Column: Some say dad was entertaining; a bit weird is more like it

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 1, 2001

Recently I received a letter from a young man whose family once lived in my neighborhood.

Thursday, March 01, 2001

Recently I received a letter from a young man whose family once lived in my neighborhood. He mentioned that he had carried the paper to our house and spoke warmly of my father.

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&uot;When I was in my early teens,&uot; he wrote, &uot;He always spoke man to man to me. He was often entertaining.&uot;

When my father died, June 13, 1978, we had been away from our home town in Nebraska for more than 44 years. I sent information for the obit back because we still had friends and relatives in that area. From the time that news hit the street I began receiving telephone calls from people of all ages, men and women. As children they had been taught to swim by my father. Growing up they had learned from him how to ride a motorcycle. He had helped them with the math problems they had been unable to do.

It was gratifying and unfortunately guilt producing. My father’s method of teaching me to swim was to wrest my inner tube away from me in the middle of the pond. When it came to helping me with math he sent me to a friend of his, because my stupidity upset him so much.

Despite all this I had a very real affection for my father, but it troubled me beyond measure that he was, much as I hated to admit it, a little weird.

There was for instance the animal tracking project that members of the Girl Reserves were supposed to share with their fathers. The Girl Reserves was a school sponsored group affiliated with the YWCA. Later the organization was known as Yteens. If it’s still in existence I don’t know what it’s called now.

Anyway the animal tracking project lasted for a month. Each girl was to go forth in the countryside with her dad and look for tracks of animals in the snow. It was a contest that dad and I won hands down. I never felt right about it. I fancied the group leader looked at me in a peculiar sort of way when I handed in our list .

There was no doubt in my mind about the rabbit and squirrel tracks. To this day, though, I have grave doubts about the Bobcat, the timber wolf and even, though I heard them every morning of my life when I was growing up, the coyote. Surely those were merely dog tracks.

Then there were the ballet lessons. My father loved both ballet and opera. My Saturday afternoons were spent in front of the radio listening to opera. When a dancing teacher came to town my father insisted that I have ballet lessons.

I was all for it. Ballet lessons were on Saturday. &uot;And she is graceful,&uot; my father said. My mother was ever a realist. &uot;Yes. If there’s a seam in a rug, she trips over the seam.&uot;

So I was enrolled in the class and presented some difficulties to the teacher. She started at once preparing her students for a recital. I was grouped with five other little girls in a wooden soldier routine. We were in the same age group, but alas, I didn’t grow much until after I left high school, so we didn’t match in size.

Fortunately for the teacher a new pupil joined her classes, one who was exactly the right size. I had enjoyed learning the dance of the wooden soldiers. Now I was humiliated by being flung into a group of little kids doing a stupid Chinese dance. You held your two forefingers up in front of you and sort of shuffled onto the stage. I didn’t like the music either. I missed the wooden soldiers.

My good angel must have looked after me. Well maybe not. Just after the final dress rehearsal, the &uot;soldier&uot; who had taken my place came down with chicken pox. The dance needed six soldiers, if a costume could be found for me, could I come back in? After all I knew the routine.

The costume was no problem. My mother sewed like a professional and very quickly. My knowing the routine was another matter. I knew the steps all right. What I lacked in common sense I made up for in memory.

What no one bothered to tell me was that during the weeks when I was out of the group the routine had been changed. I had not been in the dress rehearsal except for the Chinese group. When the wooden soldiers made their appearance I did the dance I’d been taught. The other five did the dance they had been taught.

Sitting in one of the front rows, my father was heard to exclaim, &uot;Hurrah! They’re all out of step but my Cuss.&uot;

You see what I mean, weird.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.