Fall … shopping for notebooks, pencils, fountain pens (6th grade gave us ink!), binders, a lunch box (I always favored the sci-fi TV show versions) and coffee. Yes… coffee…! I know, not the usual on the list for a young girl heading out to start school in the fall, but let me explain.
My father, Duke, was my idol. He was handsome, strong physically and mentally, and the best father a girl could wish for. Family was everything to him. Whether it was his daughter, his wife or his extended family of brothers and in-laws, Duke was always there for everyone. When his brothers left this earth before him, he sat by their side, bathed them, helped out the families and never wavered from his support. He adored his mother (she was a strong willed woman, but that could be a story for another time!!!) and his father was someone he always felt he needed to prove his worth to. Duke was a father most people dream about. Oh yes, he had his faults, he was human, but he always tried to do what was right, and succeeded... most of the time.
Duke went to the University of Miami. He was a sportsman and played football and basketball for them. It always amazed me he did so well in sports since he was only 5’7, but he made up for any lack of height with expertise. He never finished college, but instead signed up for the Navy. He was a doctors assistant on a Naval ship, but never got deployed. After the war, Duke worked for Bell Telephone Company in Brooklyn, hanging lines for the company. His father, POP, who had a seat on the Stock Exchange until he was well into his 80’s, told him to “buy as much stock as they will let you” when he started the job. He followed his dad's advice and that gave my parents some financial freedom later in life. Duke believed in the plight of the working man in NYC. He was vocal and loud, but always got noticed being so handsome and well spoken. He was a leader and eventually became Vice President of his union. I remember the day he received his “Diners Club” card. He came home beaming from ear to ear. We went out to “The Riviera Chateau” for dinner that night to celebrate! It was the fanciest restaurant on Staten Island! Duke in his green skinny suit, Florsheim Imperials and short hair, looked like something right out of the “Mad Men” TV show. I got to enjoy my first ever “Chicken Kiev” that night and felt like I was the most important girl in the room. You could see how proud Duke was to be able to take his family to something so “fancy”.
Duke worked hard but always made sure his family had everything. Each morning he would wake up to his clock radio at 6am. He would hop in the shower and I knew it was time to wake up when I smelled the British Sterling after shave that Duke loved. I would slip on my pink quilted robe and matching slippers and paddle my way out to the kitchen and wait for him. Mom would still be in bed, this was a time for just father and daughter. Duke would grab the can of Savarin coffee and he would let me use the can opener to pop it open. I remember that rush of air as the vacuum seal was released. The smell of those rich dark brown grounds was like heaven to me. Duke taught me how to fill the Blue Cornflower percolator with grounds and water and set it on the gas flame. He knew just how much to let it perk. Then he would set up his white coffee cup and saucer, pour himself a cup of joe, get me a Flintstones glass of orange juice, light up a Pall Mall cigarette and sit at the table together. This was our time. Just me and dad. Together. We would talk about how well we slept, what I had planned that day and he would always end with how much he loved me. There I was, sitting at the table with my idol, my dad, and he was all mine at that moment. I didn’t have to share him with anyone else. Duke never seemed stressed or unhappy. Later as an adult, I realized that he went through some tough times. The phone company went on a long strike and he went to work at the Drakes Snack factory in Brooklyn to earn money. I never knew. All I knew was that he arrived home many nights with a box full of yummy Ring Dings, Yodels and Funny Bones! Duke did whatever it took to give his family everything.
We lost Duke in 2000 to colon cancer. He never gave in to it. He was determined to not allow the cancer to stop him. He would play golf and tennis several times a week no matter what. I was spending time with him in the hospital one day, when he grabbed me and told me he was proud of me and all I achieved in life. Then he slid into a deep sleep he never woke from.
I miss my dad. He was “The Perfect American Father” in my eyes. So as I grind my Arabica beans in my automatic expresso maker, the smell of those grinding beans is rich and deep. Somehow, though, it can’t compare to The Savarin Coffee and the rush of vacuum packed air that filled my nostrils each morning in our little kitchen on Beach Road standing besides the first man I ever loved.
Hugs & Love