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Daddy died March 29, 1962, over a half century ago. I was 10 years old. He was 62.
Now I am 62.
You can imagine March 29 this year has been on my mind a lot lately. I am healthy, still feel young and strong (until I do something stupid at this age), so it’s hard to imagine my dad looking like such an old man when he passed away at only 62 years old.
But he always looked like an old man to me, and I loved him for it. That’s one reason I’ve always respected my elders. You see, my dad was 51 years old when I was born. Already he had salt & pepper hair, and still a full head of it in the casket. That’s how I’ve always seen and remembered him: with this beautiful, wavy salt & pepper hair that I wanted when I grew old. Well, I have it. Mine’s more solid gray, but that’s okay. It still reminds me of Daddy. (I never called him Dad, always Daddy as I was only 10 when he died. So if it sounds silly that I still call him Daddy, well that’s okay…it just sounds right to me.)
I could tell you a lot about this man I loved and admired, and I will. But one thing that is absolutely fascinating is that Andrew J. De Simone was born December 31, 1899. That’s the last day of the century before last! Which meant he was always the same exact age as whatever year it was—to the day. That’s why it’s a little confusing to comprehend he was 51 when I was born in 1951. And he was 62 when he died in 1962.
Almost as fascinating is that he had 3 more children after me, when he was 54, 56 and 57 years old. I guess I could kid around and say that’s why he died so young, but actually he had health problems stemming from childhood malaria and smoking Kool unfiltereds nonstop. (Mom smoked, too: Camels. That’s what parents did in that era. I have never smoked cigarettes, most likely influenced by losing my dad to emphysema due to his smoking. I’ll never forget the eerie sound of his oxygen machine, which in those days was a giant apparatus and tank that was stationed in one place, not portable like today’s.) Though I don’t smoke, whenever I get a whiff of menthol cigarette smoke it brings back warm and loving moments with my dad.
I was in 4th grade when he died, but my sister was only in 1st, one brother in kindergarten, and the youngest not even in school yet. I feel bad that my siblings, especially my youngest brother, never got to know him as I did. Even by age 10, I perceived that my father was an honest, generous, loving man with a soft voice and kind but mischievous grin. That Siclian look, you know. With a schnoz. Boy, did he have a bowling ball on the end of his nose. I got a little of that, too.
Somehow, though, my siblings inherited our dad’s qualities of kindness, honesty and generosity. He was the definition of integrity. I must say here that our mother was just as wonderful as our dad, and we got a lot of good qualities from her, too. Mom was 16 years younger than Daddy, a waitress in Chicago for whom he always left a huge tip, she told me. When she left for California, he followed and persuaded her to marry him—a story in itself. (I’ve always had a thing for waitresses…and I tip ’em big, too. Like father, like son!)
Yeah, I really wish my brothers and sister could have known Daddy longer.
* * *
It’s amazing how my dad provided so well for us. We had a beautiful Spanish style home in a nice part of Glendale, California, on Bel Aire Drive. There was a panoramic view of the mountains from our huge picture window, and Mom told me that’s why Daddy bought the house. He also loved the fruit trees in the back yard. Lemons, oranges, grapefruit…but also some unusual ones like figs (how Italian is that!), pomegranates and persimmons. We were probably the only family in Glendale with pomegranate and persimmon trees. We were also the only family on our street without a paved sidewalk. As fortune would have it, my parents found this house in an estate sale and purchased it for pennies on the dollar; otherwise it would not have been possible. My dad was a barber and Mom was your typical mid-century housewife. I am glad that they found this house, for it was not only a wonderful home for us kids, but I know it made my parents comfortable and proud. But they never bragged…that was not my parents’ style. Instead, they were just grateful.
