I can remember being young enough that I couldn’t see over the top of the long glass counter that sat against the back wall near the front entrance of the club. As a boy, my Dad would allow me to come into the club, but only for a few minutes at a time. As I got older, I stayed for longer and longer visits. After all these years, the musty smell of cigar smoke, old newspapers and the aroma from the kitchen still lingers in my nostrils. The club was called the “Pool Room” since I was a boy, but I had never seen a pool table on the premises. To me, it always looked more like a candy store for old men.
It was a hot summer afternoon and the neighborhood kids were in the streets. It was a work day for me and I had stopped by for a visit. Dad was at his perch at the end of the counter and we were just making small talk, when a a half-dozen kids came running into the club and lined up at the counter.
“Waddya want, ya little criminals?”, Dad hopped off his stool. He loved to tease the kids, but you can see that they got a kick out of him and they kept coming back for more. “We want candy” they all started to chant.
Now, the counter wasn’t the most organized part of the club. It was glass on the front and top and the back had wooden access panels. The counter itself was loaded with all sorts of stuff that various people dropped off as “gifts” and “offerings”. Most of it was junk, but there was a large box of candy bars that could be seen from the sidewalk, outside.
“Right there! That candy, right there!” the leader of the pack demanded.
Dad bent down and opened the access panel and pulled out six huge candy bars and lined them up on the counter, as the boys started to dig in their pockets for a few coins.
“Are you kids Mexican?” Dad asked, like a cop who just cornered a gang of hoodlums. They were! “Yeah, we are all Mexican.” the leader quipped back.
“Well you are about the luckiest Mexicans I have ever seen, because today is Mexican day and do you know what that means?” (I wish I could describe his facial expressions…they were priceless) He didn’t wait for an answer. “It means the candy is free for all Mexicans.” He pushed the candy forward and the kids each grabbed one and ran out the door as fast as they came in. Dad ran around the corner of the bar faking a punt kick in the pants to the last straggler who had dropped his candy bar on the floor, as he laughed and ran off to catch up to his buddies.
I gave him a look and laughed. He always had a way with kids, especially the tough ones.
Two or three days later, I was downtown again on business and I stopped, as usual, to visit dad at his second home. There were a few members playing cards, a few snoring away on their lazy-boy recliners and a few more sitting outside on lawn chairs enjoying the breeze that blew East down Grand Avenue.
They were dodging traffic across the street and I could see that their group had gotten a little larger. This time they didn’t come running in. Instead, the leader walked in slowly and the group quietly followed in behind him.
“Aw geeez, are you crooks here again? What are you going to do now, hold-up the joint?” Dad was in his glory.
“Watch this!” the gangs leader whispered to the new kids in the group.
“Naw, we just stopped in for some candy.”
Dad came around to the front of the counter and gave them all a once-over look. Even though they were all between the ages of 8 and 10, he didn’t seem much taller than most of them.
“Are you kids all Mexican?” he was staring them down.
Their grins got wider. “Yes we are all Mexicans” the regulars all chimed in, laughing.
“Are sure there aren’t any German’s or Irish in this gang?” He was having a ball. “Nope. we are all Mexican’s”, the leader giggled.
“Well, you are all out of luck, because today is Chinese day. No Mexican Freebies today. Now get the hell out of my club.” He faked a chase and they all went running out laughing.
“Ha ha, how often does that happen?”, I asked, still laughing.
“About once a week. Why do you think I have all this candy? They’ll be back”
“Do you ever charge them for it?” I asked, knowing the answer.
He just gave me a grin and slid back onto his stool.
“Some day, those kids might have to help me across the street. I have to treat them right now or I’ll be stranded!”
This is the sort of story that confirms that Dad was living up to his father’s personal theories. He has always been a warm and friendly figure to more than his peers. He had a heart as big as ever and a sense of humor that made its way into everyone’s life.