Friday, June 14, 2013

The Legend of Lopez: Stories of My Father

     My father passed away in 2005, but he left us a lifetime of memories.  He was one of those men that had the perfect balance of a strong/tough Man's Man, and sensitive fatherly type when the situation called for such.  He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.  He worked hard all his life to provide for his family, and spent 30 plus years in a Birmingham Steel Mill (U.S. Steel), and about 15 more working for the City Park in my hometown of Fultondale, Alabama. He pretty much always worked at the Park in his spare time, and helped build most of the facilities and fields that the kids used so much growing up.  It was only in those last 15 years of working that he received a paycheck.  My father provided me with a blueprint for what was needed to take care of a family, and be a good man.  I will forever be in his debt for providing me with this knowledge.  This blog is normally about funny moments in life, and this post is no different.  The name Lopez was given to my father by my brother, but you'll have to ask him the exact origin.  Regardless, the name kind of stuck, and as far as a title, "The Legend of Lopez" sounds a whole lot better than, "The Legend of Frank."  He'll always be Daddy or Mr. Perry to me, but here goes some "Stories of my Father."
     Lopez was a fine baseball player, and was offered a scholarship to play baseball at Mississippi State.  He turned this scholarship down, and served in the navy during two wars.  He was a catcher, and by all accounts he was really something to see on the baseball diamond.  Fast with a cannon for an arm, and one heckuva bat to boot (Come to think of it, That sounds a lot like somebody else I know.  Mr. Jesse Perry, except he's a Shortstop).  He played amateur baseball most of his life, and Managed several amateur baseball teams in the area.  He did take time to coach the young Uber Dad, before he was an Uber Dad, in the fine art of baseball.  Now, I was always more of a Football guy than a Baseball guy, but Daddy tried really hard to convince me that Baseball was the way to go.  During his time coaching me in baseball he struck me with a baseball on many occasions, but two times in particular stick out.  The first was when he was trying really hard to get a runner out at first during a simulated game (scrimmage) where he was pitching for both teams.  He threw the ball very hard, and I was playing 2nd at the time, but covered first because the first baseman also tried to make a play on the ball.  The ball hit me directly in the nether regions, and it was a shock to the system.  I spent the rest of practice laying on the equipment bag, and moaning a lot.  I always told my teammates that they shouldn't make Daddy mad, because, "He'll hit you in the nuts too."  The second incident involved me playing shortstop this time, and covering second base.  Daddy threw the ball down, and was playing catcher for some reason that I don't remember, and struck me in the chest.  It knocked the breath out of me, and Daddy ran from home to 2nd and began to pound me on the back like I was choking or something.  I remember my Mother taking me to the Emergency Room, and the question being asked, "How did he get these red hand marks on his back?"  His heart was in the right place, but as you could imagine, smacking someone on the back is not the best cure for having the breath knocked out of you.
     I received the Nickname gene from my father, and I have used it extensively in my travels in this world.  My father used to call me "Chris Schenkel" (after the sports announcer), "James or J' (my middle name was James), but most of the time it was just "Boy."  I always related to the Bill Cosby stories in his stand-up routine about him not knowing whether his name was "Dammit" or "Jesus Christ", because his father called him and his brother that.  I always answered to, "Dammit Boy!", because I figured he was talking to me.  He called my brother Lamont, because my brother liked to deal with yard sale stuff or go dumpster diving.  Lamont, as some of you will remember, was the son in "Sanford and Son" salvage.  My nickname prowess is legendary, and I have come up with "J-Jam Sixkiller" for Jesse, "Miss Madino aka Crazini Bambini Tyrannis" for Maddie, and "Cheryl Chafazzio" for Cheryl.  I got it honest.  Daddy was the king of nicknames and I've heard him use all of the following: Coot, Bulldog, Mutt, Mule, Stinky, Beer Drinker, Snuff Dipper, Big John, Little John, Big Frank, Little Frank, and it goes on.  The most endearing nickname my father used was "Mama Duke" for my mother, and he even had a song to go along with it.  "Mama Duke's got the Duke and gone on." or something like that anyway.  I believe this originated with a popular song from yesteryear, but my research has failed to produce an exact song title or artist.
     I worked with my father for a few years during the summer when I was in high school, and I have told many stories about those experiences.  One in particular sticks out to me, and it involved my father working with electrical wiring and me with a mop handle.  We were never a direction reading or following kind of people (I am now, but we were not then), and we normally just jumped right into a task without thinking to much about it.  One day, my father and I were tasked with fixing an electrical issue of some kind.  The solution involved my father working on the wiring, and me acting as the fail-safe with the mop handle.  My job was simply to stand there and watch and see if it appeared that the electricity had hit my father.  Daddy said, "If the Juice hits me, then you hit me with the mop handle."  You have to picture this scene, that driver's by surely did see, me standing there with a mop handle cocked and ready to strike, like I was waiting on a fast ball.  I thought about hitting him just for the the heck of it, but this was the same man that constructed my 9th grade Physical Science project that saved me from Summer School.  Daddy didn't get hit with electricity, and I didn't have to hit him with a mop handle.  Don't think he didn't know what he was doing though, he did, he was just unorthodox.  He became well known for constructing a lawn mower that cut the grass all by itself on the baseball field's infield grass.  The local paper even did a story on it.  The idea was you get a self propelled lawn mower, a rope, and a pole.  Tie the rope to lawn mower and the pole, and you're cutting grass.  The rope wraps around the pole, and the grass is cut evenly all the way around.  I'm sure there is more to it than that, but I am the guy who almost flunked 9th grade Physical Science so what do I know.  Daddy knew.
     My father told me stories about living on a ship during the war, seeing the pyramids in Egypt, swimming in Benito Mussolini's pool, sharing a meal with Lucky Luciano, and seeing Ted Williams play at Fenway Park.  I was very fortunate to have this great man as a father, and I will always be thankful for all he did for me.  If I can be half the man and father that he was, then I'm doing pretty darn good.  It's a shame that he couldn't be here to see Jesse play baseball, Maddie being born, The incredible run that Nick Saban and The Crimson Tide are on right now (He was a huge BAMA fan, and I could write an entire essay on just that), and many other things that have happened since he passed away.  I'll tell you what though, every now and then, I get a familiar feeling, the wind blows a certain way, and  I'm compelled to smile for really no reason.  My thinking is, he did see all that, and one day we can sit down and catch up on lost time.  Happy Father's Day Lopez!