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Each week in 2019 I’m writing stories in response to a story prompt, courtesy of an awesome Storyworth subscription from our daughter Sarah for my birthday. At the end of the year, all of these stories will be made into a book. We all have stories, I hope these will help you remember yours.

This week the prompt was,

What was your Dad like when you were a child?

Helen, Debbie, Gary and Morton Eisenberg, March 1956

I think these pictures were both taken on the same day in 1964, one inside, in the living room, drapes closed, and then outside on our front walk. Everyone looks happier outside! I wonder if they took that first.

At first glance, my dad Morton Eisenberg may have looked very straight-laced and unexciting. He was an electrical engineer, who drove twelve miles every day in a carpool over a narrow drawbridge to RCA in Camden NJ, from our home in Northeast Philadelphia. He wore white shirts laundered and pressed at the local laundry, which came back stiffened with a piece of cardboard that he always saved for my art projects. At his neck there was always a clip-on bowtie. In his white pocket he wore a pocket protector, and in that he placed some pens, a red RCA pencil, and sometimes a miniature slide rule. He wore dark pants over brown orthopedic shoes and drove a Chevy.

But he was anything but unexciting to me. To me, being with dad was magical. When he was home and relaxing, he traded in the white work shirt for a pale yellow or blue banlon shirt with two buttons. I think he wore old pants on the weekends, or maybe some tan “work” pants that were free for him to splash paint or grease on as tinkered around the house on ham radio or home-improvement or car maintenance or appliance repair projects down in the basement or in the garage.

That was the outfit he donned also, on occasion, when he was at our synagogue, Temple Beth Torah, helping the facility as he walked around with his small wooden tool box with the curved metal handle. I remember the story he liked to tell where someone stopped him to tell him about a problem. “Are you the Temple maintenance man?” They asked. “No, I’m the Temple President,” he admitted.

Magical moments happened when we did some projects together, especially in elementary school. I helped him send out reminders for his next ham radio club meeting, carefully writing addresses on the postcards and licking the stamps. We printed photos from my little Brownie camera down in his basement darkroom, and then put them in a photo album on black pages, and labeled them with a white pencil. He read my poems, corrected them with a gentle penciled checkmark in the margin, and helped me type them on Smith-Cornona typewriter. In the winter, we donned our rubber golashes and went sledding at Burholme Park on our flexible flyer sleds. In the summer, we wrote bikes in back of Carnell Elementary school. He had a record player in the lving room, and my mom and dad loved to cha-cha, and I remember my dad even teaching me that easy 1-2-3 dance.

I know my dad was proud of me, even though his face may have not shown it in pictures, like this one when I was the 6th grade valedictorian at our Carnell Elementary graduation. I won an award for an essay I wrote called, “Why I am Proud to Be an American.”

My dad disappeared for one weekend every year to “Field Day” with his ham radio buddies, including his best friend Harold Fox, who we called “Uncle Harold.” It was a competition that they found exhilarating, trying to talk to as many people as possible over the weekend.

Dad’s ham radio equipment was down in the basement, in his own room that seemed like a peaceful haven but exciting to me, with those machines with dials and knobs, and the walls covered with “QRL” postcards he had received from people around the world he had spoken with. His code letters were W3DYL—or darling young ladies as he liked to say to make it clear, and then later he got a shortened one—K3DG.

When I interviewed dad and mom in the early 2000’s about their lives, here’s what dad said about how he got started in ham radio: “As a kid in eighth and ninth grade, I became very interested in electricity. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I started playing around with radio in high school, and thought we were very fortunate to have a amateur radio club and the non-licensed teacher that sponsored that club built a short-wave receiver from magazine instructions. That was the nucleus of our radio club’s equipment. Later we got a transmitter and were on the air from the high school and we did pretty good. There was a better ham radio club, however, at Germantown High School nearby in Philly. They had a great radio station. They used to communicate with foreign stations. We never got more than a couple of hundred miles from Simon Gratz High School but we used to visit them and were amazed to see their QSL (confirmation of radio contact) cards. Germantown talked to people across the ocean and wild stories like that. I guess that radio was the big thing of the 1930’s. ”

On the roof was his ham radio antenna, another important part of the hobby, and another part I shared with him. He let me climb up the aluminum ladder onto the roof with him. I was always a little scared climbing over the 6 inch high lip around the room at the top of the ladder, but I did it because of the view. At that time, there was a law that no building in Philadelphia could be taller than the hat on the William Penn statue at the top of City Hall, so even though we were at least 10 miles from downtown, we could see “Billy Penn” as we called him on a clear day.

