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BIG-HEARTED FATHER SET FINE EXAMPLE FOR ALL

Mother was mad at Dad, and we didn't know why. She said he should have more regard for his family and think about what other people would say. We didn't understand this at all. We adored Dad and we knew that everyone else in our small town loved him dearly.

Dad was a traveling salesman. An electrical engineer, he sold parts for electrical equipment. His territory covered most of the Northeast. He was seldom home.

Mother disciplined us and kept my brothers and me in line. The most discipline we ever got from Dad was a mild, "Cut it out." When we, smart alecs that we were, said we had no scissors to cut it out, Dad would say sternly, "You know what I mean." But his eyes twinkled.

When Dad was home for the weekend, early one Saturday morning, he went downtown for a haircut, and that was what upset Mother. She stormed through the house, banging pots and pans and muttering to herself. My brothers and I disappeared.

On Saturday evening, Dad took Mother to a movie or they would go dancing at the Knights of Columbus. Mother smiled for the rest of the week, and even overlooked our mischief.

One rainy November evening, our hearts were broken when a sudden heart attack took Dad away. His wake was one of the largest our town had ever seen. People came from far and wide to express their sorrow and sympathy.

I'll never forget that night. The Knights of Columbus formed an honor guard around the casket. Monsignor Hopkins said the rosary. The rooms were packed with family and friends sharing stories and memories of Dad. One man told us how Dad took him, a penniless college student far from home, to dinner whenever my father came to that town. Another man had traveled all the way from West Virginia to tell us how Dad had saved his business from ruin by replacing the parts to his broken equipment without cost to him.

The place fell silent for a moment and we looked up. A man stood in the doorway. A path seemed to open in front of him as he came in and walked toward the casket, where he stood for several moments as the crowd resumed its chatter.

At last the man turned and saw Mother and me sitting at the side of the room. He came over to us. His coat was shabby, his trousers wrinkled, his collar frayed, a gray stubble on his chin, and his bloodshot eyes were filled with tears.

He said to Mother, "Mrs. Powers, I know I don't belong here with all these good people, but, forgive me, I just had to come. Your husband was the only person in this town who ever treated me like a man."

Then he turned around and walked out.

"Who was that?" I asked.

Mother told me the man's name and then said, very softly, that it made her very angry that every time Dad went for a haircut on Saturday morning, he would pick this man up out of the gutter or doorway, wherever he had spent the night. They would go to the barbershop together and, after a shave and a haircut, Dad took him over to the Mansion House, where everyone in town could see him laughing and talking, and eating breakfast with the town drunk.

MARY ELIZABETH HAJDUK lives in Tonawanda.