I am lucky to have known my father. He died when I was 12, but I still have vivid childhood memories.
Some of my favorite times with him were when he’d be sitting in the back yard reading on a summer night, and I’d run and dance around his chair singing songs with him. He had a great voice, and I clearly remember us singing “Oh Susanna,” “Someone’s In The Kitchen with Dinah,” “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” and lots more. We could do this endlessly. He also sang every morning in the shower. His usual favorites were “As Time Goes By” and a love song called “Ramona,” which he over-dramatized and sang very romantically in a joking attempt to make my mother jealous.
A top executive in the publishing industry, Dad traveled in Europe for about a month each Fall and to either Mexico or South America for a month every Summer. Five decades later I learned from an uncle that Dad had been doing double duty as an undercover CIA agent. At first I didn’t really believe it. Why wouldn’t my mother have told me? Unless she didn’t know. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. During WWII Dad had worked for the Office of War Propaganda in D.C. He spoke 13 languages, nine of them fluently. His career as Director of Foreign Publication and Translation Rights at one of the world’s largest publishers provided perfect cover for visiting then-Iron Curtain countries. One of my favorite photographs of him is of him standing in front of his beloved Polish composer Frederick Chopin’s home in Warsaw.
Dad insisted he was hiding precious gemstones between his toes when he’d go through Customs on returns from South America. Is it true? It very well might be; he was nothing if not wildly eccentric. Those were the days when the public could view from a glassed-in balcony the Customs area at Idlewild’s International Arrivals building. Dad was invariably the last person off the plane, carrying so many bags of purchases that it would literally take up to two hours to make it through Customs with Mom and me impatiently watching and waiting from above at some ungodly hour. She’d have gotten me out of bed and thrown me in the car with my baby pillow. Impatient? Yes, but I recall Mom constantly breaking out in laughter.
I cherished the multiple postcards he’d send me from every trip. And he never came home without bringing numerous gifts to my mother and me. I think of him every time I see the jewelry, gemstones, and decorative objects that I preserved and scattered throughout my home. On his lunch hours in Manhattan he loved shopping at the finest stores, buying beautiful dresses for me.
My father commuted to work by train. On summer nights, I’d often walk or ride my bike to the station to meet his train. We loved strolling home together, talking endlessly about one thing or another. Neighbors would wave at us, and we frequently stopped to chat with folks along the way. On nights when I didn’t meet him, he knew he’d find me on the swing set in the backyard. I’d be thrilled when I saw him rounding the corner of the house, coming to see me before he even went indoors.
Of Polish descent, my father had an extensive record collection of Frederic Chopin’s piano music. For the 12 years I knew my dad, Chopin filled the house virtually every night. Starting piano lessons at age five, I became an accomplished pianist who drove my teachers crazy by insisting that I learn as many Chopin nocturnes, études, waltzes, and Polonaises as I could, sometimes slighting the other composers I had to study. To this day, I listen to Chopin at least once a week and I always think of my dad as I do.
There were approximately 5,000 books in my house including two hundred children’s books and many first editions. I count my love for literature as perhaps the greatest of the gifts father gave me.
To unwind on weekends and at night, Dad took up needlepoint and also learned to hook rugs. I no longer have, but can clearly envision, the colorful hooked rug farm scene he made for my childhood bedroom. My piano bench cover was a lovely needlepoint design. Best of all is the framed circular needlepoint art that hangs today on my bedroom wall, having followed me from house to house. Around the perimeter it reads, “When This You See Remember Me.” And I do.
My name is Lucy, and the colorful memories of my father make me one of The Lucky Ones.