When you say nothing at all..


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I've heard a lot of people say, "If you can't say anything good about somebody, don't say anything at all." My father, though, was pretty much the ONLY person I knew who said it and who did that, as a matter of course. He simply never said bad things about individual people. He would complain about the "shanty Irish" in our hometown, but even that was mild, and it was mainly because he'd lived in the town since I was born and still some of the people thought he didn't belong there. And a few of the Irish IHM sisters at our grade school didn't take kindly to Italians. (We were VERY dark skinned, especially in the summer.)

I think that my father was right. It's taken me a long time to get into the habit of what for him was simply the way to live. I believe that he figured that most people are just dumb about certain things, and it's best to shake your head and go do something else besides get into an argument with them. But he had strong opinions, which he'd express to me or to my brother or my sisters, mostly when we were driving in the car or something. I remember many of them to this day. He thought that MacArthur was strategically correct, but that Truman was right to give him the sack. He was fond of Truman generally, but he disliked FDR. He thought that the supposed war between big business and big government was a fraud; they were hand in glove, and he gave me examples. He thought that dressing properly was a way to show respect to other people (boy, it took me a LONG time to get that one). He couldn't stand Bette Davis or Robert Mitchum -- if you knew him, you'd see why.

I watched movies with him, and he'd drop a comment now and then, for example about The Bridge on the River Kwai, and how Major Nicholson was a very good man doing the wrong thing, a better man than the American by far ...

Of course he had no college education; almost nobody in my town did, before my generation. In those days, you didn't need such a thing to get a very good job. He sold insurance, and was terrific at it, mainly because he treated people well. He told me that he liked making the rounds in the rural counties in our neck much better than trying the towns, because the people were friendlier, especially the farmers. When I myself spent a summer (1980) selling lifetime guaranteed pots and pans door to door (Wonder Wear; it got me a five day trip to Bermuda with 90 other college kids and the company bosses), I saw that he was right ...

Another thing about my father is that he just didn't believe people when they made excuses. He wouldn't contradict them. He simply figured that they were fooling themselves, or they were lying, and since he didn't care to find out which one it was, he'd walk away and, as I said, find something else to do. I think that he did feel sorry for people who had a hard life and didn't make a fuss about it, and he would always help out a relative who needed it ...


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