Dad’s Chair

Lots of folks have asked what I’ve been up to since leaving Congress more than 30 months ago. Many of you know I’ve been active in the state Republican Party helping conservatives get elected in Georgia, and I’ve also been writing. I’m working on a book and wanted to share a brief story with you. It’s about my dad. Please share and let me know — did you enjoy it? Did your dad have ‘his chair’? Did you play on the street instead of on an iPad? Tell me what you think:

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Dad’s Chair

Jack Kingston

dan and jackMy dad had a chair. His chair. Most dads had one. We could only sit in it if he was out of town. If he was in the next room or the same county, you didn’t touch it. Supposedly it was used for watching TV, but he was equally fond of sleeping in it. If he was napping, you tiptoed and hoped you didn’t disturb the giant. If he was awake…well, if he was awake, you kept your mouth shut for fear of drowning out an important plot line—especially if John Wayne was on TV. If he saw you, you might be summoned to change the channel. There were only three, but you had to stand by until he decided if he liked what was showing.

Sometimes he’d sit in his chair and clean his pipes. It was fascinating to watch him disassemble each one, stick a bristled white pipe cleaner down its stem, and pull it out black as coal. It was a treat if he let you smell the rich, earthy fragrance of fresh tobacco in his tobacco jar.

At an early age, I was trained as his personal cocktail waiter. It started out with bourbon and waters—not too complicated. The bottle was heavy, but knowing the importance of the task I dared not spill a drop. Soon I moved my way up to grabbing a beer from the garage “icebox.” I couldn’t read cursive, but I could recognize the blue ribbon.

My bartending must have been making good progress because one day he said, “See if you can open the can.”

Wow! Me, use a can opener? I’d never seen anyone but big kids and grownups use the tool. Now I got to try. What an opportunity.

The object was to make two triangular openings on the opposite ends of the top. But piercing metal was not an easy task.

Entering the kitchen, my older, stronger sister sneered at my handy work.

“Lopsided. That’s what your triangles are—lopsided. Dad works too hard to be drinking from a can with lopsided triangles! It will spill all over him. Here, give me the can opener, you weakling.”

“Scalene” was the proper word, but she opted for “lopsided” because it was more derogatory.

Despite my rocky start, the proud day came when I could produce two perfectly symmetrical triangles. Around that same time, a Mr. Ermal Fraze in Dayton, Ohio, was about to make history with a truly significant contribution to beer drinkers all over the world—the pull top. Until then, a can without an opener was like a lock without a key. If such a separation of can and can opener occurred, a desperate search of every drawer in the kitchen was launched. If that didn’t produce results, the cabinets were emptied. Lost can openers ruined picnics, camping trips, friendships, and marriages.

I doubt Mr. Fraze and his Dayton buddies cared about family harmony and marriage nearly as much as stress-free beer drinking. They invested years of time and labor into the impossible dream of inventing a can that could be opened without a separate tool. Eventually their efforts paid off with the invention of the pull tab.

You would have thought that Milwaukee, self-proclaimed beer capital of the world, would have been all over this invention. But while they may have been the city of brewers, Pittsburgh was the city of beer drinkers. Iron City Brewery knew their customers were more than ready for pull tabs. Proclaiming “no more ruined ‘Bowling Club’ nights,” they ordered four million of them. Bowling scores may have suffered, but beer sales soared. Pull tabs were soon all over the country. That is, everywhere except Plum Nelly Road, Georgia.

For reasons unknown, my dad had switched from Pabst to Falstaff. Ordinarily this change would have taken place unnoticed, but Falstaff had yet to adopt the new pull top technology and I had to continue keeping up with the illusive can opener.

“Gresiedieck beer! Papa Joe and his brothers. True craftsmen. Germans. They know hops. I drank it all through the war.”

“I thought you were in Iran, not Germany.”

“I was, sort of. That was for the Lend Lease program before the war. During the war, Uncle Sam and the US Air Force decided I needed to go to Biloxi, Mississippi. And trust me, there was no shortage of beer. We knew there were good Krauts and bad Krauts. The good ones had migrated to America to brew beer. They made so much money selling Falstaff that they bought the St. Louis Cardinals.”

“They owned the Cardinals? My favorite team?”

“Sure did.”

“Wow! I didn’t know you could own a baseball team.”

“This is America. You can own anything you want if you have enough money.”

“A baseball team! That’s better than owning a castle. If you own one, you can play any time you want to.”

“No, owners don’t play. They just watch.”

“Really? That’s all?”

“Well, they’re a bit too old to be playing.”

“How ’bout their kids? Do they get to play?”

“Only if they’re good enough.”

“Are you kidding? Your daddy owns the team and they won’t let you play?”

“Yeah, that’s the way it is.”

“You’d let me play wouldn’t you, Dad? If you owned the Cardinals?”

“Me? Darn right. You’d be my first batter. Unless you prefer to be clean up better.”

“Thanks, Dad. I knew you would.”

I left the conversation beaming. Life was good. My future was bright. All that had to happen was for Dad to buy a baseball team.

Finally, Falstaff came with the pull tabs, but that didn’t automatically make my beer runs easy. Sometimes the ring popped off the tab. Sometimes it would shred and I’d have to use a regular can opener, but my sister had the biggest complaint.

“Dad needs to drink more beer so I can make a chain out of the pull tops. Mary has one that goes the length of her door.”

“But he drinks plenty. I can’t walk by without him sending me to get him a shooter.” I further exhibited my worldly knowledge by adding, “And I know some kids whose dads don’t even drink alcoholic beverages.”

