My father was a small-town pharmacist.
He was a kind and good man who came from a family that didn’t have two nickels when he was a Depression kid. . . who saw some things in a World War II jungle that he would never speak about. . . and who put his three kids through college by spending long days in his tiny drug store.
Sometimes he worked with a front-register assistant. Sometimes it was me. Sometimes he worked the whole place by himself.
He never went to pharmacy school. He was a food chemist. Because my mother’s father and uncle were pharmacists, he took the pharmacy exam and became an RPh. You could do that in those days.
Lake Zurich is a bustling suburb these days. Back then, it was a farm town, with an appealing lake and an aging little resort hotel, that was transitioning into a suburb.
One Saturday, when I was 8 or 10, I helped Drew, the high-school kid who worked for him, canvass the whole town with fliers for the Rexall one-cent sale.
Another time when I was working there as a kid, a farm worker came in holding the tip of a severed finger, and said, “Hey, doc. Can you put something on this?’’
Dad did what he could, and sent the man off to the nearest emergency room.
His Monday-through-Friday clerk, Mrs. Beltz, was a sweet woman whose husband, Roy, had played baseball at Lane Tech with Phil Cavarretta, a phenom who went right to the Cubs and stayed there for 20 years. Mr. Beltz wasn’t quite that good a hitter. But nobody ever had a better baseball name than Roy Beltz.
My dad could talk sports, politics, the weather, taxes with his customers, many of whom were regulars. He stayed neutral in public. But he didn’t mind that a small window had been broken when JFK motorcaded through Lake Zurich in 1960. And he had an intense dislike of Nixon that went back to Nixon’s Senate days.
Some customers were Arlington Park horse-racing people who stayed at the Farman Hotel in Lake Zurich. Occasionally, they would give him a sure-fire tip. I don’t believe he ever took them up on that. But he did check to see that they were excellent tips.
He wasn’t a gambler. But he was a philosopher of sorts.
When my sister was a pre-schooler, she asked him, “Is $3 a lot of money?’’
“If you haven’t got it,’’ he replied.
He took me to my first ballgame, to see Willie Mays beat Ernie Banks. He also took us to Milwaukee, to see Henry Aaron beat Ernie Banks.
He strung coat hangers and tin foil around our backyard in a vain attempt to tune in the 1963 NFL championship game from Milwaukee because the game was blacked out in Chicago even though it was sold out. We couldn’t see much of the Bears’ win over the Giants. But we heard it.
I’m thinking about my dad as Father’s Day approaches. We lost him in 2004, on the day they ran the Indianapolis 500. I will always remember that because I was at the race. He was at a family gathering that I missed because—well, that’s what you do in the newspaper business.
There was a tremendous electrical storm in Indy that night. The bolts of lightning were so intense through the big picture windows of the press room that overlooked the track that they announced that we could move downstairs if we wanted.
We all chuckled. Waste time moving on deadline?
I’ll always remember that lightning storm as my dad’s stairway to heaven.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
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