My father was very respected in the neighborhood I grew up in. Years after my friends grew up, they would always come by to visit and pay their respects to my Mom and Dad. Even after my friends had gotten married, had kids, and moved far away to the promise land of California.
Myself, after I grew up, visiting the parents of my friends was one of the last things I was interested in doing.* I'd list it just behind getting my prostate checked. One of my friend's dads was our grade school's janitor. It's an honorable job. We never stopped making fun of him.
One story/legend about my father that circulated around the kids in the neighborhood was how in World War II he saved his platoon in the Philippines by catching a bomb that had been dropped from a Japanese warplane. I don't know where this story originated. I never heard Dad kid us about it, or make reference to it. As kids, me and my friends were in too much awe of my Dad to ever ask him about it. Plus, since my Dad was a firm believer in capital punishment, we had learned early on to keep our distance. Whatever trouble we were interested in causing, we knew to cause it far from home.
The proof of this particular heroism was a hollowed out bomb-shell he had in his storage closet. That's where he kept his "souvenirs" from the war. His uniform. A gas mask. A Japanese "pillow" girl.** Where he got that hollowed out bomb-shell, who knows?
The story went: a Japanese bomber flew over his platoon, dropped the bomb, and Dad caught it in his arms-thus saving his buddies. It was our next-door neighbor, Sal, who told me that. My friends and I would sneak into the storage closet, take it out, and then imitate my Dad catching the bomb.
Speaking of Sal, he was one of four brothers who lived next door. Sadly, a few years later he discovered he loved drugs more than he loved himself, so his mother occasionally had to run over to our house so Dad could save her from her own son.
One particular story I remember is that Sal came home stoned on something he's never admitted to, and told his mother to make him a sandwich. She did, but, he later told us, when she placed it in front of him he lifted it to his mouth to take a bite, and the sandwich said: "Don't eat me!" That freaked him out even more than he was freaked out to begin with, and he started screaming at his mom and throwing things around. She ran next door, got my Dad, and he came over and told him to take off. He did. That was how much my Dad was feared and respected, that a drugged out troublemaker would obey him.
A few trips to prison finally got Sal on the right road, but by then it was too late. The only future he had in front of him was one that included a lot of manual labor. If there's one thing I have to thank my Dad for, is that he saved me from a life like Sal's. Not that I was a bad kid, but why does being bad have to be so much fun?
That reminds me of when I was 16 years-old and feeling my oats. My Dad was quick to give us a smack if we mouthed off to him or Mom, especially Mom, and I guess that's just what I had done. I blocked his punch as easily as David Carradine in Kung Fu. Let's just say that, with my Dad, I learned that it's better to dodge one of his punches than to block it. Less disrespectful.
And that reminds me of another story, this one my Dad told me of a time, back when he was feeling his oats. He was in a bar when he got into a fight with some guy over some girl whose lack of virtue was in dire need of defending. Threats were made. Fists were raised. And my Dad, who was smoking at the time, made the challenge: "You won't even be able to knock the cigarette from my mouth."
After that night, the guy's nickname around the neighborhood was Indio (The Spanish word for a man from India.), because of the dot in the middle of his forehead where my Dad stamped his cigarette out while he lay unconscious on the floor.
A neat trick my Dad once used in a fight was he invited the guy he was arguing with to step outside. My Dad opened the door, walked out first... and slammed the heavy wooden door on his opponent. Fight over.
I've never had to use that trick myself, but it was one of the things my Dad taught me that might come in handy someday.
*Well, there was that one mom I used to spy on as she was sunbathing in her backyard. I wouldn't have minded visiting her. Unfortunately, as I got older, so did she. I'll just have to be content to visit her in my dreams, where she's still the same age she was when I was ten.
**Just kidding about that last one.