Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Morning Thanks--the best warm
When I think about it now, I imagine my father's workday world in the early 50s was just about a replay of his military service, sans war. He was an office worker in a factory that ground out cement mixers in Oostburg, Wisconsin, the work force totally male. There was a pop machine in the back of that factory, long rows of soda locked in a prison-like well full of water--stick in a nickel, some internal bars would unlock and you could pull out at cold, wet bottle of cream soda, Springtime, brewed right down the road in Sheboygan.
Sometimes my dad would take me back there, through the foundry and the paint room. We'd wind our way through blue-collar workers with ash and grease and oil on their faces and their denim aprons. All men--a man's world. Up above the that blessed pop machine was a half-gallon jug tipped up on its head and aimed into a spout from which salt pills dropped, two or three at a time, just in case you sweat too hard during the day. That's the kind of place it was. Just about all of workers were vets. They wore the sleeves of their denim shirts rolled up high enough to see their welding scars. Trust me, they were all men. During lunch, they'd step outside, still aproned, and challenge each other at horse shoes. My dad was great.
When I imagine that world back then--I was just a little boy--it's hard for me to think of my wonderfully pious father's ears not picking up some off-color stuff more often than not, some blue jokes laced with more than uncomfortable language. He had to. He was a righteous man, but he had a heart as big the lakeshore where he lived and where I grew up. I'm sure he laughed.
Up there in the front office were a couple of other guys in white shirts, one of them heavy-set and younger than my dad, a man who'd come heir to an office job. His father was there too, and then there was another man I knew only by name. He never paid much attention to me, a man I remember with an exceptionally long face, stooped-shouldered--a man who seemed serious.
This morning it's way too early but I couldn't sleep, so here I am, out of bed before five, tempted by a screen, visited by memories that spill from a coffee-less mind only half awake. And what came to me just before rising is a odd line from that all-male world, a line my father loved to repeat.
"You know," he'd say, "Jim Daane used to say that crawling back in bed with his wife was just about the greatest thing. 'That kind of warmth,' he'd say--'there's just nothing like it.'" He loved that line.
Like I say, my guess is that they were almost all vets, and I can only imagine how joyful it was for them to slip back between the sheets once in a while and play spoons with the women they'd missed for all those years. Nothing quite like it.
There's no way to know how it is that some old stories stay with you. Maybe it's this in Jim Daane's case--in that cement mixer factory, a man's world, you might not think the sweet bliss of married life would be all that worth bragging about. You wouldn't guess those men could be so domestic as to admit that nothing more than slipping back into bed with the wife was pure heaven. Maybe that's it.
But then there's another reason why that story sticks in my memory. The march of words on this page are just about over, and in another minute or two, I'll be packing it in, going back upstairs in the pitch darkness of early morning. I know exactly where to turn, when to grab the table and the post at the steps. In the dark, I'm my own seeing-eye dog, and, trust me, I know my way back to the bedroom, where I'll slip back between the sheets into that very loving warmth Jim Daane used to tell my father was the finest warmth available to mankind.
I never went to war, but I know what he's saying. And this morning, my morning thanks is for no less a blessing than the warmth that man with the long face used to say was, without a doubt, the very best.