A blog companion to the jazz show Coffeetime on WMBR, 88.1 fm in Cambridge, Mass (MIT's radio station).
Listen to the show live at WMBR.org, Fridays 2-4p EST. Or to the two most recent shows at the WMBR Archive! This blog offers musings, playlists, favorite foods, and more!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my other site at angelynngrant.com.
My friend and my father passed away on Saturday, September 20, 2014. It’s a tough, dual loss. We were friends always, like friends, sometimes disagreeing and taking pauses, but we never lost touch. I always looked forward to updating him on school, or friends, beautiful sunsets, or the mundane pet peeves of life.
His entry into this world made the newspapers. Back in 1932, the Cranston/Provience city line passed through the room at my grandparents’ house on Edgewood Boulevard where my dad was born. This caused quite a stir as the two deputy superintendents of health took two days to decide in which town his birth should be registered. There was a fairly large write up in the Journal and it became a public interest story all over the country. Just a few weeks ago, during some idle Googling, I found a Plattsburgh paper that used the article to fill a few column inches and, no doubt, give a good, old fashioned chuckle to its readers.
My dad loved his parents. I never heard him say one bad word about either one or about any punishment they may have had to deal out to him as a boy. My grandparents, maybe by design, spaced their three children roughly eight years apart: first Shirley, then my dad Eddie, and then Judy. This way, as my mom pointed out the other day, each child was doted on. My grandmother’s brother, my dad’s beloved uncle Eddie, and his wife Mamie took turns taking the older two on vacations with them and my dad recalled those trips with as much thrill and pride last year as he must have had back then. And, after his uncle Eddie passed away, Mamie became my dad’s movie matinee partner.
My dad became friends with the neighbor Armbrust boys and went to their church, St. Paul’s Lutheran. That started lifelong friendships with “the gang,” some of whom are here tonight. Not many people keep lifelong friends; it says a lot about all of them and their days in the Walther League – tales of which my siblings and I heard many times as kids.
My parents met at the Walther League. They were young when they married (19 and 20) and had an instant family with my adopted older sister Vickie and their new child one year later, Stephanie. And I wasn’t far behind.
My parents gave us a storybook childhood. Camping vacations, picnics, drive ins, birthday parties, and always a fun time in the backyard of what had been my Swedish great-grandparents’ house in Edgewood. They sacrificed a lot, yet still kept up with their friends from church, friends from square dancing, and all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Big family dinners and cookouts were common.
My dad went into the jewelry industry, no doubt influenced by many at St. Paul’s. He was celebrated at the end of his apprenticeship as a top apprentice. In addition, to support his young family, my dad enlisted in the Navy Reserves and had many moonlighting jobs. In the Reserves, he was a photographer and his buddy went on to a career at the National Geographic. My father got to meet a young Senator Jack Kennedy and his new wife Jackie at the base once. (Sadly, he wasn’t able to take a photo he could keep.)
One of his moonlighting jobs was as a photographer at The Celebrity Club, a hot jazz/pop club in Providence. Technically, “camera girls” took the photos, going around table to table, and my father would develop them in back. The darkroom was next to the entertainers’ dressing room and he met so many stars. The ones that always made an impression on me were Sarah Vaughn and the Treniers. He told me just a few months ago, how Sammy Davis Jr picked his brain about camera lenses and techniques, because Sammy was a photo buff himself. There, my parents got to see Patti Page, a big deal for a couple so young and working hard for every penny. They stayed huge fans of hers.
My dad was not just a skilled draftsman, making technical drawings for some machine part with precision pencils, he also was a gifted cartoonist. He could draw Donald Duck perfectly! He loved art everywhere, both musical and visual. We had all kinds of music playing in our house – the jazz/popular music like that from The Celebrity Club, country/hillbilly music from square dancing, and whatever rock and roll was coming along: Elvis, the Beatles, the Who – and my father never once said any type of music was bad. In 1985, he and I saw Bo Diddley and Carl Perkins in the same night. It was a nonjudgmental environment. Instead, he always tried to find out what *you* liked about something.
He loved visual art and he and I went to many gallery openings, like the small exhibit of the early 20th century photographer Alfred Stieglitz at Wheaton College in 1980 and many trips to the RISD museum.
He would point out the lovely purple flowers growing along the sides of the highway or the pretty “mackerel back” cloud formation in the sky – a sign of coming rain. When we were in Watch Hill, we always stayed to watch the sun dip below the horizon.
He was a great conversationalist and, although as a teen it may have made me blush, he would strike up conversation with any and every grocery store bagger. He loved to sing and had a great voice. He knew how to read music and we had always had a piano. So I read music almost as early as I learned to read words. He knew a good amount of German, again because of St. Paul’s with its large German congregation, and loved to sing out “O Tannenbaum.” He knew a smattering of Swedish from my grandmother, mostly confined to pepperkakker and other words for yummy foods.
We both loved basketball. I guess I did, because he did. We watched the Providence College Friars on TV when Jimmy Walker played and, starting when I was 11 years old, we went to games together, first at P.C. and then as season ticket holders in the Civic Center for the big championship seasons of the early ’70s. We had the best seats: it was a two-seat aisle all by itself, center court, not far up, across from the benches. Of course, we had the best. That was my dad.
He was good at playing sports, too. In his fifties, he became a golfing fiend – and got very good at it. He and I canoed a lot. He was so deft at maneuvering the canoe to the side of the river so I could nibble on wild blueberries or get us in the right position so I could scoop up golf balls off the coast of the Weekapaug golf course. Fishing for golf balls was a passion for us and we set a trend, drew competition, eventually from the course itself.
I’m grateful that, in his last few years, my sister Stephanie and I were able to help him live in his own home, in the way he wanted.
I’ll miss calling him and reading him this long speech. I’ll miss telling him about my projects and my clients, my neighbors and my pals, my car mechanic and my saint of a dentist. I was lucky. He was a one of a kind dad.
The Striders / Five O’Clock Blues / Apollo / 3.20.50
Sarah Vaughan / No Count Sarah / Darn That Dream / EmArcy / 8.6-8.57
Duke Jordan / Flight to Jordan / Star Brite / Blue Note / 8.4.60
Jimmy Heath / The Thumper / For All We Know / Riverside / 10.30.59
Bill Coleman & his Orchestra / The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down / Columbia / Paris 11.12.37
Jimmie Lunceford & his Orchestra / Put It Away / Vocalion / 12.14.39 / vocal = Willie Smith
Helen Humes / Rock Me to Sleep / Discovery / Hollywood 5.9.50 / with Marshall Royal Combo
Noel Coward / At Las Vegas / Medley: I’ll See You Again; Dance, Little Lady; Poor Little Rich Girl; A Room with a View; Someday I’ll Find You; I’ll Follow My Secret Heart; If Love Were All; Play, Orchestra, Play / Columbia / live, Wilber Clark’s Desert Inn, Las Vegas 6.7.55 / with Carlton Hayes & his Orchestra
Duke Ellington & his Orchestra / soundtrack to Paris Blues / Mood Indigo / United Artists / 5.2-3.61
John Coltrane / Coltrane Jazz / My Shining Hour / Atlantic / 11.24.60