“But I wuz robbed”

I miss my dad. He died at age 94 — way back last century. He was long-lived and
clung on, despite some 25 hospitalizations of at least a week’s duration.

But before you surmise this column is going to be one of those “I Remember
Mama” themes, let me assure you it is not. Throughout most of life (his),
I was far from his favorite son (there were five of us children), and Dad’s
younger brother moved in with us on the death of their mother.

But I’m introducing too many characters into this play, so I’ll say only that
Tio Juan could take any two digit number and multiply it by another
double-digit number and have the correct number even before my sister Bingy or
I could work out the answer with paper and pencil.

A ran into a man today who said he often read my columns and had lived for
years on my block on Railroad Avenue, the area I call “Tough Street.”
Long ago I christened my street because my friends and I may have fought a lot
among ourselves, but if gangs from other parts of town came knocking, my
friends and I became instant cohorts.

Lots of people who knew my dad and who called him J.D. (for Jose Demostenes)
implied that he was, well . . . different. What other father who lived on
Railroad Avenue would put on a fancy shirt, an immaculate suit, shined shoes,
tie, cuff links and whatever else was necessary for him to look like — do I
dare use the word? — a dandy.

Dandy: When I think of that word I think of a man who smells pretty, has his
hair combed and never dreams of allowing anything to spoil his image. Dad stood
out, especially since he worked and we lived in a working-class neighborhood
and most of the people had employment at either Werley Auto, the Ford
dealership, or the Chevrolet dealer, whose name changed several times.

Grand was dotted with service stations (my dad would never allow me to call them
filling stations. Too plebeian!) There were an average of two gas stations on
each block of Grand, and the aroma of fresh gasoline pumped into gas tanks gave
some of us a high. My friend Wilfred, who lived on Grand, used to run up to the
willing attendant pouring gas, get close up and practically swoon at the aroma.

One day, my Bingy and I and were on our way to school — Immaculate Conception
School, which all five siblings attended — and we saw Dad walking a block
ahead. Then we noticed Cayetano (Shorty) Bustos hollering to Dad, asking him to
wait up, so they could walk together.

As the pair made their way to Dad’s work, Bingy and I noticed the stark
contrast — Shorty wearing a pair of striped overalls, and Dad, replete with a
new suit with all the trimmings that I described earlier.

And we wondered why it was necessary for our parent to be “dressed to the
nines.” I imagine there were different dress codes for each particular job
level at Werley’s: the people who greeted the public wore fancy duds; the
“front office” crew dressed not quite as fancy, and most men in the
garage wore overalls. Over the years I noticed that people who worked at the
several car dealerships on Grand had similar dress codes.

My sister and I would notice that at the Studebaker Auto Sales, close to our
house, and at the Chevrolet dealership as well as the Pontiac-Oldsmobile sales
and T.J. Maloof Pontiac, people pretty much dressed the same way.

And for a long time I wondered whether B.M. Werley, my dad’s boss and the owner
of the Ford Dealership, imposed a dress code for those who worked in front. I
must have heard a zillion schoolmates making comments about my fancy-daddy’s
outfits, which were always spotless.

At this point, if I get any feedback from readers it’ll be criticism of me for
having the temerity to mention Dad’s Easter-Parade style of clothes, while his
youngest son had to make do and be happy with pot-luck (if you pardon my mixed
metaphor).

With me, things were different.

Mom, who worked part time at what used to be The Sorority Shoppe before it
became Taichert’s, came home with packages of clothes. “Oh, Boy!” I
thought, as Mom handed my older brother a package that brought an expression to
his face that we hadn’t seen since Christmas. It looked as if Mom had robbed a
clothing store, but it was only a couple of shirts and two pairs of pants. I’d
thought the odds of my capturing at least half of the loot were pretty good.

Instead, Severino got to claim both shirts and both pants. Was there a tinge of
jealousy when I realized the bags Mom brought home were intended for my
brother? I believe Mom expected me to perform a Dance of Pure Gratitude because
of the news she was ready to impart. As a consolation prize, Mom eventually
made good on her promise to alter Severino’s old clothes so I could wear them.

Through my disappointment, I realized Mom was smart. You see, her part-time job
was making alterations at the Sorority Shoppe. Nea Escudero, the manager at the
time, would let Mom use their facilities to alter clothes.

But Mom won that round. Whereas I pictured her having to work long hours doing
alterations, I soon discovered that my much older brother and I were the same
size, so alterations were minimal, maybe even non-existent.

A boyfriend of another of my sisters learned about the Arthur-got-cheated saga
and said to me, “Well, as long as you’re Severino’s size, you ought to be
able to beat him or at least tie him when you two get in a fight.

That gave me an idea, which I’ll write about in more detail . . . in a later
column.

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