Dad’s 75th Birthday

My father was born 75 years ago today, in Croydon, England.

Here are some of my favorite memories:


  • Waiting for Dad to come home from work when I was a young girl and he was a young scientist. In those days, he’d come home in his white lab coat, smelling faintly and comfortingly of chemicals. I’d watch for him from the living room window, and when he came through the door, jump on him, yelling delightedly, “Daddy! Daddy!” He’d ruffle up my hair, ask “How’s my pixie?” and proceed to shake me upside down, in a fruitless effort to get the nonsense out. It’s still in there.

  • Dad was never much of a swimmer. He had an almost pathological aversion to putting his face in the water, so he mostly swam (when he did), in a modified dog paddle (the Dad paddle). More often, he lay on a towel on the beach, soaking up the sun and reading the Herald Tribune (also his newspaper of choice when we were in Europe). I’d emerge from swimming in the Atlantic, off the coast of Maine, blue-lipped and shivering, and lie down, cold and dripping, on his sun-warmed back, nestling my wet head into his neck with my towel over me. He never complained!

  • He loved to recite Shakespeare while making dinner, especially the Witches’ speech in MacBeth which starts, “Boil, boil, toil and trouble”, which he’d recite with gusto while putting in ingredient after ingredient. He also liked intoning comic gems such as:

    “Harry was a chemist’s son
    A chemist’s son no more
    For what he thought was H20
    Was H2S04” [the formula for sulphuric acid]

    “Oooey-gooey was a worm
    A mighty worm was he
    He stepped upon the railroad track
    The train he did not see…
    Oooey-gooey!”

    To get the full effect, picture a distinguished English gentleman with matching accent, reciting nonsense with the same enjoyment he gave to Shakespeare.

    Although tone-deaf, he’d happily sing, too, mostly from the oeuvre of Gilbert & Sullivan. I can sing most of HMS Pinafore, almost as well as he could. The cats used to flee from my impromptu performances. If only I had inherited his math and science abilities instead of the singing one!

  • I believe that Dad’s telling of Pooh stories sans books started when travelling with us kids in England by train when we were all very young. In order to keep us under some control while waiting for trains, he’d tell us Pooh stories, using different voices for all the characters. The storytelling never lost its appeal, and fortunately, my sister Megan convinced him to put the stories on tape, so we have them still.

  • When Dad retired to his native England in 1991, I promised him I would visit once a year, and I did, sometimes twice. Once I had cleared Customs, I’d almost run to the Arrivals hall, where Dad would be sitting, reading the Times (he read the Guardian on Sundays to get a different point of view) while he waited for me. He’d look up over his reading glasses, and his face would light up at the sight of me. He’d jump to his feet and reach across the barrier to hug me and kiss my cheek. I can still feel the rough tweed of his jacket and the joy of his hug. When I came round the barrier, he’d hug me again.

His last words to me, and mine to him, were “Love you lots.”