Sunday, June 7, 2009

Honoring the Father Figure

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. Let us not forget to honor all those who have touched our lives in such a beautiful and magnificent way, with their warmth, love and guidance whether they acted in the capacity of father, step-father, a grandfather, or as an uncle.

I'm sure there is much to be grateful for the experiences which many of you may have had together. My papa was very special to me as a child and I would like to honor his memory with this special tribute.

"I Remember Papa, A Tribute to my Father"
By Miriam B. Medina

Although I was very young when Papa died , I can still remember him......especially the sound of his laughter. Even though we were slightly intimidated by the seriousness of his demeanor, occasionally he showed a side of his personality that was humorous and of a playful nature. We were his captive audience as he amused us time after time with his anecdotes about something or some one we all knew from the East Harlem neighborhood.
I recall a very funny incident that happened one particular day while we were at my Aunt Louise's house. I was watching papa's face as he was saying something to them that must have been hilarious, because he suddenly threw his head back, roaring with laughter. My uncle Pepe was bent over laughing, and aunt Louise started to laugh so hard that I thought she would wet her pants. Before you knew it we were all hysterically laughing. I guess it was impossible not to join in the hearty laughter which was contagious to all present. Then just when you thought the laughter was winding down, it would start up all over again. You know, till this day, I still wonder what was so funny......?
Papa had a way of making my sister and I feel special. He never felt he had a reason to scold us. It was nice to be spoilt. When it came to the boys he was a disciplinarian and no one dared to contradict his orders....except my brother Arnold who was the rebel.

After being confined all week to a crowded tiny tenement apartment, we looked forward to the weekends to go somewhere. This was our quality time with Papa, doing things together as a family. There were frequent visits to my aunt Louise's house, my godparents in Far Rockaway and Uncle Frank's house in the Bronx. When the summer came, we would go to Central Park , Orchard Beach, City Island, bathe in Jefferson Pool on First avenue or attend the Italian Feast of Mount Carmel in East Harlem. We rarely stayed home. Mama welcomed the break.
Papa worked at Finkenburgs, as a refinisher. It was a furniture store that was located at 123rd street on Third avenue. The trains from the Third avenue El, would rumble by, and the building felt like it was shaking. Papa would come home so tired from his day's work and the long walk he had to take from 123rd street to 112th street and Lexington avenue. After soaking his feet , he welcomed the comfort of his slippers, which I ran to get for him. Papa would always pick me up and give me a big hug, calling me his "little munchkin", and rub the stubble of his beard against my face. Ouch........that really hurt, but I loved every moment of it.
Saturday and Sunday was a good day for us. Papa had his paycheck, and every Saturday he would buy an ice cream cone for each of us from the candy store that was located at the corner of 110th street and Lexington Avenue. In front of the store was the subway exit for 110th street from the Lexington line. It was a whole block and a half from there to our building. We had to all line up from the oldest to the youngest, and in order to get our ice cream, we had to kiss Papa on the lips. Yuk! This was not a pleasant thing to do, since Papa smoked a lot of cigars, and he had that cigar taste constantly on his lips. Oh well, such a small sacrifice for that delicious ice cream treat.
Usually on Sunday we would go to my Aunt Louisa's house who lived on 102nd Street and Columbus Avenue. The only time I ever remember Mama laughing or apparently happy, was when we visited friends and relatives. Mama was the life of the party. This was what I loved about her, what I wished she was all the time. Naturally when Mama, or should I say " Cinderella" returned to the hum drum of her daily life, she was back to her usual acid tongue self; complaining, yelling and scolding. She was 20 years younger than papa, and obviously overworked and exhausted.
It was such a sight to see, Papa , a tall man with his chest out, proud as ever, walking with his seven children, from Lexington avenue, through Central Park to 102nd street and Columbus Avenue. We would spend the day at my aunt Louisa, then take the cross town bus at 116th street back to the house. .

Papa was very patriotic, every time the National Anthem was played over the radio, he would make us all stand up and pledge allegiance to the American flag.
Every Sunday morning, we had buns for breakfast. Papa would buy the most delicious buns from a German Bakery on Third avenue, between 115th and 116th street. Papa would take the boys to Howard's Clothier on 125th street between Lexington and Third avenue, to get their clothes. When the oldest would outgrow his shirt and pants it would be passed down from one to another. Since mama didn't bother to shorten the hems of the pants, my brothers would roll them up at the waist with a belt. .

Everyone from the neighborhood loved Papa, he was such a charmer...He always had a habit of inviting his friends over to our tiny overcrowded apartment and stay for a meal. Mama would hit the roof each time." With planks between the chairs and nine mouths to feed, there is just not enough space or food for frequent free-loaders, "she would say. Her fiery personality seemed to overshadow Papa's, as she vocalized her annoyance. He was so used to her outbursts by now, that he just didn't care. He was the bread-winner and they were his invited guests. He would look at her, shrug his shoulders and then walk away. That was the kind of person my papa was. He loved to socialize, mama didn't, especially with those of the neighborhood. The amazing thing about this was that after Papa's funeral we never saw hide nor hair of these friends ever again. I guess they were afraid that mama would ask for a hand out, or they would have the burden of a widow and seven children upon their hands.

Papa was doing the best he could to provide for us, and we were growing so tall. Papa was diabetic, and becoming very ill. His job at Finkenburg's was tiring him. He finally had to stop working because of his health. Money became extremely tight and we weren't able to afford the trips to relatives like before, or go to the places we used to go. Mama then had to go to work at night. She got a job as a cleaning woman in an office building.
Papa's health was deteriorating quickly. A remarkable change from one of active life to a state of lethargy was evident. Not realizing the temperature of the water in which he soaked his feet, he awoke the next day with both feet badly blistered. Mama insisted that he should go to the local hospital and have it checked out. Being the stubborn person that he was, Papa refused to go. The blistering became badly infected spreading to the right leg. Both the leg and the foot were turning black and began to smell of rotted flesh. The leg had to be amputated. Mama finally called the police to take him to the hospital. By that time it was too late to do anything about it. Papa died from gangrene , a complication from the diabetes. He was laid out at the St. Lawrence Funeral Home at 1985 Third avenue. It was very traumatic for the whole family. It felt so strange seeing papa in his coffin. So still and not moving. How I missed papa and the sound of his laughter. Never again to feel his hugs or hear the words from his lips "my little munchkin,". I was the baby, his baby.

Papa was the center of our world and he was gone and with him went the good times.
As I sit here with my heart heavy remembering those childhood days with Papa it brings a flow of tears to my eyes. How I loved him so. Its quite traumatic. Tell me, am I just being emotional ?

I know I can not bring back the past by the longing for it, but at least just for these few moments, as I try to finish typing these thoughts, I can relive those strong cherished memories of my dear papa .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can see history repeating itself again in our generation. Listening to all of you the sons and daughters (my uncles and aunts)of Papa my grandfather laughing away around the dinner table when we all got together... and now that laughter is gone.

Thanks for the precious memories

your nephew