The strapping young husband went off to war and had his fill of troop ships, bombers and Australia. If I get out of this alive, he vowed, I’ll never travel far from home again.
Back in Pennsylvania a decade later he would pick up the smallest of his three kids by the scruff of his neck and hustle him into the house for ignoring an order to take it easy on that new tricycle. “I’ll go fast if I want to!” the kid declared, an instant before the arrest.
The same child, a few years older yet no wiser, would have another uplifting experience for accusing the man of cheating — making his big brother’s root beer float a full inch deeper than his own — for the first and last time.
The man would stroll to the corner confectionery store on Sunday mornings and lug home big, strange newspapers.
These volumes from Pittsburgh and New York told of a whole, new world out there beyond Altoona, and the kid would read them in amazement for hours.
The kid is me, the man is my dad and this is Father’s Day.
Let me tell you about Bud.
His sport was basketball. He excelled in the 1930s, an era of fast, little guys, in high school and at Bucknell.
My sport was baseball. He introduced me to the big leagues at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. He was a restrained fan of my playing days. I remember him coming down from the bleachers only once — to challenge a Little League manager who kept me in the entire game as a pitcher in a 20-run loss.
Later he would convince me that there’s always a next time and you win some, you lose some.
When I was 16 he again would teach me to get back in there. My brother was in the Army and I was allowed to drive his tiny car for the first time, to an evening meeting to work on my high-school yearbook. On the way home I turned smack into the path of an oncoming Cadillac — demolishing my brother’s car while barely denting the Caddy.
Dad came, made sure I was OK, supervised the police paperwork and watched with me as broken glass was swept up and big brother’s auto was towed away.
We walked to dad’s car and what I feared would be a grueling lecture.
He tossed me the keys.
“The longer you put this off, the harder it will be,” he said. “You drive.”
I am grateful to this day.
Later I would pick up a guitar and join a rock ’n’ roll band. Bud came along on most of our jobs, negotiating the icy hills of Central Pennsylvania on wintry weekend nights and lugging amplifiers and drums up and down countless flights of stairs.
He and other dads were our helpers.
They knew what kind of trouble we could have gotten into. They endured — and even came to like — some ungodly loud music.
We made some money and he was firm about saving most of it. What seemed like punishment then served me well in college.
Dad was big on grit and humor.
Grit: Battling back from a freak car accident in our driveway that broke both legs below the knees in the early 1970s.
Doctors said he would not walk with ease again. He exercised hard to prove them wrong.
Humor: While watching firemen hose down a major blaze at his lumber dealership (remaining Lytle Lumber for years after he rebuilt, sold it and retired), a neighbor came up and asked what he planned to do. “We’ll just paint right over it,” he replied.
That night he joined my brother and me on a lumberyard stoop as we kept vigil over what was left.
Strange what comes back when conjuring special times with special people.
It’s the little things that forge character — and Bud is a classic.
Now Bud is in his 80s and will spend part of this Father’s Day going to church and watching golf on TV.
I will call him and try to tell him what I am trying to tell you — how lucky I am to be his son.
Happy Father’s Day to all.
Editor’s note: This column was first published on Father’s Day 1998 and won three Florida journalism awards. Melvin R. “Bud” Lytle Sr. died on March 9, 2001, three days after his 88th birthday. He really liked this column.