“That’s cause they’re Baptist. Baptists don’t drink even a drop. Episcopalians are allowed to.”

“Well, you could make a chain if he’d drink more beer and less bourbon.”

“Naw, he’s too cheap.”

“But Mom said beer is cheaper.”

“It is, but he likes variety.”

“He also likes to save money, and it’s clear to me if he wanted to save money, he’d drink a whole lot of beer. We’d be rich. You’d get your chain and we could buy a baseball team.”

She had missed the baseball team discussion and simply ended the conversation in her usual manner: “Oh, just shut up. You don’t know anything and I’ll never get my chain.”

She never did. If she had only lowered her standards. Pull tabs were plentiful—all over the ground, in fact. She just wanted the clean ones. I had no such standard and rarely came home without a pocket full. Mom thought I was campaigning against litter, but actually I was all for it and soon had three pull tab chains hanging from my door.

Meanwhile, Dad sat in his easy chair—the throne of knowledge, the bench of judgment, and the eye in the sky, its owner offering educational lessons on war, beer, and baseball. He knew when the garbage needed emptying. He knew when your bed was unmade. He knew if your homework was done. He knew everything but your name:

“You! You, what are you doing up? It’s past your bedtime.”

My younger sister and I would never fudge on this one. Our older sisters could game him.

“Not now, Daddy. Tonight is Tuesday night. My special show is on. You said I could watch the Beverly Hillbillies.”

“Oh, okay dear, have a seat. Let’s get a bowl of ice cream.”

I never had the nerve to try.

One day from that chair he showed the world who was in charge of that little eighth-of-an-acre lot we called home. It was late Saturday morning. Cartoons were over. Dad, still dressed in his bathrobe, claimed his spot, took over the TV, and settled in for the matinee.

We kids were shooed out the front door and joined the neighborhood circus of bike riding, Chinese freeze tag, kickball, and generally staying outside.

On this particular day, we had an unexpected and unwelcome visitor named Bullet. Bullet was a mutant dog—the impossible byproduct of a St. Bernard and an ox. His shoulders were as broad as a chest of drawers. On them stood a head that couldn’t fit in a five-gallon bucket. His glassy eyes were the size of golf balls. When he walked, which was more of a stalk, his giant, bear-claw paws spanned yards at a time as his muscles rippled like water on a wind-swept lake.

He didn’t live in our neighborhood. Like a conquistador, he only came to demonstrate his dominance and mark his territory in a variety of ways, usually involving inflicting pain on lesser furry creatures. His subjects included all dogs, cats, and children. We feared him.

When he wasn’t around, our dogs and cats lived in harmony. They weren’t on the same team, but they were in the same league. On occasion there was a fight, an irritable snap, or a scratched nose, but nothing involving blood. Our dogs had no serious commitment to rid the world of cats; every now and then, they just wanted to remind them that they were dogs.

Bullet had one nemesis—my old gray tabby cat named Hercules. It was an understandable rivalry. Hercules was the cat equivalent of Bullet. He had come out of the woods and adopted us one day. Why he hadn’t been shot as a bobcat was a mystery. He climbed like one, fought like one, wiped out the squirrel and chipmunk population, and sired a colony of offspring that looked just like him. His ears were tattered from so many fights and his scars would impress a Roman gladiator. Hercules was my pride and joy.

As Bullet charged into our tranquil play area and the other animals scattered, Hercules alone stood to face the demon mongrel. The hair on his body rose and his back arched to the sky. His razor sharp claws were ready to pounce. Bullet snarled and circled, waiting for an opening. Finally, he attacked. Each fought with the skills of their pedigrees, passed down and perfected over thousands of years. As Bullet gained the upper hand, Hercules retreated and dashed under the car on the carport.

Ordinarily the car would have been sufficient sanctuary, but for some unknown reason Tippy, a normally friendly boxer, decided to join the fray. Quickly he scooted under the car to Hercules’s rear. In a regular fight, Hercules would have outmaneuvered the dog and ripped him to shreds, but it was now two against one. With Tippy on one side and Bullet on the other, Hercules made a desperate run for the bicycles parked in the rear of the carport. They would shelter him from most dogs, but three or four bikes weren’t enough to stop the charging Bullet. They fell like dominoes as he plowed through them, exposing Hercules and pinning him hopelessly against the wall.

Hercules made a noble last stand, clawing, scratching, and howling, but at last Bullet moved in for the kill. He violently grabbed my prize cat in his deadly jaws and ran back up our driveway as we horrified kids looked on, helplessly screaming, crying, and hollering. We were too small, too young, and too scared to combat this angry ox of a dog.

Just as we thought it was over, the screen door flew open sounding like a cracked whip. Out sprang my old man, grabbing a push broom along the way. Bullet was now at full speed and nearing the top of the driveway. Any second he would be out of reach. Sprinting after him, Dad barely touched the ground, his bathrobe trailing like Superman’s cape. Bullet wasn’t even aware of what hit him when my dad caught up and with one fell swoop crashed the heavy broom handle on his back. With a yelp, the big brute of a dog paused only long enough to release Hercules before continuing to sprint back to his side of the hill.

Hercules ran back under the car but was persuaded to come out and go to the veterinarian. Every kid on Plum Nelly Road came and sat in the waiting room. Finally, the vet came out. It was a broken leg. He’d live! He actually wore a cast for three weeks but he recovered, living to fight another day.

As for Dad, I learned he saw a little more than TV when he relaxed in his favorite chair. And as for us kids with a bandaged cat, we learned something about what a father does.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please share with your friends and let me know: