My father was the TV man. Not unlike the shoemaker and his shoeless children, there were times when our television required a swift smack on the side of the cabinet to make the black and white picture flicker into focus and sometimes there was a small portable TV on top of a dead floor model, but usually we were bathed in the blue glow of a working TV.
In his private bedroom, he would always have some beat-up jury-rigged TV for his own use. In this retreat he would watch “The Lawrence Welk Show” or “Hee Haw.” His taste ran to country and western twangers or folk tunes. To this day, I remember the following verse, “Cig-er-ettes and whiskey and wild, wild women; they’ll drive you crazy, they’ll drive you insane – hee haw…” Thank you, Buck Owens.
Dad had an impoverished childhood. Basic needs were sometimes not met, including food. The dad I knew spent his entire life focused on securing funds by fixing televisions and other things in order to provide food for his family.
Fish and chips, as far as Dad was concerned, was the ultimate meal. Better than Thanksgiving and Christmas put together, he loved fried fish and chips.
In his later years, after the head injury and the slow but steady disintegration of his mental functioning, he remained delighted when a plate of fried fish and French fries was placed in front of him. If you added in a cup of clam chowder, he was elevated to heaven on earth.
Nothing brought Dad greater pleasure than when I would take him out to his favorite restaurant where he would feast on a hot cup of coffee, cup of chowder, and a massive plate of fish and chips. He’d eat it all, not a crumb would be left on his plate while declaring throughout the meal “This is good stuff.”
Dad made his last stand in a nursing home, a place he always called “the end of the world.” I arrived after work one evening for a visit to learn he had been banned from the dining room for some sort of inappropriate behavior. He had not yet received a tray that would be delivered to his room. He wasn’t upset, but he was firm that whatever crap they’d bring him would not be worth the wait. I knew what his answer would be, but I asked him anyway. “What do you want to eat?”
I returned about 30 minutes later with two full orders of fish and chips and two cups of chowder. Dad had insisted that ‘his friend,’ his roommate, be served as well. After setting up their food on rolling tray tables, I watched these two old gents tuck into the food as if starved for weeks. They would occasionally look up at each other, oblivious to my presence, grin and nod in acknowledgement that the food was good.
When they were done, I cleaned up the take-out containers, wiped their mouths with warm face clothes, and asked if I could get them anything else. The roommate was already nodding off in his wheelchair. Dad didn’t answer right away. He was lost in thought or just lost. I patted his hand to bring him back to the present. He looked up at me and said, “Thanks. That was good stuff.” It would be the last real meal both men would share together. The roommate passed away two days later.
The blue glow from the wall-mounted TV illuminated Dad’s aged face. After a moment, he turned his eyes towards the TV and smiled. It was a rerun of “The Lawrence Welk Show.” I left him sitting there comfortably satiated and peacefully enjoying the TV. He no longer wanted for anything. I had given him “the good stuff,” just as he had always tried to give me.
By Marilou Newell