HFD to all you Wonderful Dads this Sunday!

  • This is a story I wrote in 2008 as a fond remembrance of a very special Father's Day we celebrated when I was a kid.

    I hadn't thought about it for a while, and when I finally found it on my computer....once again, it made me laugh till tears were streaming down. I hope you enjoy it.

    The Ugliest Father’s Day Ever

    The noise was horrendous.

    A deep-pitched whine that crescendoed to an ear-numbing roar, it would drop off momentarily, and then obliterate the air once more, even louder. I was having a hard time breathing. The wind was smashing against my face with such force that little if any air could get up my nose, which was causing me moments of benign panic as asphyxiation will sometimes do.

    Trying to see what was up ahead, I squinted, blinked and squinted some more. All was blurry. Blurry and vibrating…and slowly going dark.

    Suddenly the whole thing shuttered, spit out an Apollo-like blast, and threw all of us to the left. I clutched the small dog to my chest, blinded, and my brother Steve clutched me to his chest, terrified. And above the cacophony, all I could hear was—my dad laughing. We’d caught the apex of the turn perfectly and the aerodynamic sidecar, a happy victim of centrifugal force, found itself airborne for three…four…five long seconds, then bounced lightly back down on the pavement and rocketed forward.

    I was laughing now, too, and got a hand free to push the old WWII goggles out of my eyes and back up on my face where they might do some good. The small dog squirmed in my arms. I let her slide back down on my lap, her front paws braced on the car lip, her nose to the wind and her tongue flapping like a Tibetan prayer flag. Phoebe, Cockapoo Extraordinaire, let us know that she, too, enjoyed tight turns with a couple of high-pitched barks. Her eye-protection, an ancient pair of Johnny Weissmuller swimming goggles, had perished to the bottom of the sidecar long ago. She hadn’t seemed to mind, so neither did we.

    Only my older brother, stuffed in behind me in the small white Steib, appeared a bit unhappy with the whole situation. Steve was still clutching me bodily to him, as a kid terrified of water might clutch an inflatable toy, and he appeared unwilling—or unable—to let go. Between the wind and his death-grip, I was finding breathing an interesting challenge. We hit a pothole and the entire rig bucked us into the air. My dad laughed. My dog squealed. My brother screamed.

    I’d never had so much fun.

    The morning had begun like any other Sunday morning in that small Midwestern town, my birthplace, with the final days of spring wrapping us in glorious blue skies. We five kids were shipped off to church and Sunday school while my parents stayed home and enjoyed their three meager hours of alone-time for the week. Once my grandparents had deposited us back at the house, we would change from prison clothes (church and Sunday school were endured, not enjoyed) into play clothes, scarf a quick lunch and head outside. Chores had been done Saturday. Sunday afternoon was all ours.

    Except this Sunday. This Sunday was Father’s Day.

    We—my mom, dad, two brothers, two sisters, me and Phoebe—gathered round the big wooden dining room table, resplendent with a lunch of cow’s tongue and horseradish sandwiches, bar-b-que potato chips, dill pickles and lemonade. At the center of the table sat a luscious Train Wreck Jell-o Cake, surrounded by painstakingly if not quite perfectly wrapped gifts…for The Daddy Celebration.

    What is a Train Wreck Jell-o Cake, you ask?

    Well, it’s a Duncan Hines white sheet cake that some little seven year old girl has lovingly prepared by meticulously baking it to perfection, and then, with the tenderness of Freddy Krueger, has plunged a large three-pronged serving fork into and mutilated the hell out of it. You had to stab it at least a hundred times for the proper irrigation…sometimes more. It’s very therapeutic.

    With a bit of help from some Big Person, you then make jell-o—preferably two or three different colors of jell-o which are diametrically opposed on the color wheel—and pour these, while steaming hot, all over the grisly remains of the cake. It makes this runny rainbow mess that resembles a playschool mishap…or a Loony Tunes train wreck. Cool-Whip and berries on top complete the masterpiece, then you slide the whole thing in the fridge for a couple hours and viola! What comes out is awful-looking ambrosia of the gods. And this is what sat at the middle of our table that sunny Sunday in June.

