Today is my dad's 86th birthday, and although he left the mortal phase of his 11 years ago, I think of him and his mark on us often. "Poppa Bird" was one of his favorite nicknames for himself. Here are some of the things he did:
Balanced me standing on one hand at age 5 months. Must have driven Mom nuts. I have a picture of this blown up to blurry proportions in my stairwell, so I see him and me in 1952 every time I go downstairs.
Scared (or tried to scare) my few boyfriends. Mainly by use of his strange sense of humor. Couldn't scare Merlin.
Taught me to drive, and especially how to skid to a stop on gravel. He always said to keep my eyes far down the road, not at what was right in front of me. Good advice on all levels, especially for a girl who tends to fixate on all the obstacles within three feet of her instead of just mowing them down.
Taught me (albeit through the agency of mom after he died) to make the best homemade dill pickles anyone has ever eaten. Really. The Best.
Went frequently to Monty's Bar, and the Old Heidelburg Inn, and brought back the foods that are still my downfall, namely anything pungent and salty, especially pickled polish sausage and greasy fries.
Told me I didn't need to go to college since I was a girl and then sent me and bragged about me to his friends.
Got lung cancer at 45, survived, I assume miraculously, and kept on smoking. Yeah, I can't recommend that, but he was (all due respect) kind of a cuss that way. This retired him, so he spent lots of time gardening and ferrying his elderly friends around to appointments.
Loved to send flowers to all of us. (Maybe not to my brother. Casey?)
Went to the mall the day I delivered his first grandchild and had a T-shirt made that said "Call me Grampaw: Molly". Then every time another grandchild appeared, went down to the mall and added a name to it. Actually wore it a lot.
Could find a bargain on anything, and no matter what you bought, if you told him what you paid, assured you that he could have gotten it cheaper. I know, lots of you have that kind of dad. I think it's Y-chromosome-related.
Loved going to the doctor. Didn't live to see his "First-borned" (nickname for me) become something close to one.
Had very strange taste in clothes.
Had excellent taste in women. Happy Dad's Birthday, Mom!