Saturday, July 24, 2010


A Tribute

I brought a dozen donuts home this morning. I stopped at “Riley’s Donuts” on my way home from the hospital and picked up a variety of donuts and kolaches. There is no great, special significance about donuts or kolaches except that the act of bringing donuts home after making rounds at the hospital is a tribute to Dad.

Donuts a tribute to Dad? It isn’t hard to understand, really. Growing up on Sunnyside Road in Scotia, New York, Dad worked as a doctor, specifically a Urologist in solo practice. Every weekend, unless he was out of town, he left at about 8:30 am to make rounds on his hospital patients. At the time I didn’t really understand what “rounds” meant and even on the rare occasion I accompanied him, I still didn’t know. (Accompanying him to the hospital meant sitting in the lobby, being watched by the volunteer in the Gift Shop). I always had this vision of him walking in a great circle, somehow seeing his patients along the way.

Anyway, he usually returned home at about 11:00 and when he walked through the door I would look to see if he was carrying anything besides the newspaper. A single bag meant Dunkin Donuts, always welcome on a Sunday morning; two bags was even better, deli from Gershon’s. I recall that he returned with one or the other about half the time.

I never knew if there was any rhyme or reason to the appearance of these goodies, but I know I looked forward to them. I suspect now that he really liked donuts and corned beef and Mom certainly didn’t mind not having to prepare anything.

Dad was a bit mysterious in ways like this. He would do things seemingly for no obvious reason, as if it was expected, that it was part of his job as dad. Saturday mornings he would make pancakes for everyone before he left for work. Usually he was gone when I came downstairs, but the pancakes would be waiting there, sometimes a little cold, but always delicious; they were one thing that Dad was very adept at cooking.

The other unexpected, but always welcome, treat was going to “Twin Freeze” for ice cream. This was, and still is, the ice cream half of “Jumpin’ Jack’s” drive in in Scotia. Until I was about eleven I never realized that Jack burgers and loaded steak sandwiches even existed; the food part of the drive in was a separate building. Jumpin Jack’s, to me, was only Twin Freeze and the soft ice cream was a special treat. Even today, it is one of my first stops when I visit Scotia. Growing up, it was an often unexpected pleasure to take the short drive around the lake to Twin Freeze, to check out the special flavor of the day, but almost always settle for a hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream; an indulgence that was usually consumed by the time we pulled in the driveway at home.

Of course it wasn’t just desserts that were special to Dad. He had nine sons and, although he was always interested in whatever activity we were involved with, the one thing that he would do with us was teach us all to sail. My brother Charlie wrote about family sailing’s origins on Collins Lake in a small pram in his book “Centerboard”, but for me sailing began with the “Rebel”. The “Rebel”, nicknamed the “Tub”, was a boat that was kept at our summer camp on Sacandaga Lake. Dad was always looking for a crew, and when I became old enough I was drafted. He taught me the intricacies of tacking, luffing, coming about, hard to lee and all the other components of sailing that were necessary to navigate the ever changing winds on Sacandaga Lake.

But more than the sailing lessons it gave me time alone with him; time to talk about what he thought was important, raising his family, being a doctor, plans for the future. I was never a big talker, but I was a pretty good listener. Dad could be stubborn at times and he occasionally clashed with some of my brothers. Sailing gave him time to soften his resolve and find a compromise. I learned a great deal from him at these times. And, there was the time we sailed through the swarm of bees. We never knew why they were out there in the middle of the lake, but we managed to sail right through the heart of the swarm, thankfully emerging unscathed.

Other things about Dad stick in my head. When something adverse happened, which was unavoidable in a family with nine boys, he always responded with a cool head and kept everything in the proper perspective. If there was a car accident his first thought would be “is anybody hurt?” Damage to the car was secondary. He intervened when necessary, but allowed us all to grow and develop in our own way. I think he was pleased with the three of us that decided to go into medicine, but he was just as pleased with my other brothers in various other professions.

Dad loved us all although he very rarely said it. His concern for each of us as different individuals showed this love and even today, if some difficulty arises, I will frequently stop and think “What would Dad do?”

Dad just celebrated his 95th birthday. He still shows concern for me and always asks about my family’s well being. He suffers with so many of the ravages of advanced age, poor eyesight that keeps him from watching his beloved Yankees as closely as he’d like, poor hearing, congestive heart failure, arthritis. He would say “It’s tough growing old, but it’s better than the alternative. When I wake up in the morning and I’m still breathing; it’s a good day.”

And so when I buy donuts on a Sunday morning it’s a tribute to Dad. But, also, like Dad, I really like donuts.