Back in the day a lot of parents used their kids as personal servants.
We didn’t question it, it was just part of life.
When my father needed me, he’d yell my name and I’d come running.
Usually it was for my main duty, fetching him the “flipper” for the TV and bringing it to where he sat in his easy chair.
The “flipper” was my dad’s name for the remote control, which usually could be found atop the table a few feet from my dad.
If he wasn’t calling for the flipper, he was usually working on a project and needed my help.
There was nothing I dreaded more. Because his usual request, made with great urgency, was for me to bring him whatever tool he needed. Usually he needed it now.
My problem was that my father had no system for tool storage. And my dad had a lot of tools. They were scattered across several long shelves in the garage. And I had to find the 7/16 crescent wrench. If that wrench wasn’t back in my dad’s hands in 30 seconds, he’d start yelling. That was never pleasant.
I had other duties besides fetching flippers and tools.
I was expected to cut the grass — which meant collecting and bagging all the clippings, then edging along the drive and sidewalk — and shovel the snow. Luckily, we lived in the snow belt.
Twice a week I had to dust all the furniture, my mom’s knickknacks, the lamps, etc. When I finished that I had to dust the baseboards where the walls joined the floor.
The task I hated most was drying dishes. I was fortunate; I rarely had to wash them. My dad almost always took care of that. But whenever he decided it was time to wash dishes, I had to drop whatever I was doing, grab a towel and come running.
And my dad decided it was “time to do dishes” at the worst possible times.
Like at the climax of that day’s rerun of “Lost In Space” on WUAB Channel 43. It was the only good station I could tune in clearly with our rabbit-ears antenna, despite the loop-and-dial to pull in UHF stations.
Virtually seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, I dried dishes. I sometimes caught a break when we ate out or visited friends or relatives and they took care of the chore. Otherwise I heard the nightly cry: “Bob! Dishes!” Always it was at the best part of whatever awesome rerun I was watching at the time. My sister would groan in empathy for me as she sat their soaking up the last few exciting minutes.
Years later, I realized the time spent drying dishes was the time when I truly got to know my father, and where my deep love for him fully developed. We’d talk about anything — fishing (which we often did), UFOs, who killed JFK, movies, my dad’s life back in simpler times, wild and embarrassing stories from his youth, World War II, his brothers’ part in the war, how he himself regretted being declared 4F due to an injury, the Cleveland Indians past and present, the Browns, and anything at all that came to mind. I discovered fully my father’s great sense of humor, his sense of justice, his compassion for others and his immense pool of wisdom. All while wiping plates.
And I also realized something else:
What I’d give to hear the call, “Bob! Dishes!” during the best part of a show today.