Old Dog

dad and college roomates2

We were at a party the other night. One of the guests had brought her dog: an aging pug/beagle mix who grinned, swaggered, and jumped surreptitiously onto the counter, leaving only a trail of crumbs where the shortbread had been. “He’s channeling my father,” I said, and our hostess, who’d known Dad well, broke out in gales of laughter.

My father was a handsome man and charming, but he was also a rascal and a food thief, particularly in his last years, when sweets were hazardous to his health.  He took great delight in sneaking forbidden foods, the outcry as pleasurable to him as the treat itself.

Perhaps because Father’s Day is approaching, I’ve been thinking of him a lot. I put a white quartz crystal (picked up by my mother on a walk) next to the little metal urn of his ashes.  He passed away about 5 years ago, and my felt connection to him is stronger than ever. He does, however, irritate me less. That fortunate alpenglow of memory.

It was a great advantage to have a father who

a) was unconcerned about material possessions

b) was always up for a game

c) was skeptical of inherited orthodoxy and authority

d) had passions, including the practice of law, the Boston Red Sox and his family.

He was the hero of my childhood. One of my earliest memories is being carried aloft on his shoulders, then swung down beside the kitchen table, where he’d played poker the night before. “You can keep the chump change,” he said, and I scrambled to pick up the silvery coins the men had tossed away.

He won my mother in a poker game, the story goes. He was a returning soldier, going to Boston College on the GI bill. He and his buddies were playing poker in the dorm, a forbidden activity. When the dorm monitor, a Jesuit priest, caught them, he gave them a choice: Get written up or take 4 nice Catholic girls from Regis to a dance.  

When taking the street car over to Regis, the 4 guys agreed that to avoid awkwardness when picking up the girls (obviously losers or they would have gotten their own dates) they would simply line up by height. My father was the shortest of the group, so he ended up with the shortest girl. And also the prettiest.  My mother. Sometimes he said she was his prize and sometimes he said she was his penance.  But she was the heart of the game he played all his life.


In the photo above, Dad is the guy with the grin and the cigarette.