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My father was a speed junkie. He never drove 40 mph when 65 would do. To him, time was money. If he got his sample cases to the shore ten minutes sooner, he could see another customer.

And so he took the back roads, the roads with no name. He was always speeding, my father. He didn’t worry much about getting stopped. He was an honorary sheriff from Cape May Courthouse. He even had a real badge to flash. I don’t know how he got it. Probably traded a full set of Roy Rogers pistols for it. There were certain things I just didn’t ask him.

He always traveled alone. That way, he could fit more toy samples in the front passenger seat. And that green and battered Chevy wagon was always loaded to the gills.

On this day, he was cruising along through Egg Harbor when he heard the boom and then the thud. The car started spinning to the right. He quickly pulled it off to the apron of the road. Blowout. This was going to cost him time.

There was no auto club back then. No one to call. He grabbed the tire jack out of the hatch and hoisted the car. He had the new tire on in two minutes flat. He started tightening the lug nuts. And then it happened. The jack slipped in the mud and the 3,000 pound wagon came sliding off, hitting him in the head, knocking him out cold.

All he remembered was the gush of blood in his face and the bark of a really big dog. He lay there bleeding for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, a woman came out of the house to see why the dog was so irritated. By then, my father’s face was covered in blood. The woman called an ambulance. The ambulance took him to the hospital, where they stitched him up, 12 in all, and kept him there overnight to monitor his concussion. He was awake, but pretty much out of it.

We didn’t hear from him for two days. He later said he didn’t want to worry us. The doctors told him to get some rest. But, like the stubborn ox he was, he continued on to the shore to make some sales calls. Time was money.

My mother cried. All she could think of was what would have happened if he died. My mother didn’t work. She hadn’t graduated high school. She had no skills outside the house.

My father had a small insurance policy. Not even enough to bury him. There was no pension, no retirement plan. We lived paycheck to paycheck, like most other people on our block.

There was no call Tuesday. Nothing on Wednesday. Finally, on Thursday, he came walking in, stitches freshly sown.

“It’s no big deal,” he said, after he told us about the big deal. “So I got a few stitches. It’s not going to be on the news.”

After the accident, come Christmas, he would put together a big box of dolls and model cars and Lincoln Logs. He would send it to the woman in Egg Harbor. For her kids. He even threw in a couple of chew toys for the dog. Every year.

As I grew up and had a family of my own, I had forgotten that part of the story. Until the day my father died.

I sat with him in the hospital room when we both knew he had only a few hours to live. The room filled with silence. Somehow, yesterday’s Phillies game didn’t seem important enough to talk about.

“Dad,” I said, choking back my tears, “is there anything you want me to do?”

“Hand me my wallet,” he said.

I handed him his wallet. He flipped through it and pulled out a ragged piece of paper and gave it to me.

“This is the woman in Egg Harbor,” he said. “Will you make sure to send her a card every year at Christmas? I don’t want her thinking I forgot about her.”
He didn’t. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.

Read more from Maury Z. Levy.

June 2020
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