Sunday, June 20, 2010

Roman Richard

His first name was Roman, his middle name Richard. Everyone called him Ray... I don't know why.
My sister and I called him "Daddy."
He was born in Chicago on December 10th, 1919, and had two brothers, Rick and Hank, and one sister, Jean. I think I met Uncle Rick once, as he stayed back east while his siblings moved to the west. I am in contact, however, with his daughter, my lovely cousin Janet through the Facebook machine. I could send her a message right now if I choose to (as a matter of fact I will do so on Tuesday, as it is her birthday then).
Jean married a butcher and lived somewhere close by in a large apartment, and she had two sons. Hank married a science teacher, and lived in the hills above Hollywood, and owned a telescope I could look through every once in a while. My family would visit Hank and his wife each Christmas Eve for as long as my father was alive. Sometimes Hank dressed up as Santa Claus.
He was an alcoholic, just like me.
My father was a soldier who fought in World War II, a Sargent I think, who participated in what is known as The Battle of the Bulge, Nazi Germany's last great offensive. He came back aboard the Queen Mary, a really big cruise ship, which now is docked in nearby Long Beach. I've been aboard it several times. Some say it's haunted.
My father married my mother, Susie Lucille, or Lucille Susie, which ever you prefer, she didn't care. When my sister and I were born they lived up north in San Jose, California, what is now known as the heart of Silicon Valley, where all of those Internet companies work and play, like Google, and Apple Computer. He worked as a foreman in a Safeway candy factory. Safeway was and is a large supermarket concern, and apparently they wanted to make their very own candy. It was good. My dad brought some home all of the time. Perhaps he pilfered it.
He once took us on a tour of the candy plant, and I'm surprised that I can remember this because I couldn't have been more than three years old, but what I do remember is that you could get great big factory doors to slide open just by standing on a spot that tripped a beam of light. Pretty cool.
We lived in duplex in San Jose, which is like two houses stuck together. I don't know why. My mom, dad, myself, and our Siamese cat Toby lived on one side, and my mom's mother and dad lived on the other. Their names were Madge and Charley respectively. My dad must have loved that arrangement.
When my sister, Cheryl, came along my parents decided to get rid of Toby the cat, pro-actively taking precautions against cat attacks upon her person. Toby was a little wild I guess. I remember him as liking to hang out at the top of window curtains, looking down with disdain upon all beneath him. My mom and dad must have thought I could hold my own with Toby if he decided to attack me.
I doubt if I could.
We all moved to Los Angeles when I was three or so, after Cheryl came along. We moved to the community called North Hollywood specifically, which is just north of the real Hollywood, and connected by Cahuenga Blvd, separated by the Hollywood Hills where Hank lived. Oddly enough, at that time, and even today, more movies and TV shows are probably produced (made) in North Hollywood at Universal Studios than in Hollywood, which is famous for making movies. Paramount Pictures on Melrose Ave., is the only major studio still working in Hollywood.
My dad and his best friend, Lester, bought a small liquor store right across the street from Universal. That's were he worked during the day. At first we lived in an apartment on Magnolia Blvd., which was magically connected via a back porch to an apartment occupied by Lester and his lovely family. When Lester decided to sell his share in the store and move to Diamond Bar, my family moved to a small apartment just down the street from the store, on Willow Crest Ave., which is now a parking lot (as is the spot where the store was located.
My sister and I shared a bedroom, and my mom and dad shared another. In that apartment I watched the very first episode of "Star Trek," that was broadcast in 1966, September 8th to be exact. My favorite television show at the time was "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement), a spy television show that was inspired by the popular James Bond movies of that time. My father was also a big fan of the Ian Fleming books (James Bond novels), and one of the two times I remember going to the movies with him was to see "Thunderball," at the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, which is now called the Archlight Theater (the other was "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," which we saw at a drive in).
My father was a good man, a kind man, with a keen since of humor. I remember we used to sing "The Hearse Song," as he drove us to school on the California highways. "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, into your stomach and out your mouth." Pretty morbid, I agree, but it was fun at the time.
