Copyright (C) 2011 The Cruger Family. All Rights Reserved
Being a signalman on the subways in New York meant that during the warm months the job could
be relatively easy, but in the cruel winter months, working underground and above ground, exposure to the elements took a brave heart.
Dad toiled as a signalman until the winter of 1943, when the weather finally got to him. He learned to dread the winter days. In that
year, 1943, my dad, talked it over with my mother and decided to move to warm California.
reason for their move west was the doctor’s diagnosis of my health. When I was 3 or 4 years old my folks were told that I had Rheumatic
Fever, a serious disease of the heart. For 3 years I was kept in bed, with little or no exercise (and with little or no appetite).
I was allowed to go to the second grade school (P.S. 48).
All during the years I was kept home
to recover from Rheumatic Fever dad would go to work and when he came home he would spend hours with me – reading me stories, doing
magic tricks for me, singing songs for me. He would bring me little gifts. He was a loving, attentive man. He was my link to all that
happened outside my bedroom.
As I grew older, the doctors changed their diagnosis and told mom
and dad that it might be possible that I didn’t actually have Rheumatic Fever. They weren’t positive, but it might be beneficial to
let me out of the house, send me to school and permit me to lead a fairly normal life, at the same time as they periodically monitored
my heart and vital signs.
For these years one of the great enjoyments of my life was to walk
into the kitchen when my dad was eating his breakfast – usually alone. He would hand me a portion of the bagel he was eating and let
me dunk it in his sweetened coffee. It was just dad and me – sharing. I loved those minutes we spent together in the morning.
As soon as the doctors said that I could ease into a normal life dad starting teaching me to play baseball. He would take me to the
vacant lot down the street and teach me how to field grounders, make accurate throws and hit hardballs. I didn’t know it then, but
in later years I realized he wanted me to continue where his baseball career ended. I loved being with dad and having him teach me
baseball. I don’t ever remember dad “brushing me off” of not having time for me.
1944 came. Mom,
dad, gram and I moved to California. Dad found a job working as a mechanic on cement trucks, then he took tests and became a signalman
again, this time for the Pacific Electric Railway. A good job.
We moved to Inglewood and dad
became active in the Centinela Days Pageant. For 5 years he headed the giant, city-wide event that celebrated the Spanish founding
of the Centinela Valley. Dad acted in, directed and produced the city-wide pageant. He wore a Mexican cowboy costume, including a
wide brimmed sombrero and a realistic toy gun in a holster. Dad was the star and emceed the pageant.
He also directed and produced U.S.O. shows, traveling for years to military camps all across California, entertaining the U.S. military
As I reached my teen years dad continually encouraged me to play baseball. For years
dad volunteered to be the coach of teams on which I played. He continued teaching me the finer points of the game – always having
time to play catch or teach me the best way to pick up a grounder and throw to first base. He was always there for me.
As I reached high school age dad would go to all my games – that is, until one day, when I told him that I didn’t want him to go to
the games anymore. It embarrassed me. But, the real reason, I think, was that I wanted so badly to do well for him. I wanted to make
him proud of me. I had put a great deal of pressure on myself – too much, perhaps.
It was one
of the great mistakes of my life, which I corrected after my sophomore year in high school. From then on I wanted him there, watching
me. He brought mom and went to most of my games – in high school and then college. I loved looking up into the stands, seeing them
there. I knew they were proud of me. They had forgiven me for my dumb couple of insensitive years.
I graduated from high school, college, played semi-pro baseball, all with dad’s full support.
As the years went by I saw mom and dad remain deeply in love with each other. They hadn’t changed. Mom was the serious one. Dad was
the funny guy.
“Sonny” was everybody’s favorite. He entertained kids, played the piano, sang
songs, played the ventriloquist and did magic tricks.
Dad got more serious about getting into
show business. He attended meetings with television producers. He had his heart set on becoming The Cisco Kid’s saddle buddy “Pancho”
on the popular television series. Nothing panned out.
In 1961 mom died. With her death dad started
dying. The couple that friends called “perfect” was no more. He couldn’t stay in the same house that he had shared with mom for years.
He bought another home in Inglewood. He shared it with gram and daughter, Carol Lynn.
By 1962 dad’s health began to fade. He became out of breath at the slightest exertion. He could no longer do many of the physical
things his job required.
Finally he went to the doctor. He was told that he was suffering from
heart failure. He would need open-heart surgery. He stayed with me and my family, hoping to gain enough strength to undergo the surgery
In early September, 1965 dad took a turn for the worse and we had to take him to
the hospital. His heart was failing rapidly. A few days after he was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Los Angeles his doctor
asked to see me. He asked, “Did you know your father had emphysema. It also looks like he had Rheumatic Fever as a child!” I knew
neither. The doctors explained that dad’s heart was failing and it would take a remarkable turn- around for them to be able to operate
on his heart. He was just getting too weak.
He continued to fail. On September 24, 1965 dad was
talking to the nurses from his bed. He had lost a great deal of weight and strength. He was kidding with the nurses when they noticed
him taking a deep breath, then he sighed and he was gone.
Dad died on the date of his wedding
anniversary to mom. They had been married exactly 36 years before his death. It was as if his heart had broken 4 years before, when
mom died. The doctors said he had died of heart failure. Those who knew dad believed he died of a broken heart.
I was so fortunate to have had mom and dad for as long as I did. I was blessed with parents who
loved so deeply. They taught me so many things.
I still keep my decades old baseball glove folded
and protected in the garage closet.
Oh, I know these things are impossible, but maybe some night in a dream dad and I will go out
in the back yard and play catch again. Just one more time.
Happy Father’s Day to my very special,