Father's Day is on its way and I'll no longer send a gift.
Dad died May 13 at age 105. A lung infection set in. Until then he hadn't needed hospital care since the day some 80 years ago when a cut hand got bothersome.
Over the past 10 years I took down his memories. He remained clear minded to the end
As a child he sold milk by the quart out of a horse-drawn, glass-front wagon with slits in it for reins and a tin coal stove. "Uncle Howard Berger drove the wagon." His grandfather Monroe Berger's cows supplied the milk but he was forced from dairying when pasteurization arrived. "Couldn't afford the equipment," said Dad. At 6 to 9 cents a quart, I guess not.
Horses took fright at cars, but "they soon got over it."
Dad told me of a Weissport, Pa., garage that sold Essex cars with shutters covering the radiator. Controlled by a knob on the dash, the shutters aided cooling and heating.
Ford now advertises radiator shutters for a Focus model. I told Dad of the Focus. Although a Ford man all his life, he wasn't impressed.
His memories were vivid. A red night sky when the Parryville foundry a mile or two away poured iron. Mournful moan of boatmen's horns on the Lehigh Valley canal in Weissport as boats approached the lock.
Dad worked through the Depression. "We always had enough to eat, didn't we," he asked from his bed during his final days. "We had what we needed?"
"Yes," Jean and I answered. We had warm clothes and toys, but our family wasn't exceptional in wealth. Not on a carpenter's pay.
As the oldest of seven children, he began that work for his father and seldom got paid before he was 21 and not always after that. "Dad sometimes didn't have the money." He told of building bungalows at Lake Harmony and traveling to a sand pit "on the old road from 115 to White Haven. It didn't come out then in Blakeslee." (It didn't; Gene Kerrick of Blakeslee found it.) And of visiting a nearby family of Hannas, the father married to a sister of Dad's father-in-law, William Franklin Sax.
Grandfather Sax's portrait as a young man hangs in our house. He was superior in mastery of horses but could not manage his 1928 Studebaker. "It had mechanical brakes, and you had to stand on them to stop the car," Dad said.
Theodore Harlan Berger worked during the World War II days for Vultee Aircraft, Allentown. The plant built a new carrier-based plane, the Sea Wolf, that wasn't ready for combat before the war ended. Mildred Becker, wife of one of Dad's fellow workers at Vultee, often chided both men for the warplane's no-show. My mother usually seconded her.
Mildred and Sam from Fleetwood, Pa., were the parents of "MIG Wrecker" Becker of the Korean War, the first U.S. fighter plane ace of that conflict. Google "MIG Wrecker Becker" to see the story.
My mother died 10 years ago, and Dad lived with my sister, Jean Schiavone, of Melrose, Mass., for about five years. He did well there, though he complained of being cold. But then he grumbled about that when he visited Shirley and me, too. His hands were always warm.
A sister, Anna Mae Markley, of North Weissport, Pa., survives him. She is 10 years younger, and says, "He was a good brother to me." Even so she spoke mysteriously of boxing gloves and minor scuffles.
She remains at 95 a quilter known for her fine work.
Dad turned to crafts even before he retired from Bethlehem Woodcraft where he built patterns and jigs and fixtures. Retirement age was 65. He centered on lathe-turned, finely finished walnut and cherry candlestick holders and grand inlaid and pierced bowls reminiscent of Southwest pottery. He also built fine mantel clocks, many with traditional German wind-up works.
He was a juried member of the Pennsylvania state crafts guild and a member of the Lehigh Valley chapter. He and Mom exhibited at the first Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival in State College, and for years after.
His workmanship graces tables and sideboards primarily throughout the Lehigh Valley, the Poconos and central Pennsylvania.
One evening after bungalow building at Lake Harmony, he and co-workers gigged for fish by the light of a Flint auto headlight. They detached it from the fender and put it in the boat with the car battery.
"We didn't catch many fish," Dad said. "None, now that I think of it."
Dates? "Oh the late 1920s, early '30s."
The sand from that pit? "It was no good. Our concrete arch fell as soon as the forms were removed."
They rebuilt it with proper materials.
Harlan Berger at email@example.com is a columnist for The Express.