Since Fathers' Day had just recently passed, I decided to devote this post to the fathers and grandfathers of Best Day; and their fathers and grandfathers.
When I could walk even a little bit, my Dad would take me all kinds of places to meet all kinds of people. People who worked at auto factories, truck manufacturers, railroad car plants elected my Dad to represent them to the owners of the companies through managers and other non-union workers.
As soon as I went to school, I would add union comic strips and books to the Batman and Red Rider comics I could trade. Dad did not push the information, but it was an interesting part of my early education.
There would always be a movie, circus, fair, sportsmen show, rodeo, auto show, or church fundraiser during that day. I loved the city.
Some of my mother’s aunts and uncles lived in West Philadelphia, where many white families had moved out to the suburbs. It opened up a whole bunch of new kids to play tennis, baseball, touch football and games I forget. Their families were wonderful.
My Dad’s brothers and sisters were in the northern districts of the city. Grandpop bought some farmland in Bucks County on a beautiful creek, but he lost the property to prohibition. More to follow…
Baseball, My Father and Action Speaks Louder than Words
My father was a quiet reserved man who never missed a days work. Before we awoke in the morning he would be at his job. He was a custodian at 30th Street Station. He would return in the evening, eat and immediately go to bed. While there was definitely love between us there was little interaction.
Sometimes actions speak louder than words. There were two small events that occurred between myself and my father that I will forever contain within my mind.
The first event occurred when I was around twelve. My father came home with two baseball gloves and took me to a nearby lot where we engaged in an extended lively game of catch. I never knew my father could play baseball. He was good. Each time the ball thudded against our glove it echoed love.
The second action between my father and I that spoke louder than words also had to do with baseball. This event took place when I was around 14 years old. One day we were both practicing with our respective teams at Belmont Plateau in Fairmont Park. I was with a youth baseball team and he played for a Penna Railroad Team.
We did not know that our practices were at the same time. When we noticed each other we left our teams, walked towards one another and shook hands without uttering a word. Two events involving baseball between us spoke a multitude of words.
So actions do speak louder than words, especially when love is involved.
I guess I really started enjoying summers when I was 6 years old. And it was the first time I had ever heard of Memorial Day. I went to a special boarding school for the blind where we went home on weekends. Sometimes I stayed in on weekends and one day I was listening to a song on the radio called “Cruising Down the River” on A Sunday Afternoon. Also, it was the 1st Father’s Day I remember and that stood out because it was the first cake I remember my mom making. It was a coconut and pineapple cake and she said it was a special Father’s Day cake for my dad.
Usually my summers were spent eating watermelon, playing with the neighborhood kids and going to Vacation Bible School for 2-3 weeks at the Community Center. Sometimes, on the 4th of July we’d either visit my grandmother (my grandfather’s birthday was on July the 5th) or going to the park for a picnic.
My teenage summers weren’t that memorable. The most memorable summers after that was when I was 20 and 21, volunteering at a work camp to remodel the community center. I even painted a house. And there were activities for all the kids there, like lawn games and basketball, baseball and badminton. Even though some of my summers weren’t especially memorable, summer is my favorite time of the year.
Summers are always beautiful to me.
In 1965, I was living in Phila, Pa and went to visit my father who lived in a small town in South Carolina. I accompanied my father for his annual checkup to his doctor’s office. Two waiting rooms were still in use; one had been used excessively for white patients – the other for colored people. The outlines for the signs were still visible over the doors.
The large room was paneled with checkered red and mint green. Baskets of flowers and plants aligned the tables and the cabinets. A beautiful fern plant cascaded over the receptionist’s desk. The latest editions of Life, Family, Ladies’ Home Journal and Parents’ Magazines were neatly lined on a table. Bright lights illuminated the room. There were plenty of comfortable seats. This room was formally available to white patients only.
The other waiting room was small and windowless, dimly lit, and painted a drab gray. Ten dog-eared copies of Life and Ebony magazines sprawled out on the table. Draught-backed chairs lined the wall. This room had been the waiting room for the colored patients.
I entered the cheerful room, my father hesitated, and then reluctantly followed. I was not too surprised to see that most of the colored patients gravitated to the room that they had been required to use before desegregation.
My father said, “This room is nice.”
“Dad, you have never been to this room before?”
“No, Baby, I just always used our waiting room.” He thought for a while and then spoke again. “You know I never thought about using this room.”
I reached out for his hand and patted it gently. I spoke to no one in particular. “The signs have been removed from the doors but they have yet to be removed from the mind.” We picked up a magazine to read and waited to see his doctor.
Today is my lucky day. My friend Mike and I came to visit this nice senior citizens center, and were fortunate enough to meet my new Chinese friend Benita on her birthday. She is a wonderful lady. She looks and speaks just like my daughter Dorothy.
I’m so very glad and happy to meet her, and all of our new senior center friends.
July 8, 2010
Dorothy Leung, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Copy Editor Insight
I used to receive at least two to three letters a week from my dad. His notes became so frequent and predictable that I neither realized nor appreciated being the recipient of his kind words. That is, until those letters stopped coming. A couple of years ago, my dad stopped diligently taking care of himself, and I noticed a decline in his mental and physical health. When I moved him from California to Philadelphia, my sister and I were worried that he may not have a community of friends, so it was a pleasant surprise when I learned he was attending a "writing club." When I attended the writing workshop and presentation last year at the Philadelphia Free Library and learned of the depth and breadth of this wonderful class, I knew that I needed to support it in any way I could. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be on the copy writing team. I am able to read about and learn from some remarkable seniors whose stories are touching and honest and so funny! I love having the chance to "listen" to the lessons from those who have lived through incredible challenges, those who still have little materially but whose hearts are richer than most. And, I especially love when I am assigned my dad's stories, to know that he is once again lifting that pencil to the paper and expressing himself through words. I don't think I will ever get him back to the vibrant way he once was, but I do see - through his slanted, all-caps writing - the spirit that still wants to shine. I don't always know how my dad keeps busy on most days, but I never have to worry about where he is on Thursdays. I love being able to log onto the blog and see his smiling face among the many people in the class. It's exciting to see him excited about his friends and the wonderful volunteers who make this possible. Although he doesn't write as frequently anymore, in many ways the weekly stories are even more meaningful than any letter of the past...and these stories are ones I will surely not take for granted. -
Dorothy Leung, 29University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine,Director, and New Mom
Curated by Caitlin Cieri