He never spoke much about his experiences during the war. His one souvenir of that conflict was a Luger pistol that I only saw him fire once while at his brother-in-law's lake (yes, he owned a lake, or a great big pond really, about the size of a football field, and named after his wife, Jean). I knew he played baseball while in the service, and that's about it.
He only spanked me once, after I had been caught swimming in the pool at the apartment on Magnolia. I remember waiting for him to get home from the liquor store, and that was much worse than the actual spanking, and I know that he only did it because he was worried about losing me in some pointless accident. He loved me that much to overcome his natural gentle tendencies and thought violence would make an impression upon me.
He would be wrong in that. My independent nature, displayed by this early swimming episode, would manifest itself again very shortly after his untimely death when I was just eleven. My mother paid that price.
Some of my fondest memories of my father were when I would go with him to work on Saturday mornings, foregoing all of those neat cartoon programs on television. It would be my job to go to the restaurant at the other end of the hotel the liquor store was attached to and buy two buttered bagels for our breakfast. I remember one time when he must have thought I was too tired to go with him one day, I must have been fast asleep or something, and he left me at home. I was very upset and let him know about it.
I also remember one time I was riding the ten speed bicycle I had won in a contest at Disneyland (it was green!) in a empty parking lot adjacent to the liquor store, when I crashed into a chain link fence, getting a big cut on my forehead. My dad rushed out of the store without closing it when he heard what happened, and was the first one on the scene to rescue me. I got a few stitches then, and I still see that scar everyday when I comb my hair.
My father was a member of the local Kiwanis Club. I don't know why. Something to do with his business I suppose.
We used to deliver booze together on the Universal lot. To Grandpa Munster, to the set of "Ironside," and "The Virginian," and to many others as well. Some of these so-called stars owed my dad money.
My father smoked cigarettes. My mother smoked except for the last few years of her life. My sister smokes. I used to smoke. Tobacco products will probably be responsible to some degree for all of our deaths.
Dad went on an overnight stay in a hospital at one point. Something to do with his heart I think. That's what he died of back in 1967, a heart attack (September 13th, to be exact). My mother and I were with him during his last moments. At least he had that.
All of the regular customers who came to the store the next day were totally shocked when told of his passing. He was well liked. Everybody loved my dad. I know I did.
I am now seven years older than he was when he left us, yet I still think of him as being much older, and wiser than I.
He is now buried in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery, in Mission Hills, California. I will be going to there to visit him today, after I attend the services at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.
I will tell him of our nation still at war in two countries where we have no business being, and how we have defiled the entire Gulf of Mexico with our greed. He will not be pleased. Yet it's better that he get the information from me, rather than second hand.
I will tell him of my friend Erin, and he will be happy that I have such a friend.
When I'm not there visiting him he is still in good company. The great comedian, film star, and entertainer of troops, Bob Hope is around there someplace. The great character actors Walter Brennan of "The Real McCoys," and a movie I watched just yesterday, "Support Your Local Sheriff," with his friend James Garner are there. Chuck Conners of "The Rifleman," William Bendix of "The Life of Riley," and William Frawley of the "I Love Lucy," series, are all nearby, and he would have been familiar with each of them.
There are many other people who are buried nearby too, who have done many other worthwhile things besides acting in movies and television.
I think my father would at least understand the turns my life have taken if he were alive. He might even have been proud of the way things are turning out, although not necessarily of the tortuous road I took to get where I am.
I will be very sad and cry to myself when I go to see him in a little while. I always am. It's a measure of my love for him, for he is always close to my thoughts, a role model for sure.
And I will never let him really die.

1 comment:

  1. My dad and I used to sing The Hearse Song while he drove me to school, too! :)It was nice reading this, Rickers.