Saturday, April 20, 2019

1949 Bowman

My dad and I were pretty different people, though we certainly had much in common as well. We both loved sports, mostly baseball and football, but I also enjoy hockey (including skating myself), skiing, tennis, racquetball, lacrosse, and during the World Cup, soccer. Pops called soccer “a communist sport” while we were growing up and ironically one of my sisters played on the first women’s high school team at my high school. Communist sport or not, he was proud of her.

Pops collected knives, watches and guns. He also really liked antique cars from the ‘50’s. I collected baseball cards….and that was about it. Oh, stamps for a little while. Not that I didn’t like guns, but it never seemed all that necessary to own one much less a dozen. Now I do own one though and will probably get a second. Knives just seemed a bit odd to me to collect and I was never a big fan of watches, though my dad collected pocket watches which seem to have some redeeming quality about them. Grandpa Sutton worked on the trains and I think that’s where my dad got an affinity for pocket watches. Some of the pocket watches he collected were actually pretty cool.

The Fox network received most of my dad’s attention, while I prefer actual news. Regardless of how much I loved him, he was always able to fall prey to the tripe they peddle and how they peddle it. I guess that’s the point (as to why they exist) and why they make money hand over fist. Nothing irritated him more than when I would send him a Snopes link that would completely dismiss a “fact” he heard on Fox as complete hokum. Though I took some joy in it, I really just wanted him to find another news source so we could have intelligent conversations about current events. But you weren’t going to change dad’s mind….on pretty much anything!

We both had great senses of humor though, enjoyed Seinfeld WAYYY too much, loved watching football, enjoyed a good baseball game, loved my kids and a good bowl of chili. Loved getting the family together at the holidays and giving gifts. Neither of us were too good at receiving gifts.

Speaking of which, I’m reminded of probably the best gift I ever gave someone and certainly the best I ever gave my dad. It was a Christmas gift and involved baseball. My dad was 13 in 1949 and he was collecting baseball cars, despite not having much money. Cards were not very expensive, but if you’re poor, everything is expensive. Pops collected just about half the set of 1949 Bowman’s, the second year of baseball cards printed in color. Fast forward to the mid 1970’s and my dad has a wife working the second shift, he has two jobs himself while taking college classes and oh yeah, they have three kids. Those roughly 100 baseball cards from his childhood fetched $100, which would make a wonderful Christmas for his family or buy food for nearly a month. There was no decision to be made and he sold the cards.

Fast forward again, this time to 30 years or so. While going through some papers, we came across a list of those baseball cards typed up by my mom. I asked what it was and they relayed the story to me. I was crushed, especially knowing how I felt about the cards I collected as a child. So over the next few years, given a list of the cards that my mom had saved, I bought every card he had sold, and then some.  I like to think that at least one of them was actually one of the cards that he owned. Until the day he died, it was the only gift I saw him open that made him tear up.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Black Guy from Springfield

Now, I know I’ve jumped all around while putting down these memories, but that’s ok. It doesn’t have to be sequential. My memories of dad flood back all at the same time, as one point in time, so me organizing them into a particular decade or based on where we lived, is really just for the reader’s benefit. The past is the past and while it happened over time, it’s as much a point in time (the past) as anything.

Not many people know that while I graduated from the University of Illinois with two degrees, I didn't actually get into the business school right away. The application day snuck up on me and my family as we didn't have anyone have to meet an application deadline for college before. Even getting an application in at all was somewhat lucky as it was just casually mentioned to me at lunch in the cafeteria that the deadline was the next day. With a late application and acceptance into the liberal arts school, from which I transferred as soon as possible, I also got a late housing assignment. The late housing assignment came with a questionable classmate who turned out to be a very obnoxious person with whom I only had minimal contact in short bursts during my class days. But that's not all. I was actually in a "triple" that would later be turned into a "quad" with two other people! Yikes! One of those guys, a notice from the University told me, was Samuel Moore from Springfield. My dad was very upset, because he was positive "Samuel" was a black guy. It didn't bother me at all, but having TWO roommates, and later THREE, DID bother me. As it turned out though, Sam was not in fact black, and the worst roommate ever was the one I selected from my high school class. Sam and I moved into a double after our first semester. 