Like I said, my dad was a barber. He owned the shop, a small 2-chair establishment in a nice little business district. I loved jumping up onto the booster seat to get my hair cut. And the smell of the Barbasol and of the talc on the soft brush to whisk away the loose hairs. And the metallic sound of the scissors. Best of all was the incredible scalp massage that barbers used to give their customers with Oster electric massagers, motorized vibrating gadgets which strapped onto the back of each hand. (I inherited one of those, and my cat used to come running for a massage whenever I turned it on…worked better than an electric can opener to reel him in.) Here’s a video demonstrating the device: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUwKS6gK2zs
Mom would walk me down to Daddy’s barber shop to deliver his lunch and visit, or sometimes just say hello and then take me next door to the Copper Clock coffee shop for lunch. That’s how I got to enjoy coffee shops so much. We’d either go there, or to Billy’s Delicatessen (there was something especially delicious about the water in those paper cone cups…and their pickles!), or Bob’s Big Boy. On Saturdays Daddy would sometimes bring me to work with him. Sometimes I’d sweep the floors, surely scattering hair all over the place, and sometimes I would just enjoy watching my dad cut hair, listening to the rhythm of the scissors. He did that ever so efficiently while carrying on a conversation with each of his customers as if they were old friends. Actually, I think they really were, because I was told in the last several weeks of my dad’s life, going to the shop sick as he was, his haircuts were getting shabbier and shabbier due to his illness. But the customers didn’t stop coming—they came for his company, his gift of gab, his warm friendship, and I believe to get one last haircut and pay their last respects. I proudly witnessed how much he was loved and admired by his customers.
I would always “tip” him for my haircut—just a penny or two—to be like the grown up customers! Maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed tipping. (Also, I admit, to land a date with a pretty waitress.)
I guess my dad inspired a few other traits in me, too. I have always been an entrepreneur. (I worked for someone once and promptly got fired after two weeks.) I like to hire people who are a bit down and out to do simple little things and supply them with some generous spending cash, like my dad used to send the local kid to the store across the street to buy him a soda or a pack of cigarettes—and tip him more than the items cost. And I like salesmanship and delivering a good product; not that my dad was a salesman per se, but he had a great way of engaging his customers in conversation while he performed his task. Customer service, you could call it.
The one trait I did not inherit from my dad was how he used to dress up in a suit and tie every morning…and wear a smock over that when he got to the barber shop. That was showing a lot of respect to his customers, and I sure admire that. But me? Not only do I hardly ever wear a suit or a tie, I just happen to be the nudist in the family.
There was one thing I didn’t cherish about my dad being a barber: He had a thick leather barber strop at home, and believe me that hurt ten times worse than a belt! (Not that he punished us kids much; it was common in that era to get thrown over the knee and get a little whipping.) On the other hand, he also had a professional shoe shine kit in the garage (no longer employing a shoe shine boy at the shop) and to this day I enjoy the ritual of shining my own shoes with the dabber, then the horsehair brush, then the chamois. And spit really does help the shine!
Here’s a salt anecdote to demonstrate how stubborn he was:
Mom would brown bag Daddy’s lunch everyday, and since he could not eat salt (strict doctor’s orders) she sprinkled a salt substitute on his sandwiches. After his death we were cleaning out the barber shop, and—lo and behold—there was a one-pound container of Morton Salt in the back room!
And here’s a pepper anecdote:
When I was a Glendale News-Press paperboy, my route manager, whom our whole family really liked, would frequently join us for breakfast. He smothered his eggs with black pepper until they were, well, black. Just like I emulated my dad in so many ways, I emulated my manager and started covering my eggs in black pepper…and eventually just about everything else, including ice cream (it’s good!). I’m not big on salt but I love my pepper! In fact, I carry a small pepper grinder to restaurants just in case. If you love pepper, you’ll love this site: pepper-passion.com
* * *
There was one prophetic moment when my dad sat me on his lap and showed me something that inspired my life-long passion and career.
I was probably 4 or 5, because I am certain this occurred before first grade. (How am I so sure of that? Next paragraph.) Daddy opened a book and pointed to the characters on the page. I distinctly recall his showing me a page number in the corner which was the numeral 4, and pointing out how the letters were formed on the page. (I chose a typestyle for the Salt & Pepper AmperArt that is similar to the letters and numbers I saw in that book.) From that moment on I was interested in typography and lettering, adding serifs to letters (in all the wrong places) and lettering in fancy scripts on my grade school papers. That always helped me get a good grade!
Before I started recognizing serifs and such, I simply drew letters as accurately as I could, maybe learning before first grade, maybe during. But one instance I’ll never forget, which shaped my view of school and of “the establishment” as a whole, happened in first grade:
We were learning to draw numbers, and if you recall, the “4” was all right angles and open at the top. Having been fascinated for awhile with professional typography, I instead drew my “4” the way I saw it in printed books, the way Daddy pointed it out to me, with the upstrokes ending at an apex on top.
