His given name was Beryl and he hated it. The hatred intensified the day he received , in the mail, an invitation to participate in a beauty shop program. I was about ten years old when I noticed that he was writing “Bob” Martin in the corner of his favorite books to declare ownership. So most of his friends referred to him as Bob and my mother, when she found herself at the end of her rope, called him his full name, Beryl Aubrey Martin.
Let me set this story straight. We were definitely not the Cleaver family. It was as though one day my father looked around, noticed his four children and wondered when it all happened. His idea of “bonding” was not playing toss in the front yard, but slapping an alder in one of his kids’ hands and taking him fishing on the shore of Twitchell Pond. As we grew older, we were allowed to go fishing with him in Uncle Louis’s row boat.
If there are two things my Dad gave me, it had to be my love of reading and a sense of humor. Dad was a voracious reader and dwelled in the land of the Old West. His favorite author was Zane Grey and as he read, he would relate stories of Betty Zane and Lew Wetzel to us until they became actual people still living that very day. He had stacks of detective magazines and dime novels.
After working in the mill, his favorite time of day was to retire early to bed and read a paperback by the kerosene lamp by his bed. However, he also wanted to smoke at the same time though my mother had cautioned him time and again that he would set the house on fire. He remained calm and serene and continued the practice until one night a spark dropped and the mattress started smoking. My mother, who was still in the kitchen, heard a yell and ran . Thankfully, the lights were out at my grandparents’ farm as the two of them dragged the mattress through the house and out on the lawn. The smoldering was a tiny place but produced enough smoke that it stopped Dad from ever smoking in bed again.
He loved to tempt fate by sometimes getting up from his early reading and stroll to the kitchen for a bowl of crackers and milk to ease his ulcer pain. ..and usually just in his underwear. Again, my mother went into her caution mode and told him that some day someone would come and catch him there. Never would happen, he replied. Well, one night, in the middle of his snack, car lights appeared. The front door was between him and the bedroom. The picture of my father crouching and crawling past the door to get to his trousers was not pretty, but it was the last time he ate without his pants.
He was known for his story telling and if you believed everything he said while he tapped his toes, then you were your own fool. One man became so agitated at a tale my father was spinning, that he bit Dad’s ear…right in the mill yard with a passenger train going by at the time.
I wrote a story once about my Dad called “Living with a Whirlwind” which was published in a Maine magazine. There was plenty of material: his eating half a napkin with a hot dog in the dark and complaining about how dry the hot dog was; shooting bats in the attic in broad daylight. It never ended.
My father went to school as far as the eighth grade. Any education , after that, was through his years of reading. He took a test and became one of the first to repair televisions with all their tubes when they were introduced. He probably was one of the most educated men I ever knew, but chose to live and be happy in the outdoors. He loved nature, fishing, hunting and just sitting in his wooden chair at his Indian Pond camp.
His left hand crippled in a saw mill accident, he gave up playing the guitar the regular way but fixed it so he could lay it on his lap and play with a bar. His humor got him through the rough times.
Dad was a no nonsense person when it came to his children. As the years went by, he mellowed and a softer side emerged. He loved his grandchildren, especially the little girls that he bought purses and hats for to wear at Easter.
We lost Dad when he was 53 years old in 1966. Some times it seems like yesterday; other times it seems forever ago. The memories will always remain. Thanks, Dad, for the sense of humor…it has helped me more than you know.
Happy Birthday this March 8th!