Lessons from Germ and other goofy jazz

The date of this paper is rather meaningful, for me, as June 10 marks the anniversary of my father's death.

G. Blaine Houserman was born on 06/01/1919 and died on 06/10/1991. Check out those numbers closely, if you will, or, even if you won't... See, isn't it odd how the numbers just need switched about in order to be the same? Like all things Houserman, this is totally weird.

I don't write a whole lot about my father, and thought it was high time. After all, it is the Father's Day issue of the famous Community News.

I shall convey background information, about my father, and maybe list a few “Blaineisms,” for fun. I will take a shot at brevity but you know darned well that I will fail miserably.

My father was a rather famous trumpet player, for many years, which brought him much joy.

He was a part of Tars and Spars, during WWII, and performed in the company of Vic Mature and Sid Caeser, to name two. For those under the age of 70, that might not mean a thing but, our older readers might appreciate that factoid.

An area band, of which he was a member, would be the Dixie Doodlers. They even cut an album, which still makes me giggle.

Dad was a total, not a partial, but a total, character. I've been told that I get my personality from him, which is the highest compliment I could receive.

A few silly shenanigans performed by this man were riding a bike whilst donning a pair of Bermuda shorts, socks up to his knees and a pith helmet perched atop his head. You read that right—a pith helmet.

He also ushered Santa to town, annually, by riding on a firetruck and playing carols. He utilized vodka to keep his valves from freezing up. Hmm, I always wondered why it had to be top shelf vodka though. Food, or drink, for thought.

O Holy Night was the Christmas tune which would flow, majestically, from Dad's trumpet, waft through the Fifth Street Presbyterian Church and make its way to the surrounding streets, every Christmas Eve.

That was just about the only time he attended church. However, he was a religious man, in his own way, as he respected nature, and did thank his god for his great life.

When he passed, a gal who was slow, (what was once called being mentally retarded—please don't shoot me for my usage, because it WAS known as such, at that time), wrote a very nice note to the family. In the letter, she stated, “Blaine never made me feel stupid and always took the time to speak to me and say something nice.”

His motto was to try and find some little nicety to say to another human being. Even if the individual happened to be poor, not very clean looking, or whatever the case may be, my father said that one could still compliment a smile, or utter words to brighten his or her day.

Due to his German heritage, my very dear friend, from my youth, Kim Abbott, (daughter of Vern and Ida), gave him the nickname, “Germ,” which stuck. He used to pretend to be terrified of Lysol, because its claim to fame was killing household germs.

Germ was so very young at heart and would even be given toys for the holidays. Speaking of such, one time, he got me liverwurst, as a gift, because I lived for it. Now, how many of you can say that you received liverwurst, from your father, for the holidays? I hope none of you, honestly. (Yes, he hid it in the basement fridge. I knew you'd be concerned.)

He loved to fly kites and taught me this art when I was a child. Also, when it was time for me to come home, he'd either whistle loudly, or, climb atop the roof and play the horn. That was my cue to head home. This would have been back in the days when kids played outside until dark and even tried to extend the time. Nothing like it is today, mind you.

Because of his youthful nature and downright fun attitude, we never expected him to keel over dead at the ripe young age of 72 but, he did. He developed a violent headache, after practicing the horn and watching a soap opera with Mother. She then put him in bed to rest, carried on with a few chores, came inside and found him unresponsive on the bath floor. Boom, he was gone. That is the way he wanted to go and, he did. (Not sure if the bath floor was a part of his death wish but, I meant, he wanted to just pass quickly when the time came.)

Getting back to something a touch more cheerful, he used to sneak me out of school and secretly whisk me away for a day in the big city of Pittsburgh. We rode the incline together and toured the city of his youth. Dad always said that I could learn more by actually doing things than by sitting in a class room. Mother wasn't so keen on these clandestine trips, I should add.

Germ adored animals and openly grieved the death of many a family cat, over the years. He knew nothing about horses, whatsoever, but, when I'd be at work, he would haphazardly slap a halter on my first horse, Honey Bee, and take her for a walk, like someone would a dog. The halter and lead were, without a doubt, upside down and inside out and I thank goodness that Honey Bee didn't mind.

He also wept, without shame, when Karen Carpenter died. I also recall having to be absolutely silent, when Benny Goodman passed, in order for all news reports and special programming to be heard, without the sounds of kids bothering him.

My father was not a big “child person,” and would cringe when folks would whip open billfolds in order to show off grandchildren. So, to get back at them, for this most egregious sin, he would proudly open his wallet to reveal a picture of Bubbles the Cat, tucked within.

I knew this would not be a quick bio, at all, and I warned you. I've really gone overboard and must at least list a few things which I learned from Germ, or whatever I decide to call this piece.

He told me, when I first began to drive, to keep in mind that every other driver was drunk, idiotic or a plain old *&^%$. You can fill in the cartoon swear.

Germ also imparted a lesson that I've passed along to my kid, which would be that one's parents are the only people on whom one may always depend. (This would be parents who don't beat kids or carry out unmentionable crimes against them, of course.)