    Needless to say, we galloped through lunch in Kentucky Derby style. We, as in, we five young cake-worshippers and Phoebe, the ever-vigilant vacuum beneath the table. My parents ate their lunch like civilized adults, which is to say, slower than mold working its way across a loaf of bread. Painfully slow. It was the worse kind of torture for kids with train-wreck cake in their line of sight.

    My dad finished eating and was finally ready to open our Father’s Day gifts to him. My mom cut and served the dessert, and shanghaied us with an admonishment to eat like the well-behaved children we were taught to be…not hogs at a feed trough. This cruel ambush of our natural tendency to gorge ourselves with ugly but indescribably delicious fodder left my parents’ obedient progeny—we, the muzzled—consuming our tiny servings of cake with elaborate care. We pretended an interest in who got Daddy what (unless it was our gift, of course, and then there was no pretense) and bided our time. That unsuspecting cake was doomed.

    The gift unwrapping took longer than the mold-growing lunch by virtue of the fact that when kids have a problem with wrapping paper, they simply use more tape. A lot more tape. And bigger tape, too, like clear packing tape. That stuff is like steel bands. A chainsaw would’ve worked better than my dad’s bare hands, but eventually he Houdinied his presents out into the open.

    First: A truly ugly tie, hand-knitted by his eldest daughter (that would be me) with such excruciatingly tender care (I detested knitting), you could tell he would be doomed to wear that thing to work someday soon. He loved it. He immediately put the hideous knitted noose around his neck and tied it with a flare that would have been better suited to silk. Over the years, I have come to realize that a rainbow-hued road-kill snake would have been more attractive than that tie, but at seven, my tastes and my knitting talents were what they were, and Versace they weren’t.

    Second: 3 pairs of ugly socks, carefully chosen by my older brother. All three were strange shades of mud-green…guaranteed to go with anything, if you were in the military. My dad wasn’t in the military, but he loved them anyway. Yes, these grotesque socks would find their way under the suit he wore to work about the same time that ugly necktie found its way around his throat.

    Third: A hand-made ugly ashtray, fashioned of clay by my younger sister during what had either been an arts-n-crafts class for the artistically challenged, or an epileptic seizure. Need I tell you that my father loved it and promised to use it daily? (No, I didn’t think so.)

    And finally: A wallet. Not an ugly wallet either. A good-looking leather two-fold, from my youngest brother and sister, neither of whom were in grade school yet. Something smacked of a mother’s help with this gift. None of us older kids could be certain, but our suspicions were aroused. Luckily, my dad opened the wallet and there it was, in full glory: A photo of some ugly stranger in a hideous suit posing for The Cool Guy in the Wallet Picture. Ugly, ugly, ugly. We all felt better instantly. My dad loved it. He emptied out his own perfectly good wallet and put everything in the new wallet…and he kept the ugly photo in there for a long time, too, simply because it appeared to please my youngest brother and sister.

    Now don't get the wrong idea here--when we made or bought our various gifts, we thought they were the most beautiful things on the face of the planet. Offerings fit for any king. It's only with the hindsight of adulthood that I can remember those offerings and laugh about them objectively...for truly, they were aesthetically bereft. Particularly that tie. Which is another reason I loved my dad: He loved our gifts because he loved us. I'm almost certain he didn't see their "Neiman Marcus inadequacies", because he was looking at them through the eyes of love. Ugly is quite a gorgeous thing when viewed through those goggles.

    So overall, it had been a phenomenally ugly Father’s Day; we very civilly ate our train-wreck cake and thought things just couldn’t get any better. But the celebration wasn’t over yet.

    “There’s one more present for Daddy from all of us,” my mom said mysteriously. “It’s out in the driveway. C’mon, let’s all go outside.”

    Innocently, each of us kids looked at our parents as they stood and moved towards the door, then surreptitiously at the perfectly partitioned train-wreck, which our mother had sliced so neatly...and was now leaving unguarded. None of us knew anything about another present. We only knew there was cake left in the pan, and life was uncertain…we might never see this cake again.

    “C’mon, kids—outside.” The slight impatience in my mother’s voice pulled my two younger sisters and brother from their inertia, and they reluctantly followed the Big People across the living room. My brother Steve and I glanced at each other—it was the accomplice glance of bank robbers, jewel thieves and politicians the world over. Keeping an eye on the retreating backs, we each grabbed a hulking slice and started inhaling cake like orphans from the streets of Bombay.

