My dad, Arthur Collins, was born in 1920 and grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Harlem. Everyone called him Artie. He dropped out of high school during the Depression to work in his father’s window shade shop. Yes, window shades, even at a time when people had to choose between paying the rent and buying food.
His home bar was the Columbus Tavern on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan, and that’s where he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. He said most of the people in the bar said, “What the hell is Pearl Harbor?”
They found out, of course, and Dad enlisted in the Navy. (His dad, George Collins, had lied about his age to enlist in the Spanish-American War, and enlisted again to fight in World War I.)
Dad was a signalman on a troop transport, the USS Edmund B. Alexander.
After World War II, he went to Pratt Institute on the GI Bill and got a job as a commercial artist at an ad agency in Manhattan. Most of the people at Gray Advertising were Jewish, so when a receptionist named Joan Murphy was hired, Dad said to her, “It’s good to see another bog-trotter around here!” Mom told me she didn’t like him at first because she thought that meant he was anti-Semitic. It wasn’t, and obviously, she got over it.Their favorite date was to buy all the New York Sunday newspapers on Saturday night, order a pitcher of beer and argue about politics.
They got married in Manhattan in 1947, had me and Jeanie, and bought a Levitt house in Westbury. Dad still worked in the city and commuted on the Long Island Rail Road. He bought a 13-foot motor boat that he named The Murph, and we used to go fishing at the crack of dawn before he had to go to work. Lots of times, we stood up and sang “Anchors Aweigh” until we got back to Point Lookout.
When Jeanie and I reached dating age, Dad suddenly became an old-fashioned, straitlaced father. And a fire-breathing dragon. Every boyfriend I ever had told me Dad almost broke his hand during that first handshake.
One summer, when he kept complaining about my bathing suit, I finally asked him, “So what kind of bathing suit do you want me to wear?”
“It should tie at the elbows and the knees,” he answered. He wasn’t kidding, but to humor him I wore a one-piece suit when he was around.
He hated it when I switched loyalty from the Giants to the Jets the year Joe Namath came to town. He hated it that I liked rock and roll better than the big band sound. He hated it that he accidently said the F-word in front of me when Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes. (I was 25!)
His nickname became Big Artie after his grandson and my nephew, Arthur “Little Artie” Haughey was born in 1983. By the time Little Artie started playing football at Bellport High School, he was half a foot taller than Big Artie, but the nicknames stuck. (Now Little Artie has a son named Arthur John Haughey; we call him A.J.)
Big Artie played tennis into his ’70s, rode his bike all over Bellport into his 80s. Mom died in 2009, and Dad died at 92 in 2012.
Now there’s no one left on the planet who looks at me and Jeanie and sees two little girls with blond hair.
Miss you, Da!
Reader Pat Collins lives in Middle Island.