While I was in college, my parents came down to see me a few times pretty much every year. Those were great visits, filled with love, new shoes and food. Due to my academic performance in high school, making the honor roll every semester of every year, my dad lost a bet and bought me a car, albeit a used one (1977 Buick Regal in 1984). It ran well enough to get me back and forth from school as needed, so even if my folks couldn’t come visit me, I could go back home some weekends.

But sometimes my dad would want to make his presence known without visiting. On my 19th or 20th  birthday, he did just that. I was working my shift in the lunchroom, refilling beverages I believe was my main task that day, when in comes a belly dancer. Yep, my dad had conspired with my roommate to get me a belly dancer in front of everyone eating lunch that day. She had me sit in a chair in the front of the lunchroom and danced right in front of me. My dad howled on the phone later that day when I called him, and anytime we talked about that day in the years following. Ugh.

Pops knew Sam was a good guy and let him know it every chance he could. When my folks came down to take me out to dinner, Sam came with. Food for Joe meant food for Sam as well. And that was just fine for Sam, the second youngest of 13 kids and whose father had passed away. Sam would end up going to law school and we’d room together for my 5th year as well, making it 3 of the 5 years that we lived together. He certainly could have asked for a better roommate, but I couldn’t have!!

Sam in his Adidas shirt with me standing in the doorway. 

This was me on the left of the picture, Sam in the middle and Keith (across the hall) on the right. 
We were dressed in our bathrobes for Halloween. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Whistling Memories

Before cell phones and the internet, everyone played outside after school and all day during the summer. We’d wander around the little wooded area down the street, or play a sport in the street (softball or football usually) or ride our bikes around the area. It was glorious. The only problem was: when was it time to go home? 

One family, the Kibbys, had a light on their porch that we could all see and when it was turned on, they had to go home. My dad would whistle. That’s right, whistle. He could whistle really loud and not one of those stick your fingers in your mouth and make a piercing noise whistle. Nope. His whistle was melodic and unmistakable.  If we were playing within a two to three block area, we could hear the whistle or someone we were playing with would hear it. Normally that was the call for dinner, but sometimes it was also the “Hey, you’re out too late and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with the Kibby’s porch light but it’s time to come home!” whistle. It was truly a sound of summer.

Another sound of summer, though not relegated to the summer, was my dad farting. You may be appalled, but it wasn’t uncommon to hear farting around my dad. He honestly couldn’t care less and often thought it hysterical. One vivid memory I have of him farting is when we were fishing up on Beaver Island. Now, we’d go “fishing” on one of the lakes, but it was mostly just time for my dad to relax and do a whole bunch of nothing in the nice calm, serene environment. 

We didn’t get up early to catch the early fish feeding or stay until dusk to get them hitting at the end of the day. Nope, we’d securely lock in the late morning to early afternoon, sun directly over-head time slot.  The old 5 h.p. Evenrude motor would get filled up and we’d have the reserve tank as well all lined up. To add insult to the fishing injury however, he would often put an impossibly large lure on my hook, essentially ensuring that I wouldn’t even get a nibble. One year it bit him in the ass though as I caught a 19” Pike that he then had to clean so we could eat. But clean it he did, as with other fish of size that we caught over the years. He definitely had those basic “dad skills” down pat.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Memories from all over

Turning back the clock to the early 70’s, while we were still living in Pleasant Ridge, MI, there were several memories that stand out with my pops. He set up a Pitchback for me in the back yard for when he wasn’t around and I wanted to play ball. I used that thing all the time, but we spent a lot of time in the back yard throwing as well. There was a baseball field (sort of!) at the end of our street too and we’d go down there and hit and throw. Lots of ball playing growing up as you can tell.

One very memorable trip to the ball field at the end of the street ended in disaster. My dad put me on the handle bars as he rode the bike down the sidewalk. It wasn’t that far really, maybe a city block, though as a kid it really seemed further (as most places feel when you have little legs). Unfortunately I lost my balance or he hit something or maybe just bad luck struck and my foot found its way into the spokes of the bike! Yeah, sounds gross and awful and I’m sure it was, though I don’t remember much of the incident until I was in the bathtub at home. As no stitches were involved, I think it was mostly just skin torn off around my ankle. Poor pops. Just trying to do a good thing and it comes back to bite him. I can’t even imagine how bad I would feel if I did something similar (of course by accident) to my son. Ugh. Just awful.

