When I was growing up, my father – whose birthday is this month – was known on our street as “The Mayor of Barrington Court.” A consigliere of sorts.
He had so many of the neighbors’ spare house keys in his possession that he devised a special system to keep track of them. He enjoyed poking around in neighbors’ gardens checking the progress of their vegetables. He fed their pets, shot baskets with their kids, and sometimes helped with homework. He did these things at our house too – and more.
My father is the kind of person who, while in the checkout line at Shaws, will impart to the woman behind him the key elements to making a homemade tomato sauce, and the fellow one aisle over might get how-tos in do-it-yourself linoleum. This in the span of four minutes.
He spent more than 30 years in elementary education, most of those years as a principal. I think he possessed all the qualities of a terrific elementary school principal: respected disciplinarian, affinity for kids, and passion for education. He is, of course, a natural teacher, but I believe it is his meticulous management and maintenance of the stockroom supplies for the classrooms that he is most proud of (think Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny).
I still remember him with clipboard in hand, inventorying all the items: construction paper, staplers, staples, scissors, markers, chalk, pencils, crayons, tape, Elmer’s Glue, writing paper, and so on. At the end of every summer, my siblings and I, along with Principal Dad, would hike to each classroom with the exact number of supplies in hand. After the supplies were doled out, the stockroom was inventoried again and then locked up tight.
He still smiles when he thinks about it, and wonders if he wouldn’t have been happier (professionally) managing a huge warehouse somewhere. It’s an interesting thought.
It’s not possible for him to go anywhere in town (East Providence) without running into a former pupil. At restaurants, stores, a wake – someone somewhere will tentatively approach: “Mr. G.? It’s me, Ronny Silva. You were my Principal and we played kickball at lunch recess ... do you remember?” He often does.
My dad turns 83 tomorrow. He doesn’t look much over 65. Some people call him the man from K-PAX. He’s always been otherworldly to me. He’s feisty, prickly, tender and generous. He swears more than he should, cries when moved to, and this past Spring I sighted him standing on the roof of his garage painting the second story of the house.
In fact, when I arrived on his doorstep to help him “batten down the hatches” in preparation for Hurricane Irene, I again found him on the roof. This time he was securing an antennae. I requested that he immediately get off the roof, lest he become an early Irene statistic. He ignored me. No one tells him what to do. Ever.
My Dad loves to open presents of all kinds. He would not, however, consider this column to be one.
Oh, well. Happy Birthday, Dad!