When I was a kid, one of my favourite movies was “Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang.” I don’t know if it was Dick Van Dyke, I always loved his singing and dancing; the crazy inventions his character worked on, or maybe the floating or flying car. I liked the film.
Now, in hindsight, I see that it is a bit weak, to be kind. Still, there is one thing in it that always stood out in my mind. It was a song called, “The Roses of Success.”
I don’t fully recall the words to the song, like so many in the movie, it was mostly forgettable, but the tone and the message, of the song, resonated for me. Well, tone, message and that a bunch of old men, with long beards, sang it. Somehow, men like that singing about roses just struck me funny.
The message of the song was those roses grow out of the ashes of disaster, which is a good message. There are many examples of this throughout history; people like Edison, Ehrlich and Bell laboured for years, performing countless tests and experiments to perfect the light bulb, find a cure for syphilis and invent the telephone, respectively.
My story isn’t about them. No, it’s from a story my mother told me. It’s a story about my dad.
After World War II, the US Army discharged my father, along with hundreds of thousands of other young me. My father embarked on a business venture. He’d been in Italy and seen the beautiful leather goods the local artisans created. S
My dad decided to try his hand at importing some of those leather items. He used a few thousand dollars, which was quite the sum for the day, to buy a supply of jewellery boxes, belts, cigarette cases and so on. They shipped to the US and there’s where things took a turn for the worst.
There was strike by the dockworkers, the longshoremen. It lasted for several weeks. During that time, the leather goods, my father imported, sat on the dock in the sun and the rain. Once the strike resolved, it was too late for his stuff: it was ruined. My dad was devastated, inconsolable. My mom said he fell into a deep depression.
Knocked down, he wasn’t out, yet. As my dad would later tell me, “No one has over counted ten over me!” At the time, I didn’t understand the reference; boxing wasn’t something I was remotely interested in or knew anything about.
This was also in the days before America became “lawsuit happy.” If that happened today, I imagine my dad would have sued someone over his losses. Back then, he didn’t really have any recourse.
My dad thought about what had happened to him. He considered his options. Where he could turn to get back on his feet, financially?
My dad figured the returning veterans would be doing what he was doing: settling down, getting married and starting families. What do families need? Well, lots of things, but my dad figured the key thing they needed was a place to live.
Scrapping together a down payment, he bought a small apartment building, with four units. He, my mom and older brother moved into the ground floor apartment. They rented the other units to veterans, with new families. Thus began my father’s career as an apartment owner.
By the time I came along in the 1960s, my father had an apartment building on Beacon Hill in Boston. He built himself up and went from his own “ashes of disaster” to a nice chunk of real estate in twenty-odd years. He did it by himself, with the occasional “slave labour” from my brothers and me.
He didn’t expect a government handout. He didn’t lobby for a tax break or a subsidy. My dad just worked hard. He lived the American Dream: wife, family, middle class life, nice house in the ‘burbs etc.
I’m happy to add my dad to that list of other determined and famous men.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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