My mom learned to accept dad going up on the roof, and she was even OK with me climbing up there, but she liked to tell the story about how my grandmother Bessie wasn’t so comfortable with it. Once she had driven over the house, the story went, and found the ladder next to the house but didn’t see any one. She started calling. Hello? And my dad leaned over the roof and called down calmly, “Hi Mom!” Apparently grandmom get super excited and worried, “Get down from there, right now!” and being a good son-in-law, dad did, but just made sure Grandmom wasn’t due to come over the next time he needed to go fix his antenna on the roof.

Mom and dad loved to go to the movies for fun, dad would read the reviews in Time magazine and write the movie reviewed on the cover. Mom was quite proud of the fact that they took us often on vacations—driving to Atlantic City or Washington DC, and once to Williamburg, Virginia. Because my dad was a history buff, and mom was a teacher, the DC vacations always seemed more intellectual that fun to me, but as I got older I could listen to my dad talk about history for hours. Also, as we got older they took us to more fun places. The best was our Bermuda vacation was I was 15 and my brother was 18, and we rode motor bikes around the island and went hard hat diving on a tour.

Dad on a motorbike in Bermuda, 1971.

One of my favorite pictures with my dad is this one, on my wedding day, July 25, 1976.

My dad had many favorite sayings.  Maybe your dad did too?

He never said a curse word.  But he had many funny ways to get around it, and some other amusing catch phrases.  Here’s some of his “dadisms”

  • Well, cheese and crackers!
  • You’re full of soup!
  • Well, I’ll be a dirty bird. (i.e. dirty word)
  • I’m had you’re glappy.
  • It just shows to go you.
  • I’m actually bug-eyed.
  • I feel like a million bucks—all green and wrinkled.
  • This jello is great—no bones!
  • My cup runnith over… and drippith on the floor.
  • And when presented with anything that he liked…That’s the best thing since the uplift brassiere!

Interested in getting notified each time a new story comes out? Please let me know. Thanks for reading!

–Deb Merion March, 2019




5 Responses to “What was your Dad like when you were a child?”

  1. Cousin Shelli Shaw says:

    Loved this! Actually got a bit ferklempt from it. 🙂

  2. Rich Goldberg says:

    Hi Debbie! Wonderful stores and pictures about family – thank you for sharing! We are second cousins. You grandmother Bessie Rudnick nee Dowshen was the sister of my grandmother Anna Goldberg nee Dowshen. I believe that you spoke with my mother Sylvia Goldberg at your Uncle Herman’s unveiling a few weeks ago. I found your blog when I was searching family members to update my ancestry.com and findagrave.com accounts. I hope that it is OK with you that I copied some of the pics to my ancestry.com listings. I would be happy to share my ancestry.com family tree with you. It is a work in progress, and likely has some errors – but I have enjoyed working on it.

  3. Steve Barsky, W3IUB says:

    Hi —
    I was a member of the Beacon Radio Amateur Club for a few years after I got my novice and then general class license in the mid ’50s. My dad was W3UDL and he was also a Beacon member. We worked the annual Field Days. I left the Beacon Club when I went away to college and my dad died in 1965. I completely lost contact with BRA, and I have not been on the air for years although I am still licensed.

    Your dad was un-paralleled! Smart, funny, devilishly handsome, famous for saying he had a ladder limit and that a red flag would come down when he reached a certain height. The flag said “chicken.” This applied most on Field Day. I picture Mort with his rural mailbox chicken flag attached to his head. As I remember, the flag actuated when he was more than 2 ladder rungs off the ground.

    Mort was a great Morse operator, at least I thought so. His pal Harold Fix was the best – or the best bluffer. One of my jobs as a kid was to log the Field Day contacts for one of the Morse operators. That helped me get used to hearing fast operators, and Harold was the fastest. But I always wonder if he really worked those other guys.

    It was fun to read your article, takes me back to 1954!


    • Steve,
      This comment made my day! I remember the Beacon Radio Amateurs well, I helped my dad send out the reminder notices, and of course there was always Field Day. I didn’t know his line about the ladders, though. So funny! Yes, he was so funny and so wonderful, and I love that you thought he was handsome, too! I always heard “dad jokes” and loved them. I will say I did learn to climb ladders with my dad. I climbed up onto the room of our two story house with him when he needed to fix the antennna. I remember Harold Fox well too, he was a big, fun, interesting man, who was always honest about what he was thinking and feeling. I was just thinking about him today. Thank you again for reading this story!

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