My father doted on me. It’s no wonder really. I was the youngest child and the only girl. Sometimes Dad called me, “Lil Svester” which I think means little sister in German. Other times he called me, “Honeypot.”
Every Saturday morning we’d run errands. We’d drive to his office at the local college where he taught psychology. He’d catch up on work and I’d whistle at the guinea pigs and rats in the lab.
After an hour or two we’d walk uptown to the bank.
“Would you like a lollipop, sweetie?” the teller always asked.
I’d rest my chin on the counter and look up at her. “Yes, please.”
“We got some new piggy banks. Would you like one?
Next stop was The Peanut Shoppe. I loved the aroma of roasting nuts, royal red cherries and chocolate bridge mix.
When it was our turn to order Dad would go first. “I’ll take a fourth pound of Spanish peanuts. Svester, tell the lady what you want.”
I’d point at the glass. “I’ll take a fourth a pound of pistachios—the red kind, please.”
I’d eat them on the way home and my fingertips would be red until the next Saturday. Dad would save his peanuts to eat later. He’d eat them while he drank a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers each night.
Every month or so we’d cross the bridge into Ohio where he could buy beer cheap. He always let me get a couple of plastic mermaids to hang on my glasses of blue raspberry Kool-Aid.
Dad’s office was three miles from our house. He walked to work every day, weather permitting. My school was on the way so he and I would walk that far together. If it was rainy or really cold, we’d drive. He had a little blue Subaru. It was the first one in the state. It only cost $1,500.00.
When we got to the gate of my school he’d put his hands on my shoulders and look me in the eye.
“Learn lots of interesting and useful things today, L’il Svester. And remember, you can learn from anyone and anyone can learn from you.”
Actually, I lied. That’s what I tell my son when I put him on the bus every morning.
Dad would pat me on the back and I’d run up the steps to the playground. Most days I’d watch until he disappeared over the hill. If he looked back I’d wave until it felt like my arm was going to fall off.
My friends thought Dad looked like Abraham Lincoln with blue eyes.
Dad had a hobby. He was a telegrapher—a Morse code operator. It was what got him out of the house at a young age. His father had one idea of what his future should be. He had another. Dad didn’t want to be a banker so he lied about his age and joined the Navy. Off he went to World War II where he worked as a telegrapher. He was just a couple months shy of eighteen.
Every night after supper Dad would push his chair back from the dinner table and say, “I’m going on the air now.”
He’d go down to the basement and spend a couple of hours sending telegraph messages all over the world. Sometimes I’d sit beside him and watch him and his equipment. I liked the dial with the aqua glow.
Dot, dot, dash. Dash, dot, dash. It all meant something.
Sometimes we’d be in the living room and the phone would ring. Mom would answer and hand it to Dad. “It’s for you.”
If I was sitting close I could hear the person on the other end.
“I want to send a message to my grandson. He’s stationed in Japan. Can you do that?”
“Yes, ma’am. I sure can.” Dad would grab a notepad and pen and jot down the message. Then he’d head for the basement. It was a mystery and thrill that my dad, his telegrapher’s key and his Morse code buddies could somehow talk to people on the other side of the world.
I regret not learning Morse code. I think Dad would have liked that. Sometimes I wonder if I could’ve communicated with him in Morse code once he got dementia and pretty much stopped talking.
How do you say, “I love you, Daddy” in Morse code? What about, “I miss you.”