When your Dad is dead and gone, there isn’t much you can do on Father’s Day. Cards seem foolish and a phone call would either be pointless or very strange indeed, such that one would rather hope for the former. Even the customary annual bet on a soccer tournament would bring little pleasure and even less if, for the first time ever, it actually paid out. There is really not all that much you can do.
So here’s some random things about Eddie Snr. Things that may not be written down anywhere else. A small act of remembrance for a guy who was a very good man and, in terms of the day that’s in it, a very good Dad too.
Dad was the ‘Rent Man’ for the local authority for our part of town. When he had some heart trouble, around the time I was seventeen, I spent a long hot Summer doing the Rent Man job myself. That was how I learned about all the little kindnesses he did on his weekly round of the council houses.
For instance, one particular woman used to call to our house on Tuesday evenings, every Tuesday evening, promptly at seven. If Dad wasn’t there, she would leave a five pound note for him, neatly folded into a tiny rectangle. I thought it was her rent but it wasn’t. I found out what it was when I did the job myself. Every Monday morning, while on his rent collection round, Dad would call to this woman's house and give her a fiver then, on Tuesday, she would come to our house and give it back. Her husband, you see, had a drink problem and, over the course of every weekend, he would find, and drink, every penny in the house. So, on Monday, when all the money was gone and the husband was in his bed, Dad would give her the fiver to tide her over until she got her weekly social payment on Tuesday. Then she gave it back. This frustrated me for a little while.
“Every Monday you give her the note and every Tuesday she gives it back. Why don’t you just let her keep it one week?”
Dad explained it to me. If the fiver was in the house at the latter part of the week, when the drinking was bad, it would be found and spent. Having it between Monday and Tuesdays when the drinking was quiet after the weekend and when there was no money around, was the saving grace. I carried on this practice during my own Summer. It actually seemed to work well.
That was typical of Dad. He was always quietly doing stuff. Nice stuff.
Many other things spring to mind whilst recalling this. Silly things.
How he would bring comics home on Friday night and we would lie on the floor and read them.
How the altered accents of the poor American Emigrants bugged him whenever they came home to visit. How he would sit out on the stairs and say “Riight, Riiiight” to himself until he calmed down a bit.
How, when fishing out on the lake, he could do a wee out the back of the boat and never ever hit the outboard motor.
How he would extend his left arm away from his torso to counterbalance the weight of a petrol can carried in his right hand.
Brylcreem and Old Spice.
Always managing to get a second dessert at Weddings.
How he went to the cinema seven nights consecutively to see ‘The African Queen’ when it came to town.
How he stayed up all night looking at the river on the night before he got married.
How we were never supposed to make him angry and how we never once saw him angry.
Random things, often silly things, but it’s Father’s Day and he's gone on ahead and all that is left to do is to remember them and smile.
Once, when I was fairly small, I walked home from town behind two chattering housewives. I didn’t have any interest in overhearing their conversation but I did anyway.
“I hate that Eddie Armstrong, coming around looking for the rent laughing and smiling all the time.”
I can’t remember what the other woman said, I was too angry.
I like to remember how I cut in and berated that lady, telling her that that was my Dad she was talking about and that he was a good man and she was damn lucky to have him as her rent man. But, of course, I didn’t. I was just too little to be arguing with the ladies of the town.
Can I do it now? God knows, I’m not too little any more.
“Hey missus. Yes, you with the scarf. That’s my Dad you’re talking about. Eddie Armstrong Senior. You just stop there for a minute and let me tell you a few things about him…”