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The All-Time Star of Her Home Movies

June 13, 1986|PATT MORRISON | Times Staff Writer

Dads, it seems, always get the short end of the parental holiday stick.

Maybe it's because mothers are so deucedly easy to buy for. A few roses, a lump of prettily wrapped chocolate on Mother's Day and their eyes fill with grateful tears, and your conscience is assuaged for another year--even if the tears are from her chocolate allergy.

But fathers. You can't buy them orchid corsages. You'd feel silly, giving them boxes of candy gussied up in pink ribbon. You don't want to tell them to get all dolled up for dinner when you know they'd rather be playing poker in their skivvies. Even those manly greeting cards with briar pipes and sturdy sailing ships on the front are mushy, and the poetry stinks.

So what to do?

On a recent Saturday, I was fretting over what to get my dad for Father's Day, when I switched on the television and there, on "High Adventure Theatre," was Johnny Weissmuller in a 1936 all-swimming, all-flexing Tarzan movie.

I hadn't watched a Tarzan movie since I was a kid, stretched out in front of a black-and-white set in Ohio (not unlike the black-and-white set I have now). On inclement Sunday afternoons, after church and a lunch of waffles, which came out of a waffle iron that looked like a chromed flying saucer, we settled in for the Action Movie, or whatever they called it then.

As it rained or snowed outside, we sat rapt, week to week, through Tarzan movie after Tarzan movie--it could have been the same one every week, for all I knew. There was the Lord of the Apes, rippling through the steamy tropics, masterfully commanding the beasts with the single, mystifying word "Ungawa!" but never harming them, except in self-defense, unlike the bloodthirsty safari wimps in pith helmets, whose collective butts Tarzan invariably had to save each week. A noble being, a saint in a loincloth.

Just why a Tarzan movie should remind me of my impending Father's Day duties threw me for a loop, until I realized with a start just why I had loved those old movies so much: Because to me, my father was--is--just like that.

Maybe I had thought it was my father up there on the screen, somehow, they had so much in common. Like Tarzan, he is big and strong--physically and morally--and uncomplicated, a man of few words and simple tastes, utterly honest and utterly trustworthy. Nothing seemed beyond his wondrous abilities.

As a little girl, in one of our games, I jumped off the roof of our house--the house he built with his own hands. He always caught me; I never for a moment believed he wouldn't.

He set the lightning rod on the steeple of our new church, and to me, he was Prometheus. I never knew until last year that he had slipped on the slates and nearly fell. I wouldn't have believed it then if God had sworn it to me.

Uniform Still Fits

Tarzan-like, he still climbs modern trees--electric poles--for a living, as a lineman. His energy, at age 60-plus, is unflagging, and after a hard day's work, he unwinds by walking a few miles. If he wants to get my mother's goat, he dons the white Navy gob's uniform he wore when he was a 20-year-old gunner's mate. It still fits.

He climbs those electric poles with more agility and skill than men half his age. I always marveled at the way he dug his hooks into the dark, creosoted wood and leaped up those dizzying poles, to work among the dangerous wires. He saved many men's lives, my father did, flying down his own pole and racing up another one as some other lineman lay sagging in his safety belt, unconscious from a careless flick of a hand or a tool against thousands of volts. On nights when he was not home on time and the hour grew later, my mother worried; we kids did not. Nothing could happen to our dad.

My mother's brother, many years my father's junior, once remarked how easy it all looked and strapped on the hooks. On his fifth step up the pole, my uncle's legs flew out and he hugged the pole all the way down. They were picking out splinters for a week. My father thought it was hugely funny, and so did I.

Anonymous Santa

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