Thursday, August 13, 2009
Head In The Clouds
Mom, Buddy, and Dad
I was awakened by the telephone ringing on that warm August night in nineteen eighty-five. As I stumbled to the wall phone that hung in the kitchen of my parent's home on Seventh Avenue in Alpha, New Jersey I was consumed with dread. After seeing my Dad the day before, I thought that I knew exactly what news was awaiting me on the other end of the telephone line.
Nothing could have prepared me for the words that were spoken to me by the nurse from Warren Hospital, "Is this the home of William Dunwell?" I answered, "Yes." She replied, " Mr. Dunwell expired at 3: 11 AM." I knew she was going to tell me that he passed away, but I never expected that word, expired. It was as if he were a credit card, or the freshness date on a package of cookies, expired.
I can remember that my legs felt as though they were made of lead, as I walked down the hall to my parent's bedroom to tell my mother the news. She was startled as I awoke her, and she cried more than I can ever remember her crying before.
On August 13, 1985 the day my dad passed away, my parents had been married for 44 years, nine months, and 3 days. Mom lost the man she slept next to for all that time, except for when he had been in the United States Navy, and the two months he had just spent in the hospital battling lung cancer.
I was with Mom that day when Dad was admitted. I still can picture him sitting with his feet dangling off the side of the bed. He looked smaller than what he actually was, and sort of childish. The word that comes to mind was vulnerable. I never saw him in that light before.
Dad had just turned sixty-three on May 2nd, and retired from his job as a tool and die maker at Alpha Lehigh Tool. The tumor was seen on a chest X-Ray in mid June, and he spent his entire retirement in Warren Hospital. My sister Irene bought him a lottery ticket get well card, and the irony is he won two hundred dollars, that he never got a chance to spend.
Our Dad was an inventor, and entrepreneur. My nephew Walter/Buddy Jr. put it perfectly. He said, "Grand Pop, created the businesses, and then he got Grammy to run them."
In 1958, he created Bud's Snack Bar that sat on the corner of Rt. 22 and St. James Avenue in Pohatcong Township, which is where the Pohatcong Mall sits now. In fact the snack bar was a little toward Rt 22 from Ruby Tuesdays. He and his brother Dick built it, next to Budd Burgstresser's gas station. Dad would also take weekly trips to the now defunct Nazareth Auction to purchase potatoes, and other produce that he sold in front of the snack bar.
When we lived on Williams Street in Alpha, he made apple cider, wreaths, grave blankets, and along with produce sold them from the back of his 1959 Ford pick up truck. I can remember going along with him through Delaware Heights, and running up to the doors of the houses exchanging the wreaths for money.
In 1963 we moved to the corner of E. Central Avenue and Third Ave/Rt. 519 in Alpha, and he opened up the Alpha Luncheonette. It was a grocery store, complete with a penny candy case and fresh sliced luncheon meat, as well as a luncheonette with a jukebox, booths, and cheese steaks. We sold ice cream, milk shakes, soda, and out front produce.
Then about a year later he and our brother Buddy started Dunwell Tool and Machine in the garage. By then we had three businesses going all at once.
I had mentioned earlier that Dad was an inventor. If you are a lady and wear a bra, then you have touched a mechanism that my Dad invented. He worked for Sobel Metal Products in Easton, PA at the time, and Dad came up with an idea for a sliding device to shorten or lengthen a bra strap. Dad created the Die piece and Bestform Bras bought the idea. For all of his ingenuity he received his regular weekly paycheck.
All of Dad's co-workers said that he was the best tool and die maker/machinist that they had ever met. He even took a Metallurgy class at Lafayette College. He was a union organizer, and I can remember once he went out of the house wearing a nice white shirt and tie, and came home covered in blood as union busters beat him up.
When I was around two or three he built us one of those merry go rounds that you push off with one foot, and climb aboard as it twirls around. Every kid in the neighborhood hung in our back yard, and all of us had one worn out sole on our shoes. Later when we live on Seventh Avenue in Alpha, he and our brother Buddy built an in the ground swimming pool using roofing paper. They dug the hole, layered the paper criss-cross, sealing the edges together, built a pump, and we had a real swimming pool, that doubled as an ice skating rink in the winter.
In 1975 Dad, Buddy, and Uncle Dick built a ranch home from a Miles Home Kit, over the hole where we once had fun swimming and skating. By Christmas 1976 the house was finished, the old house that sat in front of it facing Seventh Avenue was torn down. All of this was accomplished by our entire family while all three men held down full time jobs.
Our dad grew up in a father-less home, with an extremely stern mother. His dad abandoned the family of five during the depression. He entered the Civilian Conservation Corp to help his mother feed the family. He can remember eating lard on bread for dinner. His favorite Christmas memory as a child was when the Mogavero family who had a store in Phillipsburg at the time brought Dad's family a box of food, that had the best tasting figs he had ever eaten.
I can remember Mom telling us that she was set up on a blind date with our dad, for a double date with friends. He dated her for several months before he even kissed her. When we were kids and playing in the attic we stumbled upon a box that held love letters that he had written to our mom while he was away in the Navy. They were sweet, and he kept mentioning how much he missed her and our older brother Buddy who was just a baby. We saw a side of him we rarely saw.
As he grew older he was quiet, and enjoyed drinking beer. Mom hated it when he drank. He was never mean or nasty. Sometimes he would sort of be up on a soap box spouting political ideals while intoxicated. He was actually funny, yet right on. He never swore or told dirty jokes, and he was extremely mannerly.
He became quite a gardener in the late seventies, and even built a portable green house that could be wheeled like a wheel barrel into the garage at will. It was large enough to walk into, and was about eight feet long and four feet wide. He later gave it to an Indian man that worked with him at Lehigh Tool.
During the eighties he started making homemade candy, pickles, sauerkraut, and baking bread, cream puffs, and danish. He actually sold them to a restaurant on Center Square in Easton, PA.
My relationship with my dad was strained. He seemed to have picked on me the most of the five kids. I really think that it may have been because I looked the most like him, and I had taken after his inventive, entrepreneurial side. Those characteristics usually caused grief in our parent's marriage, because as my nephew said, Mom ended up with all of the work. So perhaps I just reminded him of his own foibles, or what he may have perceived as foibles. He was a genius who lacked follow through.
My dad was often accused of having his head in the clouds, dreaming of the next great idea or invention. His successes in life were never measured by money.
"One might think that the money value of an invention constitutes its reward to the man who loves his work. But... I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success." Thomas A. Edison
Our dad really made life interesting for us. He was the best dad he could be, especially since he had no dad while growing up during the depression. He was intelligent, honest, and loved animals, especially his cats.
He was alone in the hospital when he passed away from cancer of the lung that night on August 13, 1985. He did not expire, like all those packs of Pall Mall cigarettes that he smoked. He was only 63 years old, and our mother passed away at home from the same disease just seven years later at the age of 70. Our brother Buddy quit smoking when he was 36, and died of heart failure when he was just 62. Yes, all three of the original members of our family of seven have passed on.
I think of them as if I were standing at the shoreline watching a ship sail out onto the ocean, soon it disappears out of my sight, but it is still there floating peacefully on the vast ocean, so are my parents and my brother Buddy.
On this the twenty-fourth anniversary of my Dad's passing, I would hope that you may say a prayer for all who smoke cigarettes to have the strength to quit. We need not see one more life cut short from cancer of the lung. They say that each cigarette takes eleven minutes away from a smoker's life, and no one just smokes one!