Dad, who had neither hobbies nor interests, managed to compensate for these limitations with an enviable talent for idleness. It was about his only real talent.
He evidently learned this skill at his father’s knee. My grandfather, a southern Illinois farmer and carpenter, migrated to California during the farmers’ depression of the early 1920s, built a house in Pomona and never held a steady job for the remaining 30 years of his life.
Dad, having retired considerably later in life, did not get the chance to equal his father’s record. But despite having worked hard and honestly to the age of 67, he was anything but the “typical” workingman of that (mid-century) cliché who so identifies himself with his work as to shrivel up and die within a year or two of leaving it.
Dad’s gift for idleness quite disconcerted poor Ida, my stepmother, a decent and industrious woman who found it totally incomprehensible. Ma, on the other hand, had appeared to care very little one way or the other, so long as his assigned chores got done.
As a laborer on early day shift, he had to be at work at 5:30 in the morning. This meant that he got off work at something like 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Since we lived scarcely a 10-minute drive from the brewery where he had worked since before I was born, he would usually be home before I got home from school.
He would typically have come home to put in a couple of hours of yard work, and then would take a nap on the couch before dinner, or, conversely, he would take a nap on the couch and then do a couple of hours of yard work. In either case, after dinner, he would go back and lie down on the couch to watch TV and, usually, fall asleep soon after the 6:00 news. At 11:00, Ma would wake him up to go to bed.
He rarely slept the whole evening away, but he tended to doze and wake throughout it. Uncle Brontosaurus dubbed him “Horizontal Harry”.
Dad shared this affinity for the charms of Morpheus with the elder of his two sisters. Gran’s own little joke on this subject, upon coming into the house one day to find Dad sacked out on one couch and my aunt equally dead to the world on the other, expressed a claim to be astonished to discover that my aunt— inappropriately enough — was not after all, “Vertical Vesta”. (And, yes. Her name really was Vesta. They were from the Midwest, what can I say?)
Merely napping his life away on the couch would not necessarily have insured his particular soubriquet, however. That title had attached itself to him far earlier in my parents’ marriage — long before my appearance in it — back when he had made himself the object of gleeful astonishment among my mother’s family due to what must be admitted to be an even rarer gift for unconsciousness.
My parents had married at the tag end of 1931 and lived within a couple of miles of my grandparents’ household in Southeast L.A. back throughout the ’30s. Consequently, my parents spent many an evening around the kitchen table at Gran’s place along with my Grandfather, Uncle Bronty and whoever else was living with the “old folks” during the Depression. As these evenings wore on, Dad would begin to slump bonelessly, lower and lower in his chair until his back would reach the seat and he would be off and snoring.
Uncle Bronty claimed that Dad was the only person he ever met who could lie down in a straight-backed kitchen chair and go to sleep in it.