It has been a week since we laid my dad, Frank J Chirico to rest; food people brought is almost gone, birdfeeder that attracted birds he watched on the deck is empty, and the only thing you can hear in the house is the sump pump running. It really is the first time I’ve been able to sit and think since arriving over a month ago. During the service the Funeral Director asked if anyone who wanted to say a few words or share a story about Dad. I really wanted to, but couldn’t find the words until now.
I don’t want to give the illusion that he was perfect; like the rest of us he had many flaws. He was the king of procrastination and too often said things like, “later,” “tomorrow,” or “not right now.” He may have been a king, but I’m definitely a prince in this area. Something I still struggle with, and still learning. But he worked hard, and because of this, he just didn’t have the energy for the things that could be done later. I’m sure things seemed overwhelming at times; pressing issues needed priority then forgotten about. Eventually many of those things couldn’t be put off any longer. But he took pride in the things he did accomplish. If he was anything like me, the fear of failure most of the time wins in the end.
Remember good times
Dad saved everything. In trying to clean out the garage two years ago he told me not to throw anything out without asking him first. I wanted many things to find its way inside a trash can, but respecting him I asked first. Like the Boy Scout Motto says: “Be Prepared,” he thought things would be needed later.
Most items he kept were attached to those he loved and reminded him of happy moments, those he worked with, and when us kids were little. Crawling around the attic I stumbled upon my Dad’s putt return from Sears, still in the original box. I picked it up and instantly remembered how Jenni and I tried to get golf balls in from one end of the house to the other — succeeding many times. Our red wagon he pulled us in, my first motorcycle his father gave me when I was a year old, not to mention my Uncle Don’s Johnson boat motor from when he loved to water ski. It didn’t run, but only the memories it brought to mind.
One particular lesson
I’ll never forget I was eight years old in the fall of 1981 and I had been doing chores around the house like raking leaves, cleaning my room, and those things a boy can do. As far back as I can remember we learned by example. Dad not only cleaned our sidewalks after snowfalls, but our neighbors as well — especially the elderly ones. During lunch time at school I couldn’t believe that some of my friends had money, saying they got paid for the work they did for their parents. So one night before bed I walked up to his room to get in on this thing called “allowance”.
After laughing really hard for about five minutes the laughter didn’t last long, and he got mad realizing I was wasn’t joking. But I’ll never forget what Dad said. “I’m not going to pay you for something I can do myself. Not only that, but we all need to do our part in this family. We are a team, brudder (sic) — and this is your part.”
I’m sure he thought a while how to encourage me and teach me a valuable lesson without further discouraging me after sending me to my room without really understanding why. But I remember him sitting on my bed and said something profound. He asked me how much my friends were getting. I told him. His eyes widened at first and then said, “What if I told you you could make 10 times that much on your own?” So we discussed how as young as I am could do something I enjoy and get paid for it. Through trying several things for weeks we decided on lawn mowing.
I took all my money I received for my birthday and bought some equipment with it all on my own. I bought my first lawnmower for $25 at a “Friends & Family Sale” at Jefferson Ward where my aunt worked, along with an electric weed-whacker, extension cord and gas can. The following spring Dad taught me everything I needed to know about mowing lawns, trimming bushes and so on, making attention to detail a top priority. I mowed both my grandparents lawns as well. The more responsibilities I had, the more I liked it. The neighbor next door asked me to mow his 3/4 acre property. Before I knew it there were people pulling their cars over asking for my business. By age 11 I was making roughly $500 a week.
For a while I had saved every penny I earned and stashed it away under my bed. One night I gathered it all up and dumped it all over Dad as he laid down for bed. He was beyond right, way more than he could ever give me. What he gave me in good advice was priceless. I enjoyed it and many times we did it together, always helping me when I needed it. I had the tiny business until I was 19 before going to college out of state.
Are these lessons lost?
Today, kids don’t have that drive and motivation to do anything except play video games and get to the next level. Dad used to work on cars, replace engines, and race. What will become of this and the next generation; will they survive? Part of the problem is that many of our laws are killing this country and against incentivizing youth to work, explore, make money, learn about finances, and be productive. I couldn’t have imagined someone calling the police on me for using a lawnmower or selling lemonade for $.50 a cup.
I understand that the world in which we lived in as kids has changed dramatically. Fentanyl and angel dust put in Halloween candy, sex trafficking, and a myriad of other adult dangers they need to beware of. It’s not the same world that I grew up in and sadly probably will never experience again.
But those things that dad saved brought to mind memories of better days, happier times, when life was simple as a 10 year old can understand. Pop Warner Football, Little League, and Cub Scouts were places us boys first understood respect, teamwork, ingenuity, winning, and not getting trophies for participating. We had to try out for positions, and many were not selected, only to provoke them to work harder next year. Yes, girls played in Little League and even Pop Warner, but kids knew there was a physical difference.
Fathers and mothers — tell stories to your children and grandchildren of these happier times. Not only teach them skills and trades; but preserve history, culture, and where they came from. Since my grandfather died so young, he never had the opportunity to pass along skills: how to make dandelion wine, speak Italian, or fix furniture like his brother, Ralph. Hope for the future does so much to warm the soul and motivate youth to strive forward. Understanding our past can help us to live in the present and be better equipped for our future. Precious lessons from those we love who can never be replaced.