Monday, August 17, 2009

"Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, Wherever You Are"

I took my regular power walk this morning in Great Kills Park. For me, that means walking just fast enough to avoid falling down. I listen to music while I walk, and this morning the first tune in my I Pod mix was Jimmy Durante singing "I'll Be Seeing You in All the Old Familiar Places". It made me smile and think of my father, Tony Boots, because he was a big Durante fan. We always watched Jimmy's variety show when it was on back in the sixties. They looked alike Jimmy and Tony...bald, big schnoze, and always ready with a joke.

My father was in his element at parties, especially weddings. He never stayed at his assigned table, but instead worked the room like a Borscht Belt comic. He told the same jokes over and over, his audience often speaking the punch lines with him because they'd heard them at every family wedding held before. That didn't keep them from laughing all over again because Tony enjoyed telling the jokes so much that they enjoyed watching him more than the jokes. He would always give you a little elbow in the ribs as he hit the punch line, as if to get your attention in case you had drifted off.

He had a famous routine that took place on the dance floor. After a few Fleishman's and sodas, Tony would remove his jacket and tie it around his waist while he danced his version of the hula to any upbeat music the band would be playing. If the music was not to his liking, he would flash a five-dollar bill at the bandleader and ask for a song he could dance to. I never saw the five actually change hands; Tony worked too hard for his money. As the evening wore on, if the music was too dull, someone would yell out: "Show him the five, Tony", and my father would rise slowly, like a celebrity reluctant to take a bow after being introduced by the master of ceremonies.

I've written before in this blog about some of the things I remember about my father...teaching me to ride a two-wheeler bike; taking me to my first Yankee game; seeing me off at the subway station when I left for the army; and spending a lot more than he could afford to buy me a Rawlings baseball glove. Tony was a good father who taught me how to be a man by his example. Nothing fancy, no parenting books or physiological child rearing theories, just a smack on the ass when I needed it, and that not very often because he never had the energy to chase me.

I look back today and wish I could rewind life to re-live those special moments with my father, focus on every single detail about them so that I could remember them even better than I do. I know that's not possible and I have to be content with the memories I have, which are enough. It's always nice to be reminded of him by a simple thing like a Jimmy Durante song. My eyes may fill up, but I am always smiling as if I can feel him poking me in the ribs to underscore the punch line of the joke. So long for now Tony, and "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are".


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The Whiner said...

Who knew my grandfather was the Rodney Dangerfield of the wedding scene..."and you (throws handful of cash at band) take some more lessons!"

Jim Pantaleno said...

He was a pip. Still had that five in his wallet at the end though.