Sunday, June 15, 2003

Old School

One of the classic Dad stories my Mom used to repeat to us when we were kids was the one about the hammock in the hurricane.

Back in the sixties, my folks were the leaders of our church's "Youth Group." That made them about the coolest parents around. We'd have these parties with coke in the little bottles and popcorn and Simon & Garfunkle and Beatles records playing on the stereo. And the teens from the youth group would hang out and talk about important issues like civil rights and Vietnam and stuff.

That's definitely where my concept of the ideal woman was born. All those cute youth group chicks with the bell-bottom jeans and the long straight hair. No makeup. No pretense. Idealistic, political, but still a lot of fun. Swaying to Creedence or shimmying to the Doors. Captured indelibly in time-lapse perfection by the flash of the strobe light...

But I digress.

Each summer the youth group would leave the suburbs of Louisville to spend a few weeks engaging in volunteer work in places like an indian reservation in Hugo, Oklahoma or a depressed rural community on Edisto Island South Carolina. My parents, of course, would go with them.

Now, as luck would have it, Edisto Island South Carolina is smack dab in the path of just about every hurricane that comes up the Atlantic coast. And summer, as you know, is hurricane season.

The kids were camped out at some kind of run-down community center or something when the word came in the that a hurricane was blowing its way north and would soon be upon them. They began packing up their belongings and carrying everything into the nearest shelter. By the time the rain started, they had just about everything stowed away except on thing: the hammock. People were now running for cover as the rain began lashing down. The wind became a furious howl. Everyone was huddled together praying for the storm to blow over quickly. Except my Dad. He was taking down the hammock.

Now it wasn't like anyone was going to use the hammock that night, but leaving it to be ripped apart by the hurricane just wasn't practical. So Dad decided to take it down and bring it in. Problem was, whoever put it up was clearly not the Boy Scout my Dad was and had tied about two-hundred granny-knots in each end. The rain is now coming down in buckets, the wind is whipping the hammock around like crazy. People are calling for my Dad to come inside -- forget the damn hammock for God's sake Warren! But Dad just kept on untying each one of those four-hundred granny knots, deliberately and methodically, one by one.

Another man might have simply taken a knife and cut through those four-hundred knots. But not my Dad. Patience. No need to panic. One thing at a time. Everything has its place. Who tied all of these Goddamn knots anyway?

He stood his ground, my Dad, hurricane be damned, and he untied that hammock and brought it in to safety. The storm indeed blew over without major damage and the hammock was put back up to provide comfort and solace to many a weary teen.

My Mom loved telling us this story, partly I think to make fun of Dad, but also to show us how he was cut from a different cloth than the rest of us. He was of the old school -- the real old school not the MTV kind. The school where you learned to do things right because any other way is just a waste of time. The school where you stick to your guns and shoot straight. The school where your word is your bond. And truth is not an abstract concept, it's a way of life. I haven't met too many other people from that school, and that's too bad.

The other story I love to tell is the one about the guy in the tollbooth. Years later after my parents moved back to Connecticut, Dad used to drive almost an hour each way to Bridgeport and back to get to work at GE. At the time they still had the toll booths along I-95. Dad always had his tokens at the ready and could never understand those people who would pull up to the booth and begin searching their pockets, ashtray, seat cushions, floorboards, etc. for loose change to pay the toll. Why can't they have their money ready? It's the same amount every day at every booth. Same as it was yesterday. Same as the last booth. They even have signs along the road telling you that the toll is up ahead and what the amount is. But invariably, my Dad would get behind the one idiot who got into the exact change lane without the exact change and would hold up a long line of angry, horn-honking commuters while he searched for pennies under the floormats of his car.

One day my Dad was waiting behind one of these morons and he just couldn't bear the agony any more. So he got out of his car, walked up to the toll booth, tossed in a token, turned to the hapless driver and said "Go." Then Dad got back in his car and continued his commute.

He wasn't quite the same guy who stood in the rain untying granny-knots, but I still love the way he addressed the situation. He didn't honk his horn. He didn't raise a fuss. He just paid the man's toll and sent him on his way. God knows there would be plenty of other idiots to contend with further down the road. But at least for now there's one less. We'll deal with the others in turn. One at a time. No need to rush.

Be patient.

Use your head.

The car is not a toy.


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