My dad “Tony Boots” worked hard all his life, but never had what you might call a career. As a kid I knew he had a job because he was always rushing out of the house late for work. He never ate breakfast that I know of. To save precious seconds in the morning, Dad would put his socks in his suit jacket pocket and put them on when he got to work. Tony was a familiar sight to our neighbors as he ran down Somers Street toward Rockaway Avenue to catch the bus that would take him to Pitkin Avenue and the A.S. Beck shoe store where he worked. It’s funny, if you looked at him decked out in a suit and tie you would think he worked in a bank or an office environment of some kind. In the 1950s, people dressed for work, even shoe store clerks.
As expenses in our household rose, including the tuition my parents paid for my sister, brother and I to attend Catholic school, Dad's income was no longer enough. He took a better paying job in the mail room of the accounting firm of Haskins and Sells. The morning commute became even more challenging now that Tony had to travel into “the city”. He seemed to like the job, even though by today’s standards it might seem almost demeaning for a grown man to work as a mail room clerk. It was different back then. Public assistance was less readily available, and even if it was, most self-respecting men would die before going on the dole to help support their families. The entitlement mentality that prevails today was still years off, so in addition to his new job, Tony worked weekends at the shoe store to help make ends meet.
Dad’s next job was for a company that made casket linings. I believe he worked in the office, since physical work was anathema to him. One year when I was in high school he asked me if I wanted to work the summer in their shipping department. I readily agreed since I needed the money to support my growing social life. The job involved unloading heavy bolts of satin or velvet cloth that were used to line the interiors of the mahogany taxis that transported people to the afterlife. I was a pretty strong kid, and prided myself on being able to carry a bolt of cloth on each shoulder. That is until my supervisor, a older man named George (with one arm mind you), elbowed me aside and hefted three bolts on each shoulder!
It was fun to spend time with my father at his work place. I would stop in at the shoe store once in a while and he seemed glad to see me. He was well liked by his co-workers because of his fun nature, quick with a joke and always up for a beer (or four) at the end of the day. Later in life Tony decided he needed to join the ranks of American stockholders and make some of that "easy" money he heard his bosses talking about. Despite my mother’s protests, he invested in some stocks that promptly plummeted in value. I think brokers would call him asking what stocks he was buying so they would know to sell. He had the same kind of luck with real estate, buying as a neighborhood was peaking, and selling after it had bottomed out. Dad was always a bit of a dreamer in the Ralph Kramden mold. That big score was always just around the corner.
After my father died in 1982 of lung cancer brought on by a lifetime of smoking, it took me a while to realize how much I missed him. Never one for father-son chats, Dad offered advice when he thought I needed it, but otherwise let me be. I sometimes wish I had asked him more about his life as a young man and what his family was like, but sadly that conversation never took place. His generation didn’t go in much for sharing feelings; they were too busy surviving the Great Depression and supporting their families. He wasn't formally educated, not successful by ordinary definitions, but he was there for us. I know he and Mom sacrificed so that we could get an education and have a shot at a better life. My main regret is that he never got to see how well his grandchildren turned out. I know how proud would have been.
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