But we did a bunch of other stuff around the house as well. Two shows we used to watch a lot were the old black and white version of Wild, Wild West and the weekly programming of Hockey Night in Canada. We’d sit on the floor, leaning up against the sofa with me sitting between his legs on his stomach and watch the episodes. The same position would be used for Hockey Night in Canada, which was one day a week and would involve usually Montreal or nearby Toronto. Inevitably, there would be hockey fight and then we’d start tussling and yelling "Hockey Fight in Hockey Night in Canada!!!" Great fun.

We made up games to keep us entertained as well. In Naperville, where we moved when I was 10, we would play Nerf Hockey in the living room. The living room was normally off-limits to the kids, so it was special to even go in there. Now, when you have 3 kids and a dog and not one, but two rooms (formal dining room) are off-limits, you don’t have many places to go to be alone and it can suddenly be cramped. It never really felt that way to me though I guess because we each had our bedroom and we spent a lot of time outside. Back to Nerf Hockey. It was just a game that we’d play on our knees where we would try to “slap” a small Nerf ball past the other guy with our hand. I’m sure those games ended up in Hockey Fight in Canada type events as well. Ha! 

The baseball card collection I currently possess and continue to build started early on with pops as well. He would trade samples of Schick blades and Listerine to the Topps salesmen and bring me home a box of baseball cards.  Those were awesome road trips for him to come home from needless to say! I kept them all in pretty good shape fortunately and still enjoy them. We worked on some sets through the years together (in the ‘70’s) by going to baseball card shows at the Hillside Holiday Inn as well as the national show periodically in Rosemont. One of his favorite stories is how I talked down Mad Dog someone or other, a local card dealer, to sell me a set of 1970 Topps for $60. It was quite the deal!!

Another great card collecting story happened much later while driving back to Altoona PA to see relatives (one of our two vacation sites growing up, the other being Beaver Island MI). We stopped in a nearby town where an auction was taking place that offered up a large selection of stuff including a big box of baseball cards. The guy running the auction let us buy the cards for $500 without going through a premium or the auction process. AND he let me look through the cards, which seemed only somewhat compelling until I came across I think 4 Reggie Jackson 1969 rookie cards and a bunch of others. That’s when I said we had to get it. While I was examining the cards, my dad was talking to the auctioneer. The guy said, “Wow, you look familiar. Are you from around here?” Turns out the guy went to school with my dad a few years behind him and he remembered my dad! Why? Because my dad could impersonate the school principal over the PA system and one day he dismissed the school mid morning. Caused quite the stir, but my dad didn’t get in trouble because the principal couldn’t prove he did it, even though he knew he did. Too funny.

I had another memory of us going to the Hillside Holiday Inn for a show one Saturday morning. On the way, while dad was driving his work Chevy Malibu (it was always a Chevy Malibu), dad asked me for a comb. Now I was in my young teens I’m guessing at this point. “I don’t have one.” I said. “How the hell can you not have a comb? Why aren’t you prepared?” he retorted. “Well, why don’t you have yours?” That earned me a knock across the chest, but what could he say? Can’t blame me for being unprepared if you’re not prepared yourself!! Ha! Really funny the stuff you remember when you stop and think. 

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The memories continue!

Two relationship memories stand out involving my dad. The first, prior to getting married the first time at 23 after being engaged at 21, my dad talked to me in the driveway of the house and asked if I was sure about what I was doing. Not that marrying this particular person was a bad idea, but that I could be single, living in Chicago with a good job. Maybe I would be happier. Of course I was pretty pissed as any ignorant 21 year old male would be. That was one time that he offered sound advice.

