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Carol Preisler: Father’s strength guided daughter

“Do you have a green chair? I’m seeing a green chair, a light green chair.” I told the psychic that I did not have a green chair, nor could I remember anyone who did.

That evening I decided to look through old photo albums. In the last picture I had taken of my dad, on Christmas Eve 1972, he was sitting in a light green chair. He had a sheepish smile on his face, as if he knew I was searching him out. He was holding my 2-year-old son. He died the following March.

He was a very quiet man, with a heavy Italian accent. At age 14 he arrived in America, basically alone. He taught himself to read and write. He read every one of my Compton’s Encyclopedias. He gave me nickels from his worn leather change purse whenever I asked. I only asked him if my mother had already said no.

We had a large three-car garage in our backyard, but no one owned a car. Two of the bays held tools, paint, stray cats and stacks of newspapers. One day I set an old mousetrap out there. Two days later Dad asked me if I had done this. When I said yes, he simply said, “Don’t ever do that again.” He never said more than he had to.

My father worked for the New York Central Railroad, starting as a water boy and learning cement masonry. During snow storms he would be called to work, clearing frozen train switches. For days I would watch out the window for the bus he might be on. I worried about him. We did not have a car, and he never used the phone, so I just had to wait. Eventually, days later he would come home and I was grateful.

On Sundays we would take the train to Dunkirk, where my mother’s family lived. The Central Terminal held fond memories. We loved the big buffalo, and the cold descent down the steep walkway to the tracks. We went to Washington, D.C., and then on to New York City one weekend. Dad found a very inexpensive hotel, with one bulb hanging in the center of the ceiling and a common bathroom. I slept with my sister and mother, while Dad had his own room. I thought it was a great adventure, but my mother wasn’t so happy. I loved the bracelet I bought, with the dangling NEW YORK CITY letters.

My friends at school could not believe I had been to the big city!

My reserved father gave himself a 65th birthday party. It was a great time dancing, and eating, in a banquet hall. He was such a private man that I could never quite figure out why he wanted that party. I am so glad he did.

Every once and a while, Dad would gather my mother up in his arms and dance with her in the kitchen. It always warmed my heart to see them laughing. My father surprised my mother with a wedding ring set on one of their late-life anniversaries. It replaced the simple white gold band she had worn for years.

Father’s are such powerful people. Happy Father’s Day to the men who hold our hearts in the palm of their hands.