|My mother and father on their 50th wedding anniversary.|
As far back as I remember, my father and my maternal grandfather had a ritual that they never strayed from: every Saturday morning they would get up early and go out for breakfast. As I got older, they began taking me with them. I loved it, and not just because I got to spend time with my dad and grand dad, which was great. But after breakfast, my father would drive me around in a quest for monster memorabilia.
I can still remember impatiently sitting at the table in the greasy little diner in downtown Lynn (the habitual breakfast spot), already having wolfed down my English muffin and endlessly fidgeting in the booth waiting for the real fun to begin. Such was the curse of having a tiny child's stomach. Only after the men had finished off their eggs, bacon, home fries, toast, and bottomless cups of coffee would the excitement (for me, at least) really begin.
The first stop was always Cal's News in downtown Lynn, not far from the diner. Once in Cal's, I would make a beeline straight for the entertainment section and thumb through the stacks looking for the latest treasure: The Monster Times, Eerie or Creepy magazine, the dozens of other pulp monster mags that thrived back in the good old days, or the mother lode of all finds -- the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I could barely wait to get back to the car to start thumbing through them and marvel at the images inside.
Then it was off to the Don Elder's in Chelsea, a small business run by a kindly, elderly gentleman out of an old garage. Mr. Elder sold mostly 35mm cameras and 8mm camcorders and movie projectors, but for me the attraction was his vast collection of Castle Films. These were 12-minute, black-and-white, silent versions of horror and Sci-Fi movies. Each one came in a box about six inches square, usually with a reproduction of the movie poster emblazoned across the front. They only offered a tantalizing taste of the original movie, but in the days before video tapes, they were the only way to be able to see your favorite movies without having to wait for them to be played by the local cable access television station at one in the morning. (I still have my entire collection of them safely tucked away in a closet.) After that, it was a quick run to the hobby shop in Malden where I would pick up the latest Aurora monster model, and then back home. On a good day, I would make it back in time to catch Creature Double Feature on WLVI Channel 56.
And never once did my father complain about schlepping me around the North Shore every Saturday. I'm sure he always pictured me as a Marine like himself and his brother Bob (who fought on Okinawa). But he never complained that instead he got stuck with a geek little kid who liked monsters. (Although I did enjoy watching war movies with him, so that surely softened the blow.) Like my mother, he has always been very supportive of me in everything I've done, and to this day he still gets on the phone when I'm chatting with the family to tell me he's proud of me.
But those days are drawing to a close. Over the past few years, my father has been fighting a losing battle with a series of mini-strokes that have caused Alzheimer-like symptoms. He's slowly slipping into the real-life horror that accompanies the deterioration of one's mind, and every time I go home to visit I recognize him a little less. Soon all that will be left of my father is the memory of who he once was.
So before it gets too late to say it, thanks for feeding the addiction, Dad. You helped make me the man I am today.