The other relationship memory involved, ironically, the woman I started seeing after my divorce from the woman that my dad questioned me marrying. We had been dating for a while, maybe six months or so, and after one particular visit to my parents’ house, I noticed that my dad was basically ignoring my girlfriend. He wouldn’t talk to her specifically if he could avoid it and sometimes talked over her. The next day I called him up and said, this is bullshit. If you continue to act like this when I bring her over, I’ll stop coming over. Another month goes by, I go over to a family gathering at their house with my girlfriend and he pulls the same crap. When I get home, I call my parents and tell them I will not be coming home for Thanksgiving that year (the next scheduled family event). In 52 years, that was the only Thanksgiving I haven’t been home for. The next day my mom called and said my dad would be better for the next visit. I said if he’s not, I’m not coming home for Christmas either. Apparently she raised holy hell with him at that prospect after already being pissed at him about Thanksgiving. He’d done similar things with my siblings, but I was the only one to nip it in the bud. Ever since that holiday season though, we had a much different, better relationship dynamic. He seemed to respect me more and as women came and went in my life, he fully supported my decision with each of them. He was excited and happy when they arrived and lamented their loss when they were gone, exactly what I needed from him.

Other memories of my dad. There are so many it’s tough to narrow down. We played catch with the baseball and football out in the side yard in Naperville more times than I can remember. I would practice pitching to him, he’d throw grounders and we’d just toss the football. It’s tough to remember if we talked about anything at the time other than what we were actually doing, but I’m sure there was talk of the Sox, Cubs, Tigers, Lions and Steelers (I hadn’t converted to a Bears fan yet). Much of the reason I was able to play baseball and then softball until I was almost 50 was because of that time early on, getting reps in the side yard with pops.

My dad wasn’t always active though. He loved a cold house in the summer, well below 70 degrees, and I often had to wear sweatpants around the house to keep warm, despite oppressive heat outside! When the Cubs would come on in the afternoon, 1:20 of course, if his paperwork was done, my dad would take up residence in his favorite chair in front of our 1979 Magnovox that would be a staple for the next 40 years (ironically to be replaced on his birthday/Christmas by us kids with a new tv, but he passed away before getting to see it). Not long into the game, the sound of the game would be drowned out by the snoring of my napping dad. That scene was as much a part of my childhood as any scene I can remember.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Starting the memory posts of my great dad

Where do I want to go now with this entry and future entries? How about memories of dad? Sounds good. I could take a whole bunch of time and try to create some order and flow, but I'd rather just put these out periodically, for my own edification. 
Let me start with a memory that was brought up by one of the neighborhood kids (2 years older than me) at the funeral. After I read what I wrote down, breaking down repeatedly, my buddy asked if it was okay for him to say something (let’s call him DK). I nodded yes and he went to the podium. He started reminiscing about how my dad would come home from work and be the “all time quarterback” while throwing footballs to DK and me. DK said he was always a bit jealous of me because my dad was able to do these kinds of things while his father was working. Plus he had six brothers and sisters, so attention was in short supply. DK understood that his dad had to work, so that was fine, but he realized later in life that he would make sure that HE was the kind of dad who be the out there throwing the football around with the neighborhood kids. I honestly had no idea how important my dad was in his life. But we all have people like that in our lives that we have impacted and the more outgoing, giving and open you are as person, the more people you impact. I’m sure my dad impacted many more people in many more ways than I’m aware.

In baseball, for instance, he was able to bond with some of the kids who were “on the fringe” of attitudes let’s say. These players would use chewing tobacco during games for instance and their life outside of baseball was similar. But my dad was similar as a kid, so I’ve heard, and that allowed him to communicate very well with them. So if other coaches didn’t want to deal with them, my dad would take them. It didn’t happen often, but he was always open to it.

And I remember my dad around the baseball field all the time when I was a kid. In fact, in high school, when he wasn’t there, I sort of felt like I was missing a layer….a blanket of security. He was often the manager, but sometimes a coach, and always involved. We talked baseball quite a lot, something that would continue for the next 40 years.

