My dad turns eighty this August. He is a retired high school science teacher who always rounds up so he considers himself eighty now. His empirical nature also prompts him to call this stage of his life “Bonus Time.” Since the life expectancy of a US male is 75.96 years, his theory is he’s now in the bonus round, and every day he gets out of bed is just another lucky day.
He’s a former jock who smoked both a pipe and stinky stogies. He made it a point to play handball with guys at least a decade younger than himself – and to beat them regularly. For those of you who don’t know American handball it is a street sport played by two people against a wall. The players whack a little, hard rubber ball with just their hands and run like madmen over the court to return each volley after it hits the wall. There is a lot of grunting and sweating. Oh, you can wear gloves. Over the winter I would find his handball gloves in the basement – dried and shriveled, blackened by his sweat — tacked up over his workbench. Dust wouldn’t dream of settling on them, and he had no problem pulling them back on in the spring, flexing his mitts and making the leather crack.
My earliest memories of him are his cold face and the smell of leather as he kissed me hello when he came home from work. He gave me his good DNA for low LDL cholesterol and high HDL cholesterol. Which is good because he also passed along a love of ice cream. He taught me how to talk to anybody (including those boys who worked up the nerve to call our house), and to always give the other guy an “out.” He loves dogs and dogs love him. In case you haven’t guessed, Boris isn’t his real name. It’s the moniker my friends gave him when we were in high school. He’ll answer to it, just as he answered to the elderly neighbor who used to call him Ben. He’s also been “Coach,” “Daddy,” “Uncle, ” and “Pa-Poo.” While shopping at the local mall his old students would frequently stop to greet him and talk to him about their lives. He would listen intently and shake their hands. I’d ask, “Who was that?” He’d shrug and say that he had so many students over time that he couldn’t remember all their names, but clearly their experience with him was memorable. That, and he was glad they weren’t meeting in jail.
If you ever met him, you’d never forget him. So if you’re passing by an open garage this spring and the smell of a cheap cigar makes you stop, check around for a satisfied elder statesman in a baseball cap sitting in a lawn chair watching the sun set on another bonus day.