Third Sunday in June

I’ve been without my father far longer than I was with him. Not particularly uncommon for someone my age, but losing him when I was only 20 had an impact that, even today, I’m still figuring out.

John M. Reynolds 1918-1979
John M. Reynolds 1918-1979

He was nearly 40 when I was born. And although I’m sure my dad wouldn’t have had it any other way, my two sisters and I had male nicknames. My older sister’s stuck the most. She was Fred. I was Sam. My younger sister was Charlie. At some point, we must have asked if Dad wished he’d had sons instead of daughters. And we were always reassured.

Wedding Day, October 22, 1955
Wedding Day, October 22, 1955

At the wake of one of his contemporaries 20 years ago, I learned that some of the women who worked in the Providence-Washington Insurance Company considered Jack Reynolds “quite a catch.” Well, duh. Tall and handsome, dark blond hair and green eyes, smart and mannered, of course he was. Still, it was cute to watch these women, then in their 60s and 70s, blush at the mention of his name.

Easter Sunday, 1979
Easter Sunday, 1979

Here he is on the left, making a face for the camera as usual. He was more often the one behind the lens. My mom’s father is in the middle and her brother is on the right. They’re all gone now. Dad died the day after this photo was taken, unexpectedly, at 60. My grandfather lived to be 88, and my uncle was afflicted by dementia, as was my mother.

If I only had my father in my life for 20 short years, I can state without any doubt that he used that time wisely, to parent and teach and inspire and love. There’s a lot of him in me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

King of the Pastavazool

We’re not Italian.  But on Saturday nights, if my parents didn’t go out to Twin Oaks for dinner, my dad cooked.  Meatballs and spaghetti.  Braciole.  I’d stand and watch him make the meatballs.  First time he asked if I wanted to help, he made me wash my hands for five minutes before I stuck them in the bowl, squishing around the hamburger and raw eggs and breadcrumbs.  It was so gross and I loved every minute of it.

The braciole was something he did by himself, while I watched.  First, we went to Ruggieri’s Market on Saturday morning to get the meat – thin slices of beef.  Dad made a mixture, again with the raw egg, and spread it on the slices of meat, then rolled them up, stuck a toothpick in each one, and put them in the frying pan.  They sizzled and popped and turned brown.  After that, into the tomato sauce to cook until supper.

“Watch the pastavazool – don’t let it spatter on the stove or your mother will be mad,” he’d say.  Ah, so pastavazool was spaghetti sauce.  But wait.

On Sundays we usually had a roast beef or a pot roast, or sometimes a turkey.  My mom would work hard because we usually had company: my grandparents or the old neighbors.  We ate in the dining room, and everything was to be just right for the guests.  After church I had to dust the furniture.  Someone had to set the big table.  The smells from the kitchen made my stomach rumble.

And then, in the middle of the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the stuffing and the green beans, my dad would say, “Martha, pass the pastavazool.”  He pointed at the gravy, in the fancy gravy boat, and everyone laughed.  “Oh, Jack!” said Mrs. O’Connell.  “Here’s to ya,” said Mr. McLaughlin, raising his glass of Narragansett beer.

On regular weeknights there was no pastavazool, just pork chops or American chop suey or chicken à la king.  The pastavazool was for the weekends.  And it was very special.

A Birthday Remembrance

 This is my father, John Melvin Reynolds.  He was born on December 3rd in 1918, the second of four children to James and Leah (Melvin) Reynolds.  Everyone called him Jack.  His sister Eileen was born a year earlier.  Everyone called her Bunny.  She died in 1961 after slipping on a rug in her home and hitting her head.  She was 43.  The youngest was George.  Uncle George, who never married, would send us postcards from all over the country.  He died in 1968, at age 43.  No one really talked about the death of Uncle George, and it was very sad because he was dead for a couple of days before anyone found out.  It was the only time I saw my father cry.   My dad died in 1979, on the day after Easter.  He was 60.  He had a heart attack after doing some yard work on a beautiful spring day.  That leaves Uncle Butch, whose real name is Jim.  Butch will turn 90 on December 7th, and we’ll all celebrate Butch’s longevity next weekend.

My father worked in downtown Providence.  He wouldn’t recognize it today.  The building where he worked, the old Hospital Trust Building, now houses the Rhode Island School of Design library and archives.  In the mid 70’s, he took the train to work from East Greenwich, but the train doesn’t stop in East Greenwich anymore, and they moved the Providence station.  They moved the river, too.  All part of the revitalization of Providence.  My dad witnessed the completion of the old Industrial National Bank building (the “Superman building”) in 1927.  He used to take the trolley downtown from his home in Washington Park.  Washington Park was working-class Irish then; now it’s mostly Hispanic.  Times change.  He used to eat lunch in McGarry’s restaurant (“What did you have for lunch today, Dad?”  “Ham sandwich and a glass of milk.”)  McGarry’s is long gone.  After lunch he’d walk over to Merrill Lynch to see how the market was doing.  Merrill’s gone now, too.

Once, when I was about five years old, I accompanied my father downtown to his office on a Saturday.  Before he worked in the old Hospital Trust Building, he worked in the old IBM building, at 180 South Main Street.  All I can remember from that trip was seeing a lot of typewriters on a lot of desks.  My first “real” job, in 1981, was at the Old Stone Bank.  I worked in their Real Estate Investment Group, and that office was in the building at 180 South Main Street.  There’s more to that story, but I’ll save it for another post.

On this day, I’m going to remember my father.  Today he would be 93 years old.  But the last day I saw him, as I boarded a bus that would take me to Logan Airport and off for a year of college in Switzerland, my dad was tall, handsome, youthful, and full of life.  I am fortunate to have that memory.