The Backstory: The Wee Sma’s

I’ll pick up more of my dad’s story in future posts, including how he met my mom and my childhood.

Somewhere I’ve got a photo of my dad in his “work clothes” (actually, he wore this all the time) – a pair of brown Dickies work pants and a solid color Hanes pocket T-shirt, often in black. A ball cap (nearly always black or navy blue), his black-rimmed safety glasses, and a deep tan (I didn’t get his flawless Italian complexion) completed the look.

His wedding ring sat unworn on his dresser – not a slight to my mom; a practical concession to the dangers of working at the mill. He’d seen several men lose their fingers or whole hand when their wedding ring caught in a piece of machinery. So a watch (that probably spent time in his pocket rather than his wrist) was the only jewelry he wore.

For now, let me jump to my toddler years.  Dad worked swing shifts – spending a week or so on “days” (7am-3pm) then a week or so of 2nd shift, and occasionally working 3rd / nights. Eventually he was able to pull seniority to get a daytime schedule nearly all the time. Clairton is a good hour’s drive from where we lived.  So to get there by 7am and avoid the rush hour traffic, he tried to be out the door by 5:30am. That meant he got up at 5 or earlier on workdays.

One of my sweetest toddler memories happened on the occasional morning when I’d hear him get up, and I’d crawl out of bed to see what he was up to. I learned his routine and it’s sounds– he had his own bathroom at one end of the house (I’m not sure why, but I think  years of trying to share one bathroom among 10 people turned my dad into a man who wanted his own bathroom and wanted everyone else to have the same, so we had 3) and he’d spend a short while down there showering and shaving. I’d hear him come into the kitchen, where he’d turn on the light at the far end of the house so as not to disturb mom or me and read his Bible while drinking a cup of coffee.

I’d toddle out and find him reading under the bare light bulb (I’ll talk about this later, but he built our house himself, and some of the finer details – like light fixtures – didn’t get finished for a while).

He’d scoop me up for a kiss and some father-daughter time, then scoot me back to bed so he could leave on time and hit the road for another 8 hour day at the mill.
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I picked up “the wee sma’s” phrase from the Anne of Green Gables books – one of the older ladies that Anne knew used this colloquialism for the “wee small” hours of the morning. It’s always been one of my favorites. 

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