My dad. My dad exuded atmosphere. He came up the hard way in Chicago...went to the College of Hard Knocks you might say...and he didn't take "nothin' from no one." For a tough guy, he sure cried a lot though. He cried when he heard something on the news about a kid being lost, or hurt...or worse. He would be yelling at the television calling the President a sonofabitch one moment; he would be weeping the next. There was a "bastard" who swerved his car to hit his dog Moochie on purpose. He chased the car for blocks. He was going to kill the bastard if he caught him. He was 10, but he was going to kill that bastard if he caught him. Finally, exhausted, he tripped and fell. The bastard got away. Moochie was dead. Dad liked to drink a lot. When he did, he would tell that story. I'd cry over Moochie. Part of me wished Dad would have caught up to that bastard; most of me was glad he didn't.
My dad was a born musician, if it's possible to be born something, and there wasn't an instrument he couldn't play. It didn't matter if it had keys or strings or valves, or if it swung cool or blew hot. He could make that instrument do what it was put on earth to do; he could figure the thing out in his head long before he held it in his hands. He could play music long before he could read music. Like the Sorting Hat might have said, "It was all there - in his head."
He had a band. He was the bandleader and the trumpet player and the band played wherever they could. Back in those early days they played in some pretty seedy bars - for dimes and quarters. He didn't care as long as he was playing music. Besides, seedy bars wouldn't have bothered him. Like I said, he was a pretty tough guy. After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, he joined the Army. It doesn't always happen this way, but the Army actually used his talent wisely. He was put in charge of a band that played for the guys stationed in various parts of the world. The conditions were still pretty rough, he'd want you to know. It wasn't a piece of cake and the bombs didn't know not to land on the musicians. The bombs didn't care where they landed.
They played at some USO spots too. The band had a gig in Spokane, Washington - late 1943 or early 1944. Lucky for him, on this particular night it wasn't a seedy bar like he was used to. If it had been, she would never have walked in the door. But she did. She was wearing a dress that came up just above her knees. He was sure happy that girls were saving on cloth and wearing their skirts above their knees. It was all for the war effort, you see. She was wearing a skirt just above her knees, and her hair was pulled up on the sides, and it hung down in the back. It bounced when she walked. She wasn't very big. He figured she couldn't be much taller than 5 feet, and she was petite in figure as well. She came in with her sister, who was much taller. He watched her. He watched as they talked and smiled and were having fun. He could tell she had a small space between her two front teeth and dimples. He knew. Right then. Just like that.
He was handsome - movie star handsome - and he was a little dangerous. She hadn't grown up around dangerous men. She had dated boys, mostly from the farms around her parents' farm. They were all good Catholic boys. She went to a good Catholic girls school. She didn't know any dangerous men. Certainly not dangerous trumpet players. She could tell right from where she stood how blue his eyes were. He was wearing his uniform. She was watching him too. He handed his trumpet to one of the guys in the band, never taking his eyes off her, and stepped down from the stage and walked over to her through the couples dancing to the music.
It happened just like that. Decades later, he told my brother why he never played "Stormy Weather." When my brother told me, I laughed until I thought I'd cry. He had a million stories, my Dad did. Many of them were funny...in a tough guy sort of way.