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Monday, February 7, 2011

The old man's day out, Part I

On a cold Friday in February, Steve (the boss) set out for Lansing with his wife and old man. They left Grand Rapids at noon. Ten hours and five bars later they returned home, one of them bloodied, all three of them happy. Below is the story, the first of three installments. 

“Man I hate this weather.”

My father had turned off the vacuum and was looking through Siciliano’s plate glass windows at the falling snow. It’s a statement he makes often during the months when he can’t drive up north to his cabin. There was a time when the winter didn’t bother him so much—when he could still drive two hours on slippery roads, when he could walk a half mile through knee-deep snow dragging supplies on a toboggan, when he could shovel a path to the door, when he could haul logs in from the woodpile and when he could sit for hours watching a bobber on a frozen lake. But he has learned how to accept the limitations of age. My father, Sam Siciliano, is eighty.

Sam & Steve, father & son

He went back to his work and I watched while he vacuumed up the scattering of grain around the grinders. During the springs, summers and falls he carefully sweeps up the grain and dumps it into paper bag. ‘The deer and turkey like it,” he told me once after asking about it.

He had finished vacuuming and was wiping malt extract off the scales when I called out to him. “Hey pop. Barb and I are going to Lansing tomorrow. Why don’t you come with us?”

“What are you doing in Lansing?”

“We have to drop off some paperwork to the LCC,” I said. “We have to get their okay for the expansion.”

“Why do you want me to go?”

“It’ll get you out of the house,” I said. “It might do you good.”

“Why would I want to go to Lansing?”

“Come on, pop. It’ll be fun. On the way home we’ll stop at some bars.”

“Okay,” he said. “Pick me up.”

Sam Siciliano likes to drink. He likes drinking beer and his home-made wine but he doesn’t like drinking alone. He likes people around him when he drinks and the more people there are the better he likes it. When people visit him and my mother at their West side home or at the cabin in Irons he is always eager to get them a drink. If their beer is half full he’ll get them another and if their wine glass is half empty he’ll fill it up. That’s just the way my old man is.

There’s something a little mysterious about that home-made wine. Every year we get grapes from California. I know he doesn’t add more sugar to the must but somehow his wine always seems to be more potent. Our family has learned to stay away from it but there have been many unsuspecting guests that the wine has destroyed; and whenever that destruction occurs, Sam gets in trouble with my mother.

The following day we picked him up at noon. He was waiting on the front porch.

On the way to Lansing I got him to talk about his brothers. My dad has five brothers that are still alive. Tony, the eldest brother, died about fifteen years ago. My dad claims that Tony was the toughest son-of-a-bitch in the neighborhood. I have heard the stories many times—about growing up on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids, about the street fights and bar fights, about stealing watermelons off the backs of trucks, how my grandmother would ignore complaining neighbors and then later beat the appropriate, mischievous son who elicited the complaint. But I never tire of hearing the stories, and while he talked I glanced over at Barb and would see her often smiling.

When we arrived at the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, we had to check in with security. Each of us had to present our drivers license. I watched my dad fumble through his thick wallet and wondered what the hell he was carrying. When we found the person we had to talk to she took the paperwork and looked at me incredulously.

“You came all this way for this? Why didn’t you just mail it?”

“I wanted to make sure you got it,” I replied. “Besides, it’s a nice day for a road trip. My dad hates the winter and we wanted to get him out. We’re going to hit some dive bars.”

I saw Barb give me a hard glance and I realized that telling the folks at the liquor control that we were going bar hopping was not very bright.

The lady looked over at my dad who was sitting and paging through a magazine. “I’m sure you’ll have a good time."

Stay tuned for the second of three installments, coming soon!

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