Later, when I asked him how he had come up with that name, he responded, "Well, I guess I was just thinking about Dean Martin."
That always struck me as funny, mainly because I couldn't imagine a situation in which I'd find myself thinking of Dean Martin. But my dad was about 44 years older than I am, and we didn't share many cultural reference points.
Today, though, Dad is gone, and I find myself thinking of ... Dean Martin. When Dad became ill about a year and a half ago, he and Maxine moved from their townhome in Johnston to independent living in a senior facility in Clive. Shortly before the move, Maxine's daughters held a garage sale to minimize the number of items that would have to be moved to the new place.
We all had an opportunity, the night before the sale, to browse the tables and choose anything we wanted to take home. Dad had accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, and he was a bargain kind of guy -- there were tables and tables of videos, tapes, DVDs, small appliances, towels and sheets, curtains, and bric-a-brac of all types. I didn't see much I wanted or needed ... until I spotted Dean Martin.
Dean is made of plastic and some rubbery-type substance, and he stands about 13 inches high. When you press a red button in his base, Dean sings "That's Amore." His arm and mouth move. He has a five-o'-clock shadow. Someone had given him to Dad as a gift, but there he sat in the garage, alone, on a table. I scooped him up, put $10 in the cash box because it felt like the right thing to do, and went home.
The next day, I brought Dean to my office and placed him on my conference table, where he still sits. I was looking at him as I talked to my sister on the phone at lunchtime today about such things as Dad's will and his remaining belongings. She was asking if I could think if anything I wanted, and I said I couldn't -- maybe his jewelry box, if Maxine didn't have any use for it.
Dad didn't attach personal sentiment to material things. After my mom died, he donated her belongings; apparently if she wasn't there, he didn't want her things to be there, either, as reminders. I understand that. I have a few things of sentimental value I pilfered over the years -- some photographs, a tape measure with the name of one of his employers on it, and a toy tractor on which he stored his toupee in the '70s -- but I can't think of anything else I want or need. The memory of Dad is alive and well in my head, and the many picture frames I keep throughout my house.
And, of course, in Dean Martin. It's funny; I never saw Dad once push the button and make Dean sing. But long ago, I would watch him as he listened to recordings of Dean, or of Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra, and he would have a far-away look in his eyes. I know he and my mom went to dances at various ballrooms around town, but she was gone by the time I was old enough to be conscious of such things. But after Mom died, as I grew from toddler to little girl, I became pretty sure there were other women and other parties.
I would imagine them on Saturday nights as I sat on his bed and watched him get ready to go out. He never actually told me he was going on dates, but I determined at a young age that the suits from Tursi's Park Avenue Shoe & Clothing, the gold chains and the Old Spice were not for his best buddy, John Burroughs. He'd say he was going out with John, but once in a while, a woman would call, and he'd act embarrassed.
So all those years ago, as he looped his Italian horn around his neck and fastened the garters on his gold-toe socks, I sat on the bed watching him and fantasized about the glamorous "dances," whatever those were. He would be whistling, and I remember asking him once, "Is that your favorite song?" He responded, using his nickname for me that I really didn't care for: "Punk, I like 'em all."
It's an ongoing theme of my life that I really never knew much about my dad. I grew up with him, and he was a constant presence; it just wasn't in his nature to share his personal thoughts or feelings. I'm made up of nothing but those things, so Dad and I sometimes were a prickly pair.
And now I'm left with Dean Martin, a talisman on my table, prompting my memories. Months ago, his battery wore out and he was silent. I've often thought that perhaps I should replace it, and maybe someday soon, I will. But for now -- fittingly, perhaps -- I find some comfort in the fact that Dean, like his former owner, doesn't seem to have a whole lot to say.