    In case you’ve never had the joy of a jell-o cake, let me tell you, it’s a euphoric experience almost beyond words. Moist and springy from the jell-o solidifying within the cake itself—when you put it in your mouth, it sort of dissolves into tastebud-intoxicating, make-an-instant-addict-of-you mush. And we were up to our elbows in the mush. And the mush was oozing out the corners of our mouths. And the more we tried to stuff in, the more oozed out, and somewhere along the line, it looked as though there had been an actual train wreck there on the table…especially in the semi-empty pan, where claw marks could be seen on the remains.

    The rest of the family had disappeared through the front door, when suddenly my mom popped her head back in and gave us The Eye. The party was over. Slowly we rose from the table, stuffed to the gills but loathe to abandon the reddish-blue-green mess with Cool-Whip topping. It would probably melt…slowly… into soup, like a snowman beneath the sun or something. With bulging bellies, we shuffled dejectedly outside. Nothing could be more important than that cake, we thought. Nothing.

    We were wrong.

    There in the center of the gravel driveway stood my dad, grinning crookedly…next to a magnificent shiny black motorcycle sporting a white blimp-shaped sidecar. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. Steve was a gearhead from the day of his birth—his eyes grew large and his jell-o stained mouth dropped open. Boldly painted across the nose of the glistening sidecar, in flowing Gothic Script, were the words Father’s Folly, with a large number 5 beneath. Five…for us five kids. Even I understood the joke in that one.

    His Father’s Day gift from the whole family.

    Now the funny thing about my dad was this: If it had been his gift, there wouldn’t have been that cool little Steib S-350 sidecar attached. There would have only been a hulking Harley sitting there sparkling in the noon sun, awaiting his pleasure. But he obviously loved his kids more than his solitude, so his Father’s Day gift was our Father’s Day gift as well. And that’s how my brother and I, and Phoebe the Cockapoo Extraordinaire, found ourselves, with and without eye-protection, squished together in a speeding blimp sidecar, trundling down Vichy Road at a velocity that kept air from getting to our lungs.

    Vichy Road was steep and decidedly narrow, as the hill it paved was steep and the properties bordering the pavement angled and terraced to keep them from sliding downhill when the flood rains came. On either side of the uneven blacktop, deep drainage ditches proclaimed a No Man’s Land for the unwary, and trees hugged the ditches at various points, canopying the road in shade and occasionally stopping errant cars dead in their tracks.

    The descent from the top of the hill to the valley below resembled nothing more than a Disneyland rollercoaster ride, complete with the added thrill of a bona fide chance of dying. There were dips in the asphalt that dropped our stomachs down to our toes, and then propelled us upward with carnival-ride force. There were wicked turns, like I mentioned in the beginning, which launched that little rocket-car into wingless flight, and challenged my father’s motorcycle riding abilities—why, not at all. (At least that’s what we silently prayed.) And all the while there was the breath-stealing exhilaration of the speed, and the hair-raising noise, and the smell of exhaust fumes, and the sheer insane joy of riding without a roof next to my dad.

    However...as much fun as we were having—and believe me, we were having an absolute blast—somewhere in that fun zone, all that up-and-down, side-to-side, airborne to pavement motion, accompanied by pungent fumes, began to influence the contents of our child-size stomachs. If you’ll remember, our stomachs were filled with train-wreck cake, tongue sandwiches, horseradish, bar-b-que potato chips and dill pickles. Oh yes, and lemonade. Like sulfur and chloride dioxide, it was not a particularly compatible mixture.

    I’m not sure who felt it first, me or my brother—possibly even Phoebe, as she’d eaten the same things we had—but at some point one of us felt the molten lava roiling beneath the surface, in the bowels of the Earth, so to speak, and some sixth sense warned both of us of impending doom. A mighty eruption was close at hand.

    “I think I’m getting sick,” my brother eecked out.

    “I’m not feeling...too good either,” I mumbled through clenched teeth.

    Phoebe was still nose to the wind, but she was drooling goobers like a St. Bernard—an ominous sign for a dry-mouthed miniature breed.

    My dad had a slight grin on his face, expertly maneuvering the road’s final curve while shifting gears with his boot. With the wind ruffling his jet black hair, he looked like some sort of gypsy Clark Gable on a metallic stallion. Or Easy Rider—The Family Man version. Contentedly tooling the bike towards home, he appeared oblivious to the noise and the fumes, to the distant rumbling of disaster.

