At Long Last

would not be around when Dad showed up.
at long last
During breakfast the next morning, Sissy began to bark as someone walked through the front door “The bad penny has returned,” Dad said as he entered the kitchen.
“Dad!” I exclaimed as I bolted from the table and into his arms. I could smell the cologne he had on. It was the same smell I remem- bered as a little child.
“Hi, Joey,” he said with a big smile on his face.
“Hi, Dad. I love you. Hey! Toots is here; she is at Dorothy’s.” “Okay, well Frank is going to lend me his jeep, so finish break-
fast and we can go.”
“Okay,” I said. I finished my breakfast in no time flat. My grand-
parents seemed as excited as I was by the look on their faces. They knew how much I missed my dad. In fact, I was certain I drove them nuts inquiring about his whereabouts on a regular basis.
Frank showed up a short time later. He motioned for Dad to come into the living room where he was standing. There he gave Dad some instructions about the jeep, and then we were off. Dad drove all over Dubuque on this beautiful August day. The first place we went was Eagle Point Park. It was so pretty. The park overlooked the Mississippi River. After an hour of taking in the sights, he drove downtown to my favorite spot—the elevator on
35

WHEN THE DUST SETTLED
Fourth Street. Dad had taken me here once before. This time was more special. I hoped this day would never end.
Near the end of our trip, Dad asked, “So what do you want to do now?”
“I don’t know, Dad; I just want to spend time with you!” I replied. Dad seemed a little rusty at the wheel; I could tell he was nervous about driving. In fact, when we were turning right at a red light, Dad did not yield. A huge semi almost creamed us.
“Look out!”
“Oops,” was his only response.
“Joey, do you want to go somewhere for dinner?”
“Yeah, I’m starving like Marvin.”
“Okay. We will just go to Don’s Tavern for dinner. They have
good burgers.”
“Isn’t that the bar Grandpa goes to with all of the weird animals
mounted on the walls?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry, kid, Grandpa won’t be there. This is our
time. Don’s is one of my favorite places in all of Dubuque.”
Up until this point, Dad had not even once asked about Toots,
Marty, or Greg. I was confused by that behavior. After all of the time apart from his kids, I expected him to ask me a lot of questions. Maybe I was wrong about this, but since Dad never developed a bond with the youngest children, he had the mindset of “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Once we arrived at Don’s on the south end of Dubuque, Dad wasted no time as he made his way up to the bar. He ordered a beer. I sat down next to him, eagerly waiting for him to order us lunch.
After Dad drank his third beer, I asked him.
“Can I get something to eat, Dad?”
“What do you want?”
“I’ll take a cheeseburger and fries, please.” Dad summoned the
bartender and placed the order, but he forgot to order for himself. “Dad, you forgot to order something for yourself— aren’t
you hungry?”
“No, I am going to play the jukebox instead.” Don’s had a
jukebox that had seen better days. Dad was a huge Elvis Presley
36

baD PEnny
fan. Once he found some Elvis songs on the jukebox, all the patrons were in for a treat.
Content with his musical selections, he walked back to the bar just as my food arrived. Dad really liked beer. I began to eat my food when I sneaked a look at Dad.
“Do you want some of the food, Dad? I can’t eat all of this.” Dad was snapping his fingers in time with the music, oblivious to me. I tapped him on his shoulder to get his attention. He looked at me with the same look Mom had whenever she got drunk.
“Joey, I told you before I am not hungry. Let’s move over to a booth so I can be closer to the jukebox.” I followed Dad over to the only table near the jukebox.
Dad was spending more time at the jukebox than visiting with me. Some of those songs he selected revive memories from when we were all together as a family. Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, and others were played repeatedly back in those days. That music was a big part of who Dad was. We did not have much materially, but we were together. I realized even though our family was torn apart, he still had this music he enjoyed so much. It seemed to ease his pain.
I became concerned about Dad’s behavior. He had become very loud and rude toward me.
“Dad, can we go home?”
“We will leave when the bar closes, son.” He reached into his wallet and retrieved a one-dollar bill.
“Go to the bar and buy a soda. I am going to play some more music.” Instead of buying a soda, I asked the bartender for change to make a phone call. I found a pay phone and called Grandpa.
“We are at Don’s. Dad is drunk. Can you come pick me up?” “I will be right there. Don’t let your dad drive!”
“I won’t.”
I had grown accustomed to being around Mom and Tyrone when they were drunk. It was different with Dad, but I knew I must get him home before something worse happened Within ten min- utes, Grandpa walked into the bar. He made a beeline to our table. Dad was too busy drinking to notice the visitor. I studied Grandpa’s face as he walked toward us. He looked very mad. I have never seen Grandpa mad about anything. He usually had a smile on his
37

“Joey, go outside and get in my truck”
WHEN THE DUST SETTLED
face. He was not as talkative as Grandma, but I loved spending time with him. Dad staggered once again to the jukebox.
Grandpa stood between him and the jukebox and said, “Is this what you planned to do with your son who you have not seen in a very long time? Give me the car keys!” he snapped. Dad turned away from him and came back to the table. There were two full beers sitting at the table. He proceeded to slam one and then the second.
“Okay, Joey, let’s go! It’s time to take you back to Grandma’s” I was getting really scared.
“Is Dad going to drive in this condition?”
“Terry, you are not driving anywhere! Give me the car keys!” I watched as Dad reluctantly handed over the keys.
“Okay. Bye, Dad,” I yelled as I rushed outside. I looked back at Dad as I ran out through the door. He was slumped over the jukebox. Grandpa was telling him something, but I couldn’t hear it over the music.
Once I found the truck, I climbed in the passenger’s side. It was a gold Ford F100. Grandpa was a steeplejack by trade. He painted church bell towers, water towers, and practically anything that no one else wanted to paint. It was a very dangerous job, working hun- dreds of feet in the air. It sounded really scary to me, but he seemed to love it. In the back of his truck were all the tools of the trade: ladders, paint, paint rollers, and so on. I loved this truck because of whose it was. When I climbed into the passenger seat, there was a strong order of cigar smoke. It was weird, but I liked it. Grandpa finally walked out of the bar. He appeared to be crying. I had never seen this side of him before. As Grandpa got behind the wheel, I watched for Dad to show up as well. Grandpa started the truck and began to pull out of the parking lot.
“Is Dad coming?”
“No, honey, he’s not. I need to get you home.”
Once home, I took a bath and went to bed. I tossed and turned for hours worried about what Dad was doing. Was he still at the bar or in jail? I finally decided to go downstairs where Grandpa was watching TV with Grandma.
38

baD PEnny
“Is Dad going to be okay? Is he coming here tonight?”
“No, honey, hopefully he will go to the Mission. I need to get in touch with Frank. His jeep is still at the bar,” Grandpa said. “Why won’t you let him stay here?” I asked.
“We are too old to be dealing with Terry’s drunken antics, honey,” Grandma said.
“Don’t you love my dad? What if something bad happens to him out there?” I asked through the tears.
“Honey, he will be fine. I am sure he will be around once he sobers up,” Grandpa said.
“I am going to bed.” I laid in my bed crying my eyes out. Before long, Grandma came up to check on me.
“I am sorry, Joey. Tomorrow will be better; get some sleep.

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