The longest baby ever born at the Albany, N.Y., hospital, at least as of May 5, 1926, who grew up to be my strapping father, passed away last Friday morning.
As Mother and I stood at Daddy's casket Monday morning, Mother repeated his joke to him, which he said on every wedding anniversary until a few years ago when Lewy bodies dementia prevented him from saying much at all: "54 years, married to the wrong woman." And we laughed.
John Vincent Coulter was of the old school, a man of few words, the un-Oprah, no crying or wearing your heart on your sleeve, and reacting to moments of great sentiment with a joke. Or as we used to call them: men.
When he was moping around the house once, missing my brother who had just gone back to college, he said, "Well, if you had cancer long enough, you'd miss it."
He'd indicate his feelings about my skirt length by saying, "You look nice, Hart, but you forgot to put on your skirt."
Of course, he did show strong emotion when The New York Post would run a photo of Teddy Kennedy saying the rosary. I can still see the look of disgust. I saw that face in "How To Read People Like a Book" and it was NOT a good chapter.
Your parents are your whole world when you are a child. You only recognize what is unique about them when you get older and see how the rest of the world diverges from your standard of normality.
So it took me awhile to realize that by telling my friends that Father was an ex-FBI agent and a union-buster whose hobbies included rebuilding Volkswagens and shooting squirrels in our backyard, I was painting the image of a rough Eliot Ness type, rather than the cheerful, funny raconteur they would meet.
Besides being very funny, Father had an absolutely straight moral compass without ever being preachy or judgmental or even telling us in words. He just was good.
He would return to a store if he was given too much change -- and this was a man who was so "thrifty," as we Scots like to say, he told us he wanted to be buried in two cardboard boxes from the A&P rather than pay for a coffin.
When I was bombarded with arguments for baby-killing as a kid, I asked Father about the old chestnut involving a poverty-stricken, unwed teenage girl who gets pregnant. (This was before they added the "impregnated by her own father" part.) Father just said, "I don't care. If it's a life, it's a life." I'm still waiting to hear an effective counterargument.