    We were fifty yards from the house.

    I knew I could make it. I knew if I just kept my teeth clamped, and didn’t breathe, and maybe looked up at the sky--that I could keep from throwing up.

    The house was right there—twenty-five yards.



    We’d made it!

    And that’s when all the gods of heaven and earth, especially the god of train-wreck jell-o cakes, conspired to make it The Ugliest Father’s Day Ever.

    Father’s Folly glided smoothly into the gravel drive. Trouble was, the gravel drive wasn’t smooth. A late spring shower had carved an enormous pothole right in the center, and the outside tire of that little blimp caught just enough pothole to bounce us up and down about four inches, which was about four inches too many.

    Without warning, the blimp exploded.

    A rainbow of chunky stuff arced from the very heart of it into the oncoming wind. Quite naturally, the wind threw it right back where it came from—my brother’s mouth. Only problem was, the Cockapoo Extraordinaire and I were in the way. Nothing like someone else’s vomit to entice your own out of the gurgling depths at 400 psi. What ensued was an explosive barf-fest of brightly colored, half-digested lunch, delivered by me, my brother and the dog, into the wind—which meant all over us, my dad, and the beautiful new motorcycle.

    Norman Rockwell meets Jackson Pollock in a no-detail-left-to-the-imagination portrait of Motorcycle, Motion-sickness and Mayhem.

    My dad stopped the bike, and slowly wiped a bright orange missile off his forehead.

    Now it’s a fact that when something as cataclysmic as that sibling vomitarama occurs, even the most hardy child will break down and cry, without conscious thought as to why they are crying. As my father calmly looked down at us, my brother and I simultaneously dissolved into tears—which sadly, did little to alleviate the regurgitative process. Knowing there was nothing he could do but wait it out, he turned off the engine and sat there a minute while the dual-headed volcano—with many a dry retch and watery hiccup—slowly returned to its dormant state. This allowed Steve and me to cry even harder, because now we could actually see the devastation we had wrought on Father’s Folly, and it was horrible.

    As my dad dismounted and walked around to the open side of our little pocket of puke, I can only imagine what he saw. His brand new Harley with its cute little blimpy attachment were covered in streamers of bar-b-que orange, jell-o cake red-green-and-blue, tongue-chunk tan, and florescent yellow-gold bile. And his khakis and white t-shirt were spattered with the same.

    We cried harder. We had ruined Father’s Day. We had ruined his motorcycle. We had ruined him. We were wicked, evil kids.

    But this was the beautiful thing about my father: he loved his kids more than any dumb old motorcycle. And that’s just what he told me and my brother as he knelt beside us, helped us pull off our gooey goggles, and gently wiped our faces with his woefully inadequate handkerchief. Besides, he said, it was his fault for not realizing we’d just eaten and maybe our stomachs didn’t want to do a bunch of hairpin turns just then. It was all his fault the kids he loved most in the world had gotten sick, and he was so sorry and hoped we would forgive him.

    Well...these magic words stopped the tears pronto. We weren’t wicked offspring after all. We weren’t in trouble for ruining everything. In fact, my dad didn’t seem to care about the vomit at all. He was more concerned about us.

    Phoebe was trying to lick my face, having quickly recovered from her own upheaval as dogs are wont to do, and to assure me that she still loved me even though I’d thrown up on her. The sidecar was a stinking mess, inside and out. I started to climb out, but my dad, oblivious to the hazardous waste adorning almost every inch of his daughter, scooped me and Phoebe up in his arms and gently set us down on the driveway. He did the same with Steve. And then the three of us just stood there for a while, covered in train-wreck-bar-b-que-tongue-pickle-gunk, looking at The Puke Mobile of Vichy Road.

    And my dad started to laugh.

    He laughed so hard (with an occasional snort just because it felt good), it made my brother and me—who had been on the verge of tears again—start to giggle. And the giggles turned into laughter...the kind of laughter that grabs you in the guts and just won't stop. We laughed until tears were rolling down our cheeks and all three of us were snorting. When my mom and the younger kids came outside to see what was up, they probably thought we'd gone crazy.

