The memories are faint and hard to recall. When I picture them it’s like watching an old black and white movie. I remember walking next to him and looking at the belt he wore, I remember holding his hand as we would walk up to Church and inside one of the small newsstands that dotted the Avenue.
There was one in particular that I recall, it was where the tiny shoe store is across from Golden Farm. It had a tiny counter and a few chrome plated stools. They were round at the top and you could spin them around. The tops of the stools were padded with either a black or dark red vinyl. When my dad waited for his change I would gently spin the seat tops while peering under the counter for a glimpse of the hundreds of pieces of dried gum people left behind. “Hey Dad can I see the Camel?” My father would usually hand me the pack of cigarettes to look at. I remember staring at the Camel with the two columns on each side of it. Back then there was no surgeon generals warning on the pack, so a kid could look at it without a parent fearing a question about why you smoke. My father would gently tug me out the door and we would start our journey back down East 4th to our house.
The trips to the candy stores or newsstands as we call them today were fairly frequent for my Dad. You see my father smoked at least two packs of cigarettes a day,and filter-less of course. The newsstand next to the bank and the jewelry store was another destination for my Dad and I. I think it’s the only original news stand that I can still remember from the early 60’s. Sometimes my Dad would buy Chesterfield’s, he would always let me look at the pack which I closely studied of course. And sometimes on the way home we would stop by the Beverly Theater to see what was playing. The marquee always cast a huge shadow with it’s lights blinking like a Coney Island arcade. There was a long wide entrance which lead into the theater. It gently sloped up to old time wooden and glass doors. You could always see the concession stand from the sidewalk too, it was probably where the counter is for the “Deal 99 cent store”. And no matter what time of day it was or even if the place was closed you could always smell popcorn in the entrance way.
By the time we would reach East 2nd street my Dad would be puffing away. Billowing smoke like an incinerator from the apartment buildings on Ocean Parkway, out of his mouth, out of his nose and sometimes looking like his ears too. My father was always off to work too, and no matter what time of the day it was. And of course, he had to finish his cigarette before he left the house.
“Your father works like a donkey” that’s all I heard my grandfather Paco say about his son. “Education is what will make you succeed in life”. “Your father refused an education and look at him now”
I guess my grandfather was talking about college, because my Dad did go to High School. John Jay in Park Slope. But then again, I never knew if he ever graduated.
My Dad worked two jobs and sometimes three, he worked in a restaurant called McPherson’s down by Trinity Place in Manhattan by day, and by night at the Trinity Place post office as a “part timer”. He also did catering work on weekends and even co-owned a coffee shop at one time on Vanderbilt right off Atlantic. So I didn’t see my Dad much, and if I did he was usually sleeping between jobs on a Lazy Boy in the living room. For my brother and me there was no catch in front of the house and there was no playing tag at Greenwood Park. And we knew better not to even ask my father.
One day when my brother and I came home from PS 179 we heard my mom on the phone crying to her sister. We looked in their bedroom and my father was lying in the bed, he was crying too. In those days no one told a little kid what was going on and you dare not even ask. All I heard from my mom was “Daddy's not feeling well and won't be going to work for a while". You see, it all started my father was offered a full time position at the Trinity Place Post Office. There was a routine physical he was ordered to take before he could become a full-time employee. Problems breathing were followed by X-rays. A "spot on his lung" was detected and before you knew it there were tests followed by more tests. Doctors in those days didn't "beat around the bush" like today. Dr. Weisel on Plaza street in Prospect Heights told my Dad straight to his face that he would be "dead in three months". My Dad refused chemo, but did opt to have one lung removed, and I will always remember that scar. It went from his chest all the way around his back, it just looked like train tracks around a mountain through the eyes of a kid. But hey, at least he was home for my brother and I, and that's all that really mattered to us.
Eventually though death did arrive and on August 24th 1965 at the age of 39 my Father died. Just about three months after he was told he would, leaving a seven, nine and two year old without a father. Oh, sure, I know there are old photos of my brother and I together with my Dad building a snowman in our back yard at 399. There are also ones taken upstate at our country house with me on his shoulders. But the truth is nothing sticks in my mind more than those simple walks to Church Avenue holding my Dads hand and smelling stale popcorn by the Beverly. For there are no photos of those times, but just the memories of a seven year old boy who barely knew his father.