Well, my wretched old first grade teacher, Miss Helfrich (such a fitting name, I thought), slapped a red X right across my letter 4. “Incorrect!” she said, not realizing I was reproducing a professional print version of the glyph (no, I didn’t know that word back then). If I was any less intelligent and insightful at the time, her reprimand could have sabotaged my career. It was at that moment I turned against everything “school,” although today I regard teachers as being among the most dedicated, inspiring and enriching professionals of all the trades. I’ve even taught a little. But I did start to question every single thing the system tried to brainwash us with from that moment on. Still do. Thanks to my stubborness, I continued to draw the number 4 “wrong” which lead to my career as a typographer and lettering artist, among other design-related endeavors.
* * *
I coudn’t wait for Daddy to come home from work when he would take off his suit coat and prop me on his lap, smell the wonderful smells of the barber shop, and feel his immense love. I was his pride and joy (until my sister was born, anyway), although I didn’t realize till later being the firstborn does that to a father, especially an Italian. It sure did it to him. Besides all the fun we had and how much we loved each other, he spoiled me rotten. Yeah, I picked up that trait too. I never had any kids (nor ever got married for that matter) but I spoil my cats to the hilt. (Another tribute to my mother is that she’s really the one who kept us in line and taught us responsibility. I loved my dad and “hated” my mom (I loved her on a deeper level of course) because he’d give me my way all the time but if Mom was around she’d put her foot down. Shortly after she was bringing us up all on her own, I realized what a tremendous task that was being the strict one. I’m a spoiled brat, I’ll admit that, but without Mom’s guidance I’d be ten times worse. Eventually I admired and respected my mother in a way I didn’t perceive with my dad.)
Every Sunday Daddy and I would go to Sav-On Drug Store while Mom started the Sunday meal, which was usually a feast of lasagna or prime rib or baked ham, all delicious. At Sav-On he would buy us each (him, me, and my brothers and sister when they were old enough to “tag along”) an ice cream cone for a nickel at the Carnation Ice Cream counter (which is one reason carnations are my favorite flower, especially the ones that are white with a red rim on each petal). He would also buy a box of Pep-O-Mint or Spearmint LifeSavers to use as breath mints at the barber shop. And he always brought a Cup-O-Gold home for Mom. (That is a delicious round confection of chocolate and coconut with a coconut cream center. Sometimes Mom would give me a bite. What a treat! Hard to find these days, so I always stock up when I find them, and of course think of Mom and those Sundays at Sav-On with Daddy.)
Sunday dinners were magnificent. Sometimes we had company over, sometimes not. But Mom always put out the good china (that Daddy bought her after they married). Now, my mom was full-blooded German but she cooked Italian as good as her sister-in-law Josephine. I guess my Sicilian father made sure she took “lessons” from his mama, or just set her up with some good Italian cookbooks. I have never had spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, or many other Italian dishes as good as my mom’s. Surprisingly, we did not grow up with wine at the table; it was always Seven-Up or Bubble-Up with the spaghetti dinners. Still, I ended up not only the nudist but the alcoholic, definitely not inherited from my mom or dad. (I’m also the artist, the eccentric, the nerd, the spoiled brat. Certainly not a role model for my siblings.)
My dad’s absolute favorite dish was angel hair pasta with peas and parmesan cheese, almost like a soup. I remember him raising the bowl to get the last of the broth. And he always, I mean always, had a chunk of bread in his left hand when there was a fork or spoon in his right. Whenever I want some comfort food I make that bowl of angel hair and peas.
I could write several chapters about my dad, but I wish he could have lived longer so I could write several books.
I love you, Daddy. Your salt & pepper hair, menthol & peppermint aroma (with a touch of AquaVelva), your warm & gentle smile, and all your love, more love than any child could possibly embrace.
Gray and grey are different spellings of the same word, and both are used throughout the English-speaking world. But gray is more common in American English, while grey is more common in all the other main varieties of English. In the U.K., for instance, grey appears about twenty times for every instance of gray. In the U.S. the ratio is reversed.
Both spellings, which have origins in the Old English grǽg, have existed hundreds of years.
The preceding is from grammarist.com. The article continues at http://grammarist.com/spelling/gray-grey/, and the comments are quite funny.
As a child I guess I was taught to spell “gray” which is how I wrote it up until, for some unknown reason, I switched to “grey” in my adulthood.
My dad loved etymology, most likely because he was brought up speaking Sicilian and wanted to learn proper English. Now that I’ve done my research how to properly spell the color of Daddy’s hair (and mine), I’ll spell it “gray” from now on and dedicate the American English spelling to my dad, the Sicilian-born Italian-American.