I'll continue telling you about my "Un-birthday" birthday. Dad arrived home, holding on to his green and black paisley tie. The wind had blown it first over a shoulder and finally on to his face. He still managed a smile. "Who's winning?"
"Gordy just beat Paul," announced Jimmy Kell.
"He did not," yelled Paul.
"Did too," I yelled back. Dad chuckled, made it up the stairs, opened the door, stepped in, and disappeared.
"Your old man didn't say happy birthday, did he?" teased Glen Peterson. "I think you're all screwed up. You either have the wrong month or wrong day."
"Why not the wrong year?" I countered. "You're a dumb ass, Glen. Who'd forget his own birthday?"
"You," taunted Glen and Paul. They latched their little fingers together, meaning they zinged me.
I was so angry I felt tears coming. "The heck with you guys. I'm going inside."
Paul sang, "Every party needs a pooper. That's why we invited you, party pooper, party pooper."
Glen joined in but sang "farty pooper," instead. He must've thought he was both clever and funny. Of course, Diary, I didn't agree. So, I stabbed my perch finger in the air, stuck out my tongue, and imparted (Thank you, Readers Digest Word Power page) the sloppiest raspberry of my life. No matter, the brothers continued singing.
In the house, I spied Dad, talking to Mother in the kitchen. "Here he comes," Mother warned Dad.
Dad jerked. "Uh, your mother and I were just talking about you," he said. "How'd you like to accompany me on my house calls this afternoon?"
I thought of two excellent reasons for declining. First, Dad asks me to play his bedridden patients' pianos. Unfortunately, their homes had pianos, mostly uprights. Dad then proudly introduces me as, "This is my number three son, Gordon. Everyone calls him Gordy. He plays the piano on WFHR's Seckatary Hawkins Club."
"Oh, I listen to that program every week," his patient usually says. What else can they do?
"Do you know the club's motto?" Dad then asks. Although he asks that same question each time I play her piano, his patient gladly answers with a resounding, "No, I don't think I do, Doctor Hoffman."
"Well, Dad continues, "the club's motto is, 'A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits.' That's my son. He practices the piano at home every day."
Of course, Dad doesn't tell them I must practice every day—or else. Playing their pianos was easy even if most hadn't been tuned in years. Then, what was the problem? It was their homes' stench. Although I'd gag and almost puke, Dad didn't seem to care.
Second: Each time I went on house calls, Dad stopped at taverns and stayed inside until long after supper. However, as I wrote in you, Diary, Dad recently stopped drinking. So, I said, "I don't know."
"You should go with your father," advised Mother, her proposals as near to commands as A is to B in the alphabet.
"Okay," I finally said although I was still feeling a bit uneasy because they'd forgotten my birthday.
Then Dad said, "First, I need a drink." Mother stiffened as straight as the Green Bay and Western railroad tracks crossing Fourth Street. "Of water," he added with a grin.
A few minutes later, sitting in the Oldsmobile's front passenger seat, I turned the radio to WSPT in Stevens Point. Dad turned down the volume. "So, you won the game, eh? Too bad James broke two blades." Quickly, he changed the subject. "So, we'll go out to visit the country patients first, okay? I only have two house calls in town. "By the way, happy birthday."
I felt myself light up like a Fourth of July fireworks finale. "Thanks, Dad."
"Why thank me?"
"Because I thought you forgot."
"Never, son. I'd never forget your birthday."
I couldn't stop grinning. I wasn't nuts after all. Today was my birthday. "Thing is," Dad continued, I asked your mother to tell your brothers and sister not to say anything, either. This is your first birthday I can celebrate with you as a sober father." Dad slowed the car, pulled it over, and put on the brakes. He leaned over and pushed the button on the glove box. "See that little box in there?"
"That tiny one?"
"Yes, it's your present."
I grabbed the box and opened it. Inside was the neatest jackknife in the world. As I looked at the treasure, I heard Dad say, "It’s a Barlow knife. That means it has a single blade. It's made of German Solingen steel, the best steel in the world. Its handles are genuine deer stag."
I opened the blade. It shone like a new silver dollar. I turned it over. On the knife's back, opposite the blade, was inscribed, "Gordon B. Hoffman."
"Wow, how'd my name get there?"
"I had it etched at Schmidt's jewelry store."
"Boy, Dad, this is the best birthday present ever."
Dad was grinning as much as I was. "And I talked to James. He promised he wouldn't touch this knife."
I'll tell you this, Diary. I didn't mind playing his patients' pianos that day. Except I darned near puked one time.
When we arrived home, Mother had retrieved my birthday cake from her and Dad's closet. Everybody sang happy birthday at supper time. I blew out all the candles with one blow. I could hardly wait to show my friends my special birthday present, proving I wasn't nuts, after all.