and no daughters.

I had the privilege of watching Dad in action as he fixed our earliest sinks, tubs, and toilets during our poor, newlywed life. He would never take a dime for his work, but could be easily persuaded to eat one of my humble spaghetti dinners as thanks. Paul and I bought our first home six months after we got married, for $44,000. and Dad was there to help us transform the ugly duckling into our little dream cottage.

On many occasions, Dad would show up at our door with his toolbox in one hand and a bag of good-quality meat in the other. First he'd slice the big hunk of flesh into steaks or roast portions for us to freeze. Then, while I was cooking dinner, he would sit down on the sofa and bounce a grandchild or two on his knee, clucking to make them giggle. He had a special way with babies, something that many men lack. That's something he passed along to my Paul; people have always noticed the way my husband loves infants. You can't manufacture that nurturing side of a man, and I credit my father-in-law with modeling good "daddying."

Dad also coached Little League baseball, and his sons grew up running bases and catching fly balls. When our sons were young, Paul coached Little League himself. If only Dad had been alive to witness that. I remember thinking of Dad when I'd watch Paul huddle on the sidelines with a bunch of rag-tag seven-year-olds full of sugar and promise. "Like father, like son," Dad and Paul loved training and encouraging the next generation of these young bat-wielding boys to work hard at being good players on a team.

Dad loved the Baltimore Colts and the Baltimore Orioles. Any time of day or night, his portable radio or his truck radio was tuned into a game if it was on. I never understood how someone could enjoy action in only audible form ,but that's what he grew up on.

His main fault was that he couldn't say no. My sisters-in-law and I joke about how he overbooked the babysitting commitment all the time. Linda, Donna, and I would all want him for a certain Friday night, and he'd tell us all "sure!" and then show up to only one house, leaving the others "hanging" because he forgot what he'd promised. The solution? Drive ALL the kids to the house where Dad was, and let him figure it out. Somehow he always got nine grandkids, including toddlers and babies, to mind him. (Bribery of donuts and McDonald's french fries worked well.) If Dad kept one commitment, he kept them all. His favorite night at our house was the time he committed to watching our 13-month old Ben while Paul and I went to the hospital to have our next baby. "Bring home a pretty one," he said, meaning "a girl to add to the bunch of all boys." We did, and he spoiled her rotten.

Dad didn't earn much money as a plumber, but every member of his large and growing family could count on getting a crisp ten-dollar bill and a kiss or hug on their birthday or Christmas. In those days, a ten seemed like a hundred. The funny thing was, even the babies got ten dollar bills, and he thought it was really cute that they would put their money where their mouth was.

At about 2:30 a.m. on the morning of February 12, 1992, I dreamed that Dad died suddenly. The dream was so vivid I startled awake. My heart raced; I had the distinct impression that this nightmare was God's way of preparing me. I was too afraid to say a word about it to my husband. Eventually I fell back to sleep. Four hours later, when Paul was drying his hair for work, the phone rang. I answered it, trembling. It was his younger brother David.

"Zo, Paul there? I've got some bad news."
"What do you mean?"
"Dad's dead."
The guy he picked up for work every day found him slumped over the wheel of his truck. Massive heart attack.

To this day, I miss him when I am trying to cut a big slab of meat into pretty sliced portions, or when I make keilbasa with sauerkraut at Thanksgiving. Paul misses him on Orioles' Opening Day or when the hot water heater leaks or when he watches old war movies. Dad donated his time, talent, money, and love, over and over and over again. For that I remember Anthony--"Dad"--as a man who left a legacy of generosity.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for helping me know and remember pop pop a bit better. Your post made me cry. It is touching that if my foster sons become "ours" our oldest son is named Anthony. A good namesake indeed. It would be an honor to be able to give him this legacy.


tkeller said...

I also enjoyed reading this post. I obviously have my own memories of Pop Pop but it's always nice to hear about him from others who were adults and around more than us.

And also everyone seems to have forgotten that we intentionally gave Alexander Anthony his middle name to honor his grandpa and great grandpa. You aren't the first who has forgotten this lol.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful memories of a strong and loving man. Following now as I don't want to miss any of your stories.

Lea also known as "CiCi" said...

Oh, me, I was already having an emotional kind of day and this post just about "did me in." What a sweet, sweet tribute to one who must have been a great man to know and love. Well written, as always!

Anonymous said...

I found you through the A to Z challenge. A very nice tribute to a wonderful man. Thanks for sharing.

Kay said...

I also found you through the A to Z challenge. What a beautiful story. I look forward to reading your other stories.

Alana said...

This is a really beautiful post. Although I don't know any of you, it brought tears to my eyes. He sounds like a wonderful man who had a big heart and lots of love to give. Reading through your description of him evokes a comprehensive view of his character.

Thank you for sharing and for giivng his memory space to live on.

Alana @
Found you through A to Z!

Laurie said...

Sweet Anthony. and sweet Zoanna-
Love from A to Z...
What a beautiful tribute to your dad-in-love.

Beth Zimmerman said...

I found you through the Challenge and enjoyed reading about your father-in-law and the love and respect you obviously held for him!

On another front ... I married a man who already had 3 toddlers (3,2,and 1) ... yeah I was nuts! Then struggled with infertility until 11 years later we had our one and only joint project. Youngest is 22 now and probably thought he had 5 parents growing up. :)

Brenda said...

It's so nice to have such endearing memories of a father-in-law you can call Dad. Goes along with the saying "anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad."