Eighty years ago today, on a cold December morning in Somerville, New Jersey, the world changed. In a sense, my world was changed too. Well...let me back up and clarify this for some of you that may already be confused. I am well aware that I have only been around for the past forty-two years.
Clearly, I did not exist eighty years ago and I really do not intend to speak paradoxically, but my world as I live it out today was changed (or begun) on that frozen East Coast morning. It was also when the stories began.
Joseph Raymond Fletcher was born at home on the morning of December 22nd, 1930. His father, a quiet English gentleman was a lace-worker by trade. His mother was a full-blooded Italian woman and was just plain feisty by trade. With five children in the Fletcher home, my dad had two brothers (Tony and Tom) and two sisters (Katherine and Marie). The close quarters of that small home on East Cliff Street taught my dad from a young age the importance of family relationships and how to get along with crazy family members. Elbows were often bumped among siblings and parents, but it was in this environment that he entered this world and learned from a young age how to not sweat the small stuff.
Historically, my father was born in the midst of the Great Depression. During his life, my dad has lived through thirteen different presidents and six American wars. He likes to remind anyone who will listen that he was getting ready to turn eleven when America went to war (the Big One) and a freshman when it was drawing to a close. Key dates have been repeated every year since they occurred: Pearl Harbor Day, D-Day, V-E day, V-J day, Hiroshima, Nagasaki...in his life these were all days that would live in infamy. My dad was alive for the genesis of jet aircraft, rocketry and the race to the moon. He witnessed the life/death of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and all the vinyl records that recorded their music.
But these are not the stories I'm talking about. No, I'm thinking more about the stories from within my dad's own life. The stories that he has repeated year after year. The stories about picking beans in grammar school to help support his depression era family and stories about getting in trouble with his brother and sister as they threw crabapples (or was it plums? or cherries?) from the rumble seat of my grandfather's Model A. I'm thinking about the stories from the Great War, like the combat-wounded family friend who recovered from his war injuries while living in their NJ home. The stories about the endless list of relatives that moved in and out of his childhood home. His retelling of growing up in Somerville NJ, playing basketball at the local Baptist church, pumping gas at the service station, stocking shelves for the local grocer, and cooling off in the local creek (crick) during a summertime swim. Those stories. The ones the get repeated often and sometimes even change.
These tales have been growing and developing for the past eighty years. Great stories about life as a US Merchant Marine and how at eighteen years old he left home to live in the belly of a ship shoveling coal for eight hours at a time. The detailed stories about sailing on the SS Frontenac and SS Champlain while these monster steam vessels hauled iron ore around the Great Lakes. In my minds eye, these stories came to life more than once as he described what it was like to sail on Lake Gatun during his first trip through the Panama Canal or what it was like when he visited Dry Tortuga. These stories, filled with adventure and excitement are the stories that have been written for eighty years.
I'm also thinking about the list of humorous characters my dad has described to all of us. His humorous renditions of Wagonwheel Jones, Archibaldassholder and Ralphie the bus-driving gorilla have each caused many tears of laughter when enjoyed around the table with good friends and an open bottle of wine. Then there are also the stories of real life characters my dad has encountered that were based on actual experiences. There were bank robberies, home invasions from self-proclaimed inter-planetary visitors, meatball eating dogs, and shotgun toting neighbors on Christmas morning complete with corduroy slippers and terrycloth robes.
Does this post seem over the top? Spend a day with my dad, this is typical fare. Yes, there are many times that I feel like the son in the movie, Big Fish, but my dad's stories have wedged a place in my mind that I have just come to appreciate as a vital part of his persona and his character. They really do knit together and create the mosaic of his life and help to tell a pretty damn good story at that. As he celebrates eighty years of living, I'm proud to say he's never stopped living. He is still a character and remains witty, articulate, and animated. My dad is known as a friend to children, the man with a never ending supply of red-hots in his pockets, the forever scoutmaster, the consummate salesman, the director of signage (I'm surprised my mom doesn't wear a plaque on her neck that says "Wife"), the community representative for Orchard Supply Hardware (also born in 1930) and the owner of gadgetry. My dad is the keeper of traditions, the teller of tales, and a constant for many people trying to make sense of the craziness we find daily in this world.
Here at theMangoTimes we attempt to honor accomplishments (that's because we take great pride in just trying to get by), so today we honor 80 years in the life of a man who did more than just get by!
Happy Birthday Dad! Thank you for the memories! You have stepped into 80 well!
Quietly making noise,