In some ways, it was tough being Delmar’s kid.
Everyone in Wausau, Wisconsin knew my dad because he drove the big Canteen Vending panel truck. He filled candy, beverage, and cigarette machines all over the city (and some spaces beyond).
I went out on "the route" with him on winter weekends every now and then — ski hill season at Rib Mountain — and everyone knew Delmar. After all, he had the ability to toss free candy bars and sodas to anyone he wanted -- and he tossed a lot of candy bars and sodas.
I couldn't get away with anything in my hometown. I heard "Hey - aren’t you Delmar's kid?" more times than I cared to.
On the plus side, we had a large “treat drawer” in my house with every kind of candy bar and Hostess-type snack you could imagine. My house was the place to visit if you had a sweet tooth.
During the week he serviced and filled vending machines, and on weekends — in addition to keeping the Rib Mountain ski hill chalet stocked during ski season — he had a gig with a moving company. He also got a little bump for doing warehouse work at Canteen (known to us as “the joint”) rearranging boxes and sweeping floors. When I was a kid, I’d come with him to “the joint” and scale towers of boxes filled with candy bars, plastic cups, potato chips, and cigarettes. It was where I first encountered a fairly monstrous mechanism with a little door in front called a “microwave oven.”
“The joint” was a few blocks away from our house, so my dad walked there every morning at about 5 a.m. When he returned home, I could see his head pop over the horizon as he climbed the small hill at the end of our block. If I’d had an angry “wait-‘til-your-dad-gets-home” warning from my mom, this was a particularly stressful sight.
He had a superpower where he could sit anywhere in the house and instantly go to sleep at any given moment. Hindsight tells me he was physically wrung out most of the time. He would often remind me to pay attention in school because “you don’t want to just sweat for a living. Use your damn head.”
One day when I was about 12 years old, as my dad and I were driving back from an errand, I mentioned to him that when -- not if -- I start my vending route, I'd like to get a cool panel truck like his (everyone else at Canteen Vending drove a mere van).
My dad actually PULLED THE CAR OVER so he could look at me and say, very slowly: "You will not be filling sons-a-bitchin’ vending machines. Geeez - you read those damn books all the time and you're smart! Don’t be stacking boxes. Don’t be like your old man."
There was probably more profanity in there. I got the point.
The truth is, he would have been absolutely fine with my choice if I’d followed his career path. Work is more than a paycheck and whether or not you sit at a desk. He wanted me to know, however, that I had options.
And, I will never forget the first time I handed him a book with my name on the cover. The whole “writer” thing seemed a bit oblique to him, but seeing my name on an actual object available at retail made complete sense.
When my dad retired, the employees and management at businesses on his route marked the occasion with parties and celebrations for him. Everyone knew and loved Delmar. He wasn’t just filling vending machines all over the city; my dad was the familiar visitor who brought with him the gossip from the previous stops on his route, a slap on the back, the occasional bawdy joke, and a free Oh Henry! bar or three.
He also set a high bar.
My dad passed away a little over a year ago, taken by COVID and Alzheimer’s. In spite of that physical loss, he is still with me daily.
And, in spite of his advice, I work every day to be like him.
Be. Like. Dad.
I’m still Delmar’s kid.
Thanks for a lovely father's day tribute, John. Sometimes we learn as much from our Dad's words as from what goes unsaid. Looks like you got the memo in spades.
Great story and fond memory on this day John Michlig. Happy Father's Day to you and your Dad and glad you found this current highway of life you've been on. This is a great slice of life. Thanks for sharing!