Funny how something so simple can trigger a flood of memories.
I went to read the comics today and kinked the paper twice trying to fold it back. And for some reason I flashed back to my dad. The man could solid fold a newspaper, and that was back when they were much wider than today. He had been a Marine. Crisp edges were built into his DNA.
Dad loved the newspaper. We got two, the Post-Gazette in the morning and the Press in the evening.
Dad would come down for breakfast, which usually consisted of a cup of coffee and a smoke, looking just fine. He had his own business, so he had a starched white shirt courtesy of Mom, a nice tie, dress slacks and good shoes, which I spit-shined.
And he always smelled good. He used Old Spice aftershave and a Sunbeam electric shaver. He said he did enough dry shaves with a blade on Guadalcanal to hang up the razor forever.
He'd take a sip of coffee, light his Old Gold and then carefully pick up the paper. He'd scan around for an article, fold the pages and then dig into it. I could tell which ones captured his attention the most by how long the ash would grow on the cig before he knocked it off.
Reading the sports section, he'd tell me how his two favorite Pirates -- Billy Maz and the great Roberto -- did the night before. He'd say, "I love Clemente, but I wish he'd stand closer to the plate."
When I left for school I'd always say, "Bye, Dad." And he'd never say goodbye. He'd always say, "I'll see you tonight."
He established school protocol on my first day of first grade: "Look, you behave yourself. If the sister calls me and says you got in trouble, you're gonna get it again when I get home. When it comes to school, you are guilty until proven innocent."
His business was located along the walk home from school, so I'd stop in to visit. He always had time for me. If he had a free moment, he'd drive me home. If not, I'd just walk the last 15 minutes. Back then children could do that. Now that would seem unsafe for a little kid.
Sometimes, he'd hand me two dollar bills before I left him. That meant I'd walk down to Millard's Pharmacy and ask Mr. Millard for a carton of Old Golds. "That'll be two dollars." Imagine. Twenty cents a pack, and handing a carton of smokes to an 8-year-old!
After dinner, Dad would read the Press, and he wanted us to be quiet. It was his way of unwinding. And then, still in his dress clothes, he'd tell me, "Go get the ball."
Depending on the season that meant we'd catch baseball or he'd throw me the football. Dad was a stud athlete from Cambria County. He was All-County in fast-pitch softball, horseshoes and basketball. I inherited a lot of his coordination, but until he was in his 60s, I couldn't beat him at golf, pingpong or straight pool, and I was good at those sports.
If the weather were bad, he'd say, "Get the cards." He taught me poker and casino and blackjack. We had great cribbage games.
Dad was not without his faults, for sure, but he remains my greatest teacher. From observing him I told my kids, "Listen, don't idealize me. I'm not a perfect man, but I'm always trying to improve. In the ways that I am good, imitate me. In the ways that I'm flawed, throw them out and do them better."
But back to the paper. I read it the way he did. Start with the sports, then the comics, and then from Page 1 on. I do the Sunday crossword. And I want a newspaper. I tried once to read the Post-Gazette online. Extremely unsatisfying. I want to hold it, I want to fold it, and I want to be able to think about it. And drink coffee ... I don't smoke.
Before he died Dad told me about a conversation he had with my daughter: "Rebecca was visiting me about five years ago, and she said, 'You know, Granddad, if I had never met you before, I would know by talking to you for 10 minutes that you're my dad's dad.'"
I wear the badge proudly.
James F. Cataldi of Moon, a retired dentist, can be reached at email@example.com.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions, in addition to other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.