    As I recall, my father let us help him clean The Puke Mobile—but only after he’d taken the garden hose and, in a scene reminiscent of Pulp Fiction long before Pulp Fiction was even conceived, he’d sprayed Steve and me and the motorcycle to semi-cleanliness, and then handed me the hose and let me completely soak him, too. Phoebe ran in delirious circles as I sprayed her clean, snapping at the water stream. (Life is so simple for dogs: You eat. You puke. You forget about it almost instantly, and have a good time trying to bite the water.)

    It was a warm afternoon, warmer than usual for late spring. A good soaking, followed by a soapsuds and water fight while we removed florescent gunk from inside the sidecar and out, was all it took to transform the day back into one of our best memories.

    That was another thing I learned from my father. Laughter, true laughter from the heart, can change your perspective on any situation. It can heal any hurt. It can mend things…even things like a broken heart…if you just keep practicing. I loved that about my dad, the way he would crack up about things that other people took so darn seriously.

    We laughed about that day for years to come. It was christened The Ugliest Father’s Day Ever, and each time the story was told, there was a little more vomit, and the blimpy Steib sidecar flew a bit higher, and the road got just that much narrower, and the close calls were so much closer. Pretty soon there wasn’t anymore crying at the scene, either, just vomiting and laughing and getting soaked with the hose. Even after he couldn’t ride anymore, and Father’s Folly was eventually sold, we would tell that story about him, and so many wonderful ones just like it, and we would laugh our heads off.

    To all you dads out there, have a heart-felt Father’s Day. And if you’ve ever doubted just how important you are in the lives of your kids, be they young, old or in between…well, I suggest you put those doubts in a Puke Mobile and send it trundling off down the hill.

    You'll laugh about it later. Guaranteed.


  • @L-Aura

    Great one here L-Aura. You are one talented wordsmith. Indeed. 👍

    I cried. 😢

    I laughed. 😆

    My heart was warmed. ❤ 😂

    Alas, my father was more on the stoic side and I don't have stories like these. I'll be thinking of this fondly when we visit him at the old geezer's home for a bar-b-q tomorrow. Thanks bunches for sharing this. 🐕

  • That was such a great story, L! I was literally in tears laughing!

    Thanks for that...

  • @MisterE

    Glad you enjoyed it, Erik!

  • L-Aura! Thank you for sharing another of your wonderful stories. I think I have memories of seeing it long-before on ST. Heidi has mostly-fond memories of her fun, but often stern Germanic father & my father, who was kindly, worked so hard & long, he never had time to bond with me. Both have passed in the long-ago.

    You were blessed in your childhood.

  • Amen sister (and father)

    It takes a lot to laugh
    It takes a train to cry

  • @L-Aura , hey there say, L... wow, thanks for sharing that...


  • A definition I that I go with is;
    where the confluence of conflicting emotions meet
    is where the instigation of passion lies
    and once stired by humor or pathos, thruth ignites,
    embelishing the passion bringing it to life.
    @L-Aura, So poignant, THANX

    He Gave me this

    He gave me a crooked smile
    He gave me a Roman nose
    He gave me good teeth
    in that crooked smile

    He Gave Me all the rocks,
    Sky Lakes, parking-lot ponds & dirt
    instead of velvet benches, prayer books
    Filled with poetry & false hope

    He gave me frozen hillsides
    He gave me a love for blind speed

    He gave me the go-for-it attitude
    And the will to endeavor

    He gave me the inquisitive mind
    He gave me his addiction

    He gave me the understanding to need
    He gave me the vision to find balance

    He gave me the love of the solitary pursuit
    He gave me the ability to survive camaraderie
    He gave me a sense of humor that few understand

    He gave me this and so much more
    Thanx Alfred Maurice Taylor

    Your daughter & son, your family still
    I got this, I got it now
    And it is better than a basketball

  • If I had to chose between all of the many, many wonderful climbs and climbing days, or my two incredible daughters?

    The decision would take a microsecond.

    Luckily I've never had to make that decision.

    Being a dad is definitely all it's cracked up to be.

  • Happy Father's Day 2021! 🎊 🎉

    This is a great Father's Day remembrance. Deserves a replay... 👍 🐕

    Sorry, no train wreck jell-o cake. Steaks, bakers and lemon meringue pie are on the menu. 😉

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