Lincoln Park Zoo 1959

This entry is part 7 of 19 in the series Memoir

On Monday the restaurant was closed, and on those days, especially in the warmer months, my father would take my younger sister and me out for the day.

I remember going to the movies. He sat us down in front of westerns, musicals, murder mysteries and then spent the entire time pacing back and forth at the rear of the theater. Never out of sight, and never still.

He took us for long drives out into the country, sometimes as far away as Wisconsin where he’d find a tavern on a lake. Hamm’s: the beer refreshing. Pork rinds, Jay’s potato chips, a huge jar of pickled pig’s feet on the bar, cheeseburgers served in baskets with soggy fries, wedges of iceberg lettuce doused in Thousand Island dressing. Coke in small glass bottles that fit the curve of a child’s hand exactly.

I remember outings like this where a whole caravan of his friends would come along and he would cook for them all on one of the grills provided by the tavern. I suspect to this day that he bullied people into coming along simply so he’d have somebody to feed. The grownups would sit in the shade and drink and tell jokes I wasn’t supposed to hear, or understand if I did. My sister deposited herself next to the prettiest woman present, the one who smelled nice, and stayed there for the duration.

There were many trips to Lincoln Park Zoo. I remember those drives down   Lincoln Avenue very clearly. All the windows open in those days long before air conditioning.

And I remember this unfortunate stuffed bear. The rough feel of his fur and the smell of dust and camphor. I don’t remember this particular day but I know that I was looking at my father. I can see it in my three year old face. I can almost see him there, hands clasped behind his back as he paced back and forth. He wore a short sleeved shirt and a bow tie, and sometimes a porkpie hat. In 1959 other men wore suits and ties as a matter of course, but six days a week my father lived in the costume of his trade: wide trousers in a small black check and a white tunic. On his day off the closest he came to a suit was that bow tie.

A solidly built man, short by most standards, his dark hair cropped marine short, the tattoos on his arms already so faded they were hard to read.

It was important to him that we were happy on those Mondays. He took us places and showed us off to his friends and fed us. He bought us ping-pong paddles, balloons, Barbie dolls, and he fed us. Egg and pepper sandwiches, roast pork, spaghetti and meatballs, barbeque ribs, minestrone, icecream.

It was what he knew how to do. It was the best way he knew to take care of us.

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