Even when I wasn’t playing, we were around the baseball field together umpiring. I know umpiring together was one of my dad’s favorite things to do and I totally get that now as a father. While I remember us doing a lot of games together, of course the only specific games I remember is when there was some kind of controversy. Two games actually come to mind: one where I was behind the plate and the other when I was in the field. The game I was behind the plate umpiring a Mexican League game in Aurora, the pitcher for one team was throwing a late breaking curveball. Maybe unfortunately for him, I saw it as breaking TOO late and not catching the plate. Apparently from everywhere else on the field (and off) they looked like strikes, but not to me. What could I do? If I think it’s a ball, then I have to call it a ball. It’s possible though that I didn’t have enough experience with a good curve ball from behind the plate. So that wasn’t a fun day as one team was super pissed at me. The other game is a little less clear in my memory as it was an odd play that involved multiple runners on base. My position was behind the pitcher so I could see a play at first (straight on) or second. My dad was behind the plate and in some circumstances would rotate to make a call at third. Well that happened and there was a play at first where the throw beat the batter, but the team at bat thought the first baseman pulled his foot. Unfortunately, since my dad was covering third, we didn’t have a clear view of his foot coming off the base like you would from down the foul line. One team was chirping at us all the way into the parking lot.

Now mind you, those were two games out of probably a hundred or more that we worked, so the fact that I remember ANYTHING about them is somewhat remarkable, but also means that for the majority of games we had no issues.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Time to start writing about my dad

(Author's note: I started writing this a few weeks ago, got sick and wrote some more, hence the mis-timed first line.)

It’s been a month and a half since my father passed away. Finally, without thinking too much about him specifically, I think I can write about his passing and our life together without breaking down. That’s my thought at least; we’ll see if that’s how it works out.
Officially he passed away at 4:14 pm at Edward Hospital on December 7th, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. To some degree that’s somewhat poetic as he was always very patriotic. In reality, he passed away the day before sometime around 12:30 I believe and in the driveway of their house, where I grew up from the time I was 10, coincidentally just down the street from the hospital. He and my mom were getting into the car to go to a doctor’s appointment for him at Edward. However, when he got mostly into the car, he just sort of slumped. My mom got out to of the car (she was the only one allowed to drive the last few years) and was just barely able to get his one leg into the car enough so she could close the door. They went straight to the ER where he was already unresponsive. After working on him for some undetermined amount of time, they did get his heart start again. Just recently, probably a month earlier, he had a pacemaker put in as his heart rate was around 40 bpm. The pacemaker bumped it up to 60 bpms and was supposed to increase his quality of life by circulating his blood a bit more. Some doctors had recommended this procedure a few years before and it was probably a good idea. We’ll never know how his quality of life would have improved over that last 18 months at least if he had received one a few years earlier.

Dad never regained consciousness and had no brain activity by the next morning. His grandson, my son Thomas (named after dad), was going to celebrate his 4th birthday on Saturday the 8th and I didn’t want to forever associate dad’s passing with Thomas’ birthday and the whole family knew two things: 1) they agreed with me about Thomas’ birthday and 2) knew dad would never want to be kept alive on a machine with no chance of being normal again. So we took him off the ventilator and machines around 4:00 or slightly after and he did not stay with us long.

Several priests came by to administer last rights earlier in the day. Dad was an altar boy growing up and went to school at Altoona Catholic, so he had been pretty religious growing up. Even when raising us kids, we went to church and attended a few years of Catholic grade school. His stories about nuns hitting him and such were common place. Apparently dad could imitate the head priest at the school and one day got a hold of the PA microphone and dismissed the school. Unfortunately for the priest, he could never prove that my dad did it. Years later, after the family came along, we stopped in a neighboring town to visit an auction house. The guy who would be running the auction got to talking with dad while I sorted through a box of baseball cards. Finally the guy remembered my dad and said, “Oh Lord, you’re Thom Sutton! You’re the guy who dismissed the school!” My dad was not very secretly proud of that moment.

So where am I now? Well, I don’t break down crying during the day anymore as I had for the first month. Periodically, I can talk about him without tearing up. I miss him a ton while driving home from work, the time we usually talked. Pretty much everyone else I know is filling that void: my mom, Laura, Joisey Ken and random work calls.  It’s not the same, though I appreciate people putting up with my extra calls, especially my mom. She even called me the day after a Bears game to see how I was doing and if I wanted to discuss the game. Pretty sweet of her! That’s part of why I’m trying to do more things for my mom and help her out more. She’s on her own now (physically) at the house, so all of us kids are helping out.

Where do I want to go now with this entry? How about memories of dad? That's where the next entry will pick up.