Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a great Dad. I was lucky; I had two.
My first Dad, I have talked about before, here and here and here. My other Dad came to my mind this morning when I made peanut butter toast for breakfast. Butchie, as we called him, introduced me to peanut butter toast as a breakfast option and I've been a fan ever since.
Butchie was the father of our oldest friends, the Davenport clan, a family of four children roughly our ages whom we met when I was in a crib. My Dad and Butchie were Navy test pilots together back in the late '40s and retained a lifelong friendship, close as brothers. Their respect for each other was profound and their senses of humor meshed delightfully. I have wonderful photos of the two of them together, deep in conversation or laughing out loud with heads thrown back.
Their wives also formed a strong friendship, babysitting each other's kids, helping each other out during dinner parties, having on-going arguments about the proper way to do things, taking vacations together and sharing stories about the trouble their progeny got into.
We grew up together although our family stayed in the Navy and the Davenports left it to settle in Michigan. When we lived somewhere interesting, they would come and experience it with us in the summer. When we lived in less fascinating places, we'd go to Michigan and wallow in the wonderful sameness of living in one place. In many ways, their house was the only real home base I knew during my childhood, the only place that was constant and unchanging in the wide array of places where we hung our hats.
And one of the very best things about being in Michigan was Butchie. When we were little children, he'd pile five or six of us into a big bed and sit on the edge, singing us to sleep with lullabys such as "On Top of Old Smokey," his signature song. He bored us silly with his lectures at the dinner table but chuckled with self-deprecating glee when he caught us making faces during his endless speeches.
He liked to pretend he was hard up for cash, always giving us a pained expression as eloquent as Jack Benny when he doled out money for ice cream, or lipstick, or a movie. He gave all us girls a standing offer - he promised bus tickets to the honeymoon destination and a transistor radio if only we'd elope; he even offered to hold the ladder for our swains. It was a continuing sorrow to him that none of us took him up on the offer.
As I grew up, he taught me all kinds of things - to swing a hammer, to grill chicken livers on a barbecue, to appreciate smoked oysters and sardines from a can, to keep a promise and to be careful of others' feelings. He taught me the value of hard work - he always arose before dawn and went in to his office before the workers at his small manufacturing plant arrived. I learned the simple warmth of a casual arm thrown around my shoulders and the art of power napping - he was so good at it that nothing woke him except easing his shoes off and tickling his toes.
Butchie maintained his pilot's license long after he left the Navy and, later, I learned that he had been a fighter ace in WWII. He didn't tell me; I just happened to read a book about his squadron, the Jolly Rogers, that had his name in it. Once or twice, he flew in to pick me up and take me to Michigan for visits with his family. At that time, he owned a Piper Comanche, tail number 6216PAPA, a piece of trivia I have never forgotten. First, Butchie would go carefully around his plane, inspecting all the outward systems and checking the fuel tanks. Then, he'd carefully do the pre-flight check in the cockpit, making sure all was safe. When we took off, I never felt any fear - I knew I was flying with the best. Flying in a small aircraft is completely different than commercial jets - the light lift as you leave the ground, the little dips and sways that remind you that you are truly airborne, and the excitement of watching for other nearby aircraft made me feel that I was truly a part of the crew.
Nothing I can write now will describe the warmth in my heart when I think about Butchie. In a time when we hear increasingly about the horrors that grown men impose on helpless children, I look back with gratitude on a second Dad who wouldn't have dreamed of doing such things and would have taken a horsewhip to anyone who tried.
Butchie died many years ago - I saw him last in the hospital where he made light of his illness and reminded me instead of how important I and my family were in his life. My last memory of Butchie is of him coaxing his three year old granddaughter up onto his hospital bed for a little hug; stinging tears still come whenever I remember how gentle he was with a child who was very uncertain about what was going on. Even then, it wasn't all about him.
So now you know why peanut butter toast is a favorite with me. I don't need honey on mine - it comes with a load of sweet memories.