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.

A Birthday Present


Dad

My sisters and I had a hard time buying a birthday present for my dad, whose birthday is today. If he’d lived this long, he’d be 94, but he died at 60. Sixty seems young to me now.

Dad’s birthday was just three weeks before Christmas, so the three of us usually huddled together sometimes right after Thanksgiving and discussed.

A pair of black socks? A tie? Some white handkerchiefs? A jar of sourballs? We were too young to buy him a carton of Kents or a case of ‘Gansett.

One year, I had exactly one dollar to buy Christmas gifts for my mom, my dad, my older sister, and my baby sister (I think I was six). I can’t remember what my sisters received from me that year, but I do recall finding a box of paper clips for Dad (and that was something he could really use), and some lace trimming for Mom (again, she could sew that lace on anything and make it prettier). Those two presents probably took half of the dollar, but I was very proud of myself.

Through my teens, I gave my father (and my mother) way more grief than my sisters did. Let me rephrase that: my sisters didn’t cause trouble. I did, enough for all three of us. Maybe that’s how it is with children; there’s always one. I’ve wished so many times over the past thirty-three years that my father could see that I turned out okay (after a few rough patches), that I married a good man, that I had some wonderful professional accomplishments before ending my career and starting something new, something I love doing. That even though he was present in my life for a mere twenty years, he got it right.

Then again, I’m sure he knows.

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.