“Have you ever heard a joke so many times you’ve forgotten why it’s funny? Then you hear it again and suddenly it’s new. You remember why you loved it in the first place.” —Will Bloom, “Big Fish”
This is a story like that.
I was born in the early summer of 1948 at 6 am, in June to be exact. Dr. William Wead journeyed from a neighboring town to our home and made the delivery in a small bedroom off the kitchen.
I guess by most financial standards, we were financially humble. My dad worked at the National Cash Register, and he told me once his goal was to make $100 a week at the punch press he operated for almost 40 years.
My mom was a full-time homemaker and mother of four children. As a young woman, she had attended Miami Jacobs College, and, after graduation, she taught penmanship to incoming students.
After marriage to my father and having a family, something unusual happened after I was born.
Maude Cook of Blanchester moved in with my family temporarily to help care for me as a baby. She became what one would describe today as a nanny. It was unusual because we didn’t have much money, and unusual because my mother had always been in good health and had no illnesses of which I was aware.
Maude was a funny woman. Over the years, she would come back and visit my mom from time to time, and I got to know her.
She was a petite, elderly woman with short gray hair. She was a little crusty when the menfolk were around.
At the time, there was a parish priest at St. Columbkille in Wilmington named Father Stuber. He reminded me of the Irish priest played by Barry Fitzgerald in the movie “Going My Way.” Although Father Stuber was German, he had the same twinkle in his eye and the same delightful manner in his personality.
I recall one Sunday afternoon I noticed Father Stuber began to lose his twinkle. He was sitting at our card table with my dad, uncle Patsy, and Maude Cook playing poker. Every time the priest had a powerful hand, Maude had a better one. Although they were only playing for pennies, Maude left Father Stuber with a frown on his face, and a purse full of coins.
I don’t think he ever managed to beat the good woman.
My dad told this story to the family for years. We always enjoyed a good laugh.
Not too long ago, our son, Greg, reminded me of another family story.
When Greg was six or seven years old, I introduced him to the music of the Statler Brothers. When I pulled into our driveway after work each evening, I would see Greg standing by the front door, waiting for me to come inside.
“Dad, would you like to listen to the Statler Brothers?” he would ask.
It became a nightly ritual. We had an old, white Oldsmobile at the time that contained an eight-track tape player, built into the floorboard of the car. Greg would slip the tape into the player, and for hours he and I would sing along with the Statlers.
One night, I asked if he would like to see the Statler Brothers in person. He could hardly contain his excitement when he shouted, “Yes!”
It wasn’t long after, his mother and I loaded the car one summer evening and headed to the Wayne County Fair in Wooster, Ohio.
It had rained most of the day. Shortly, after our arrival, furious lightning and thunder exploded, delaying the show. Greg was heartsick, fearing they would cancel the show if the weather persisted.
It was getting late when the show finally started, and Greg was getting sleepy. I had held him in my arms as we waited, and when the Statler Brothers bounced on stage in their red, white, and blue outfits, I could hear Greg humming along with the music.
Suddenly, Greg’s head popped up, hearing the familiar song we had sung together dozens of times in our old Oldsmobile. “Here’s a picture that we took in Cincinnati, the time we saw that big league baseball game,” they sang.
Amazingly, he sang along with every song in his little boy voice. I quietly lifted him up on my shoulder so he could watch the Statlers. I loved seeing him do something he loved to do.
Finally, as the concert ended, he laid his head on my shoulder and fell fast asleep.
Greg and I have related this story to each other countless times over the years, but not recently. I thought perhaps he had forgotten. Until last week.
I asked if he would like to go to Renfro Valley, in November to hear the Vincent and Dailey Statler Brothers Tribute Show.
“Sure, he said. “But only if I can sit on your shoulders and sing,” he quipped.
When we remember family stories, they become eternal. At least to those we love.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.