Ten years ago today, my father died on his 64th birthday, losing his 17-month battle with leukemia. There were so many events I would have love to have shared with him, so many funny stories he would have loved to have shared, and moments from my kids’ lives he would have relished. He was a pretty simple guy – he loved a good steak, Johnny Carson, fixing stuff and telling stories. And humor. He was one funny guy, though those who lived in the same house with him knew all of his punchlines.
So, for my dad, who taught me comic timing and the ability to tell a story, here’s my favorite Harry story:
I wanted to learn to drive so much I could taste antifreeze, so as soon as I got my learner’s permit, I bugged him to take me out driving. He took me to an empty parking lot and then around a few neighborhoods the first time out. I didn’t kill anyone, so he must have decided that I was ready for prime time.
After dinner one night later that week, he drove us over to another parking lot, this one near the intersection of Lake and the Edens expressway. “Switch places,” he told me. “You’re driving on the expressway.” It was the tail end of a Chicago rush hour. He settled into the passenger seat, lit another cigarette, and directed me toward the entrance ramp of the Edens.
“Get on,” he said. I had no idea how to merge, or what to do about not running headfirst into those huge trucks. I was screaming that I couldn’t do it and that I would get us both killed. “No you won’t,” he said. “Sink or swim.”
We didn’t die, though I saw him lighting one cigarette off of an already-lit one, something I rarely saw him do. He had nerves of nicotine.
When I was teaching my three kids to drive by gripping the passenger door in a death grip and gasping like a beached alewife (or screaming at them in sheer terror), I thought of my dad. Just about every time we got behind the wheel.
And I wished I could tell him so. I miss him more now than I did when he first died.