His point was that when a person is young, he may get all wrapped up in unpleasant situations involving so-called friends. Therefore, one must realize that a mom, or a dad, or both, would be the only people on whom the youngster could always rely, no matter what the circumstance.

I thought he was insane, and he was, sometimes, but, that lesson alone proved to be correct on numerous occasions.

“When you stay at a friend's house, always fold your blankets, make the bed and offer to do some little chore,” was a direct quote. I always did follow that rule and you may ask any parent, of any friend, if you don't believe me.

Also, he said that even if I couldn't tolerate a person's parents, I was to fake it by putting on a happy face and attempting to strike up conversations. This, he said, was the right thing to do and, might even change my opinion of said elder.

On the note of visiting a “strange” house, I was always to greet the mom, dad, uncle, aunt or whomever might be there, upon my arrival.

These days, kids traipse, (I just love that word and it's a Germ word, to boot), about like zombies when entering the home of a cohort. I've actually trained my kid to introduce Zombie, and have listened to him as he forced, at gunpoint, some to greet his mother in a proper manner.

This next one is ridiculous and yet, I follow it to this day. “Try to always use the lane change, rather than the full turning signal, as it prevents wear and tear on the signaling mechanism.” What? Well, I do this right here and now. Well, not really here because I'm typing but, I believe you catch my drift.

Germ and Mother both couldn't take it when the English language was butchered beyond belief. This is where I get my grammar gremlin tendencies. Yes, yes, I know that I make mistakes but I wouldn't be caught dead saying something like this: “I knowed him since he throwed that party. It don't make no difference since it ain't none of my concern. I seen him do it and I shoulda went out to say good job to him.”

We would laugh and have total fun talking like this about the house. The things we did for entertainment in my family are absolutely disturbing, to say the least. Call a therapist, pronto.

A few other examples of advice for life would be when Germ would go on and on and on about how being “in,” (as in with the crowd), was out. He would drill it into my head to NOT be in with the in gang. Being an individual was the most important thing, no matter what people thought, said or did about it.

Today, I see many kids trying to be unique but, in doing so, they tend to go along with that infamous “IN” team. One gets a tattoo and the other kid follows suit. Same goes for piercings and other jazz but, I am going on as much as Germ did and shall quit now.

He also said that Ohio drivers were the worst and I must agree—sorry Ohio readers but really, take driver ed or something, right now.

He imparted his knowledge, about working on his old trucks, to me. I could bleed brakes and adjust a carburetor when I was about 16. (I looked that word up online and, it has a lot of different spellings. I just picked one.)

He bought two old trucks, one 1970 Chevy and one 1966, and then made wooden beds for them. He was kind of known for the trucks, among other things, that you have read.

I learned the H pattern, on-the-column, shifting from Germ. Actually, Mother ended up really teaching me, because dad was not a patient man, nor am I. I'm not a man, either, but, I have the patience of, well something very impatient.

“I can't stand clothes,” was a direct quote from G. Blaine Houserman and, when we got that horrid call, in Texas, on June 10, 1991, and flew home, we arrived to find his clothing draped about on the furniture, as he had left them, earlier in the day. Germ just didn't care for being dressed from head to toe and would rather lounge about in a shirt and undies. Mother will be appalled that I told about this deep, dark, family secret. I'm afraid, protect me.

As it is with all death, the first year appears to be the hardest. Time goes by and we still think of our loved ones but, that initial shock, fear and deep hurt does fade.

I think of Germ often and have taken into account the above-mentioned advice he gave. I suppose the word lecture could be used, rather than lesson, with some of these things, as he was a pro at giving a lecture.

The last time I saw my father was when he and Mother came to see us in Houston. We painted the town, just the two of us, whilst on a father/daughter outing.

We had dinner, went to a piano bar, had a drink, or five, stopped by a stunning building with a fountain in front, and then, I introduced him to one of my professors, from the community college, which I attended.

I've mentioned Dr. George Ross in this space before, as he was a great influence on my writing. I was taught American Literature and several English courses by that terrific man. I just loved having the two older gents meet and, of course, they picked on me and had some fun at my expense, during the course of our visit.

Toward the end of our date, Germ was cleaning the gunk off the windshield from all of the cigarette smoke build-up. He gently, yet effectively, turned to me, whilst grasping the Windex and paper towels, and said, “I don't want to ever see this again. You need to keep these windows clean.”

I don't follow that rule at all but, on the rare occasion, when I take the time to go over my van with a cloth, my mind travels back to that time in Houston.

During our last phone conversation, the day before he died, he told me that it's important to do things with older folks when they ask. I've mentioned that before in this column, but thought it might be a good ending. Stop that cheering.

On that note, I might just give the van a once over and will make certain to use the lane change when I drive off. I might be scantly dressed, because I inherited my hatred of clothing from dad. If you hear a huge crash, you can be certain that I've caused a major traffic incident.

Happy Father's Day and thank you for reading my tribute to Germ.