When my father needed a vice

Recently I blogged about the time my father as a boy threw an gold ring into a pile of green beans, where it was lost forever. I realize there is a sequel, also involving gold.

Fast forward 60+ years. My mother has just died of lung cancer and I’m helping my father clean out the sick room. It should be mentioned that despite a promising start, the last decades of their marriage were trying for him. Still, he was a devoted nurse in the months of her rapid decline. It’s also significant that he was a research scientist, given to unsentimental rationalism (like tossing an outgrown ring into green beans).

Back to the sick room. My mother’s gold watch sat on the night table. “What about this?” I asked.

“It isn’t running,” he observed. Before I could suggest a new battery, winding, or giving it to somebody, he added: “No point keeping a watch that doesn’t run.” I can still hear the ping in the bottom of the trash can.

“I guess not,” is all I could add.

That afternoon, we visited friends who were miffed that they’d called during the day and couldn’t leave a message. (My mother hated answering machines.) “That’s a problem,” my father said, pulling a notepad from his shirt pocket and jotting down: “Get answering machine.”

“And new clothes,” I added, since his wardrobe was decades old, chosen by my mother for thrift and easy-care. “Get new clothes,” he added to the list. “Will you help me tomorrow?” Yes I would.

He wasn’t finished with the to-do list. “I need a vice,” he announced.

“A vise?” I wondered why, since he’d long ago given away his wood working tools.

“No,” he said, reading my mind. “A vice. I think my vice will be a Jack Daniels every day at five o’clock. Let’s get some on the way home.” I should note that in the decades of my mother’s alcoholism, he hadn’t kept liquor in the house.

“OK,” I said. “Anything else? Scotch, mixers?”

“No, I’ll take it straight, on the rocks.” He checked his list: “Answering machine, new clothes, a vice. That’s enough for one day.”


Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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Posted in Just life
4 comments on “When my father needed a vice
  1. Iosifina says:

    That’s a lovely story, Pamela. I like the way he thought. It made me question what my vice might be!


  2. The field is wide open! You are starting from way behind in the vice department.


  3. Ellen Weiss says:

    I told your lovely niece that your father, her grandfather, was one of the kindest, most empathetic people I’d ever known … except when he tried to tutor me in college chemistry. He just shrugged his shoulders and gave up. I remember he said, in an exasperated voice, “I like you a lot, but I don’t understand why you can’t get this stuff through your perfectly good brain.” RIP, Irwin


  4. My father thought that a whole lot of truths were self-evident. That sort of limited his teaching ability. Early in their marriage, when my mother was taking a math course at Hunter, he tried to help with her homework and she ended up spending the night in a hotel.


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Sunday, May 6, 2pm reading from latest work at Hexagon Brewing Company, Knoxville, TN.

Thursday, May 10, 6-8 pm presentation on research on the historical novel, Blount County Library, Maryville, TN.

When We Were Strangers, Italian translation, to be presented in Pescasseroli, Italy, August 2018.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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