Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Other Side of My Father

There was something of the prankster in my father.  He wasn't fun-loving like my Uncle John but he did love to play a joke on someone.  Two pranks that have always stood out in my mind.
Not my mom's jewelry but it could be.

My mother was upstairs in her bedroom getting ready to go out with her friends  whom we all called "Aunt Alice" or "Auntie Arax" or Aunt so-and-so whether they were actual relatives or not.  When I was little, I loved watching my mother get dressed because her art deco dressing table had four drawers filled with wonders  one with gloves and more gloves  ivory kid gloves with a tiny pearl button that closed the glove at the wrist or black lace gloves that went to one's elbows; handkerchiefs and scarves in every size, color and shape   gauzy rose, emerald green sateen, or beautifully patterned turquoise,red and gold silk.  I loved to stick my hands in that drawer and feel the coolness of the fabrics, pull them out, spread them on her bedspread while she perched on an ottoman in front of the big round mirror and pulled out box after box filled with her costume jewelry and tried on various combinations of clip-on earrings and necklaces.  She'd organized her jewelry by color or type  all the pearl or green or silver ones together so when she'd picked out her outfit she could seek out just the right accessories to dress up her outfit.  My mother had a great eye, was a GREAT shopper and despite her limited budget always looked incredibly fashionable.

While she was getting dressed for a Sunday outing with "the girls,"  my father was downstairs and had commandeered my brother and few of the husbands on the block to move all the furniture out of the living room and dining room  except for the tables and lamps.

When Aunt Alice and the others arrived my mother yelled down, "I'll be ready in five minutes, sit down, make yourselves at home!"

To which my Aunt Alice called up in her soft-spoken and bewildered voice, "But Dotty  there's nowhere to sit..."

"That's ridiculous Alice," my mom called down as she finished putting on the last touches of her make-up  pursing her lips to apply her lipstick  "just push aside whatever's in your way!"

"But Dotty," Aunt Alice's voice quietly persisted, "there's really NO-WHERE to sit."

And at that my mother slammed her drawers closed and clicked down the stairs in her sling-back pumps (that perfectly matched the color of her full-skirted belted dress) to see why Alice and the others couldn't sit down in the living room.

The second she saw all her furniture missing  the couch, chairs, coffee table  she shrieked, "TOM-MEE! You get my furniture back in this living room NOW!" as my father and his accomplices laughed their heads off hiding behind kitchen doors and dining room drapes.
The Erskine's house as it looks today — minus the hedges.You 
can see (by the changed roofline) that the house was expanded.

My father's pranks were not just reserved for my mother.  He played another memorable prank on our next-door neighbor, Mr. Erskine.  Our houses were next door to each other on a dirt road with a strip of 6-foot grass from the gravel to the thick row of hedges fronting our yards and  that encasing our lawns like a thick, brushy green fence.  These hedges were only broken by the asphalt driveways that provided a place to park the family car.  Harry  hard-working, proud, stocky Irishmen  drove a gray bomb of a car that seemed to engulf him once he got behind the wheel.  

Mr. Erskine worked late, came home late and  as our street had only one streetlight  had some issues finding the opening to his driveway as things were pretty dark at our end of the block.  SO Harry Erskine came up with the ingenious idea of lining the beginning of the driveway with large boulders painted white. Now when he pulled onto our street in the dark of night he could find his driveway!  

One night, my father decided that we should move those painted rocks and see what happened.  So the guys lugged those heavy boulders behind those hedges and then later, much later, we hid behind them.  Crouched down in the stillness and black, my cheeks against the grass, peering through the under-branches of the hedges, I felt my heart thumping.  The grown-ups were talking and laughing in anticipation when finally a pair of headlights turned onto the block and slowly moved forward.  I could hear the crunch of the gravel under the tires of the lumbering car as it rolled past the driveway and then continued on, until Harry Erskine realized he'd missed his house.  As the brakes brought the car to a screeching halt, the driver's door opened, Mr. Erskine got out muttering (what I think were) profanities in his Irish accent, and everyone popped up from their hiding places, laughing at the success of the prank. 

As even Harry began smiling at the joke, the whole gaggle of neighbors congratulated my father on the success of his joke. With all the kids tumbling around on the grass among the gang of grown-ups, I felt this comforting sense of warmth and happiness surrounding me.

Now if only they could all come home with me.

It goes to show that memory is faulty/selective/flawed.  Below please find my childhood friend Marilyn's recollection of these two events.  Definitely remember what's she's added to the hedges story but am floored that I fell for the furniture "prank on the prankster"!

I remember some details a little differently.  For some reason, I remember the joke of the furniture move was to be on your father and to get him in trouble with you mother.  I remember it taking practically all of the men in the neighborhood who we knew (Mr. Sperling, Mr. Hans, Mr. Guardiano and others) to make this one happen.  The furniture was already outside in the late afternoon by the time that your father got home.  And then "he faced the music."
For the "hedges" incident, I remember us all being inside the gray Hudson returning from the drive-in movies.  I vaguely remember my father's frustration when he could not find the opening to the driveway.  What I recall is that more hedges were added, in pots, to line the driveway and have it appear as if there was no opening.  Again, it took a cast of neighborhood characters to pull this off.
I also remember several informal get togethers after these antics to laugh again and again and to share the stories.  The summer fold-up chairs would come out and various folks would share the stories over and over.

Thank you Mar for setting the record straight!!

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