My dad is the eldest of four children whose parents came right through Ellis Island from Yugoslavia, knowing no English, but looking for a better life in America like so many other immigrants. And they found it, at least for a while. My grandpa first found work in a Pennsylvania coal mine, then migrated to Ohio, contributing to the auto industry until the Great Depression. Then the family was plunged into poverty.
For a few years my dad was the primary breadwinner in the household. He would shine shoes, sell newspapers and collect bottles left by hobos along the railroad tracks to turn in for deposit. Times were pretty tough. One of the darkest days came when my grandma had run out of food and had to kill and cook her favorite egg laying hen, Gypsy. Needless to say, nobody had much of an appetite that night.
My resourceful grandpa used to re-sole his childrens' shoes by cutting up the rubber from discarded car tires! Now that's poor!
My dad loved going to school, enjoyed reading, and received a good public education. Coming from a home where both parents had to learn English beginning with their arrival in the U.S. (in fact my grandmother never learned to read or write due to a learning disability), I've never known my dad to use poor grammar, and he is still a voracious reader.
When World War II erupted, my dad was drafted into the army. Riding the bus to boot camp, he remembers looking out the window, feeling that he was probably going to get killed in battle. Instead, he served heroically, as did the rest of the Greatest Generation. His unit built pontoon bridges for the army to cross in Germany.
A few years ago my dad presented my brother and me with his war medals. They are my greatest treasure. Not because my dad was a gung-ho fighter type, because he wasn't. He's really more of a pacifist. But the war represented a turning point in his life. If my house ever catches on fire, his war medals are the only non-living things I'll grab on my way out the door!
After the war, my dad took full advantage of the GI Bill, which paid for his education, and headed up the Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant to pursue a degree in teaching. That's where he met and married my mom, became an elementary school principal, and started a family. Without the GI Bill my dad would have probably been a line worker in one of the Detroit auto factories. There's nothing wrong with being a line worker, but my dad was thirsting for a higher education, and he got one!
I don't think any kid that passed through Fancher Elementary School disliked Mr. Maran. The teachers all loved him too. He was really tall, towering over the little tots, and didn't need to paddle anyone, which was actually allowed back then. He just put his big hand on their shoulder and led the naughty child to the office for a time out.
My dad has never forgotten his "roots." We have visited relatives in beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia and he has hosted them here in the U.S. several times too. They actually live within the stone walls of the medieval city. What a magical place!
You could call my dad Mr. Enthusiasm. Whenever someone in our household had an idea, he was right there, encouraging us, or coming up with his own great idea. When our family had a cottage at Crystal Lake, he would show the kids movies at night on a screen hung on a tree under the stars. In the winter he would take some of my friends and me around town to see snow sculptures made by sororities and fraternities in a contest they had. If my dad was involved, it was always something fun!
Here I am (below left) with my friend Lori. We have on our ice skates for a skating party afterwards:
While my mom knows how to decorate, my dad knows how to repair, refinish, and build stuff. It seemed like he was constantly working on some project on our house, the antique shop, or my parents' store. In the picture below, my dad, my brother Mike, and some friends get started renovating the building that would become my parents' new store, The Mole Hole:
Here's the building from the outside. If you had told me I would be living here someday, I might have been a wee bit disappointed. But eventually, it was transformed into a wonderful "penthouse" upstairs, due to my dad's vision and help from an architect and builder.
This looks better:
After a couple updates, the store looked like this:
Tony has often been mistaken for a cheerful, taller version of Pat Paulsen from the TV show "Laugh-In", or movie star Stuart Granger. He's even been asked for his autograph at airports!
When it comes to having a good time, my dad is always a catalyst. He's known for his brightly colored shirts that seem to match his personality perfectly. When I married my husband Joe in Las Vegas, my dad was responsible for the entertainment: hiring a surprise Elvis to sing at the ceremony. A good time was had by all, even Elvis.
My dad can make a new friend in 26 seconds. It's true, I've timed him! He goes around town and talks to people, shows interest in their lives, and remembers what they say to him. He's the quintessential "people person". Cab drivers, deli workers, the UPS guy, they're all his friends. When one of the tellers at the bank was pregnant, she was surprised when my dad showed up with a baby gift one day. He recently helped a homeless man he met at Starbuck's find an apartment and get settled. My dad has a heart as big as a washtub, and everyone knows it!
Now he lives in beautiful Naples, Florida, a long way from where he grew up. He has friends from all walks of life, has traveled all over the world, and enjoys dining at nice restaurants. But when I call his tale a "rags to riches story," I hope you understand that I'm not really talking about money. True, I'm talking about rags. But the riches my dad has accumulated haven't been just monetary......
As I mentioned earlier, my dad was pretty much convinced he wasn't coming back from World War II in one piece. He told me a while back that every day since then has been a gift, and he's treated them as such. He sprinkles a little gold dust and good humor everywhere he goes. And you know what? He's still picking up bottles! He can't stand to see the lovely Naples beach littered with bottles and cans, so he always stops to pick up trash.
I think you'll agree my dad is a very unique gentleman......but your dad is special too. Please leave a comment about what makes your dad unique in my comment section!
Happy Father's Day, Dad!