Friday, March 5, 2021

A Tribute to My Dad


A Tribute to My Dad

By Nick Cimino, League City, Texas, March 5, 2021


Today would have been my dad’s 87th birthday.  Dad passed away on January 22, 2021 and it has taken me awhile to get to the point where I could deal with my feelings in writing.  With COVID I was spared from having to write a eulogy for his memorial service. I didn’t even have to write an obituary. We have not had a memorial service. Just a few Facebook posts.  But this is not enough for a man that was deeply loved and respected by all who really knew him.

Richard James Cimino was born on March 5, 1934, in South Sioux City, Nebraska, his father, Richard Cimino, was 27 and his mother, Mary Iza McCrory, was 25. He married Jill Anna Mayne and they had four children together. He then married Phyllis Lorraine Hershwitzky and they had one daughter together. He died on January 22, 2021, in Vancouver, Washington, at the age of 86.

Born 1934-Died 2021 but that dash in the middle is filled with a lot of living and loving.  Dad had his share of disappointments in life but he was also well-known as a man who enjoyed a good celebration and there were many.

His early life was spent in South Sioux City, Nebraska. He was born there in 1934 and his parents house was on a dead end of West 17th Street which was a Cimino family compound. His grandfather lived across the street and his Uncle John had a house there too.

When Dad was a kid, he began his life as a picker. He would go through the alleys and pick through the trash to find the cards from the Wing cigarettes that had airplanes on it. Tony was embarrassed by his little brother so he turned him into their mother and she made him promise not to rummage through the trash anymore. When the milk bottles would freeze in the winter, the cream would be pushed over the rim of the bottle and Dad and Tony would break off the cream and eat it and then put the paper caps back on the bottles.

Tony had a bicycle that my Dad would ride. It was too big for him so he would lean it against the house or the garage to climb aboard and then push off from the wall to get the bike moving. Dad hardly ever wore shoes and one time he got his big toe caught in the chain. His grandfather arrived at the scene and was going to pull his foot out of the snare but Uncle Sam stopped him and got a tool to cut the chain loose which probably saved Dad's big toe. Uncle Fred's Buick sedan usually had trouble starting but it started right up that day and they took him to Dr. Legg and the good doctor sewed his toe back together. Dad got the royal treatment during his recovery. His dad would carry him into the movies and he got to sit up in the front seat of the car with his foot resting on the dashboard.

Dad's mother would bring the family down to Omaha from South Sioux City on the Greyhound bus and they would stay at the home of her mother and stepfather, Julia and Alfred Hansen. The bus ride could be a scary experience for a little boy. Dad recalls a trip in the wintertime when roads were flooded and he could see parts of houses floating in the water. Alfred had a 31 Chevy with a rumble seat in the back so it was a treat for Dad and Betty Ann to sit in the rumble seat and go visit relatives in Omaha.

Dad recalled visiting his Aunt Sarah and her husband August Oddo in Omaha before the Cimino family left Nebraska probably in the late 1930s or early 1940s. August would be out in front of the house working on cars covered in grease.

Grandpa Dick would go out on Friday and Saturday nights to play gigs with his band. Dad inherited the job of shining shoes and cleaning the saxophone case from his brother, Tony when he went into the army. He remembers vividly those nights staying home with his mom. He would put cream and sugar into his Mom's coffee for her so this is probably why he preferred cream and sugar in his own coffee.

Grandpa Dick had gone out to California during World War II to work in the shipyards. He was not enamored with cold of San Francisco Bay but he was impressed with Sacramento and vowed to come back.  He found an opportunity in Montana first and the family relocated there for awhile but Sacramento was still calling him.  A job at a casing plant in West Sacramento made it possible for the family to relocate there.

Dad vividly remembered the fat lady at Playland in San Francisco. He didn’t write many emails but some pictures sent to him by his friend Coy stirred some memories of his early days in Northern California:

From: Richard Cimino ( Sent: Fri 12/24/10 7:19 PM The Bay Area seems like a different world looking at these pictures. We lived in Sacramento in the mid 1940´s. We would take the train to Oakland and catch the ferry to San Francisco, then on to the street car to Playland at the Beach. I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed these trips as a young boy 11 years old. After all these years it´s still a thrill for me to cross the Golden Gate. I love San Francisco. Thank you Coy for sending me these pictures. Rich

Dad told me that he loved to drive from an early age. He would take his father's car when he was sleeping. It worked pretty well until the neighbors asked Grandpa Dick who was driving his car. He bought his first car when he was 16.  Dad like to cruise the main streets of Sacramento with his friend Jack Flock.

He was a graduate of McClatchy High School, in Sacramento. He worked while going to school at a service station and also baled hay. They baled hay at night in the Sacramento area because the hay was too dry during the day and the alfalfa would lose its leaves. At night it was cooler and the hay bales turned out better.

Dad and Mom were married January 17, 1954. They had four children: me, Vicky, Vince and Faran.

Dad needed a good job to feed his growing family. His first full-time occupation was as an electrician apprentice, but he only did it for 18 months. His brother was an electrician and he often had periods of unemployment so when Dad saw an opportunity to apply to the phone company, he took it.  He was employed by Pacific Telephone from 1956 to 1986 and he never regretted the decision to opt for a steady income. He started as a supply man, but worked most of those 30 years in the installation and repair units. He also worked on the test board toward the end of his career.

While in Woodland he worked the graveyard shift supplying the trucks for the next day. There was a tomato field next to his building and he would go out and pick a ripe tomato and sprinkle it with salt for a delicious snack. In Sacramento, he worked out of the yard at 24th and S Streets.

One of the earliest memories of times with Dad was on Carmela Way when there was a fire at a neighbor's house.  Dad took me through the house after the fire.  I think he was hoping that seeing the house and smelling the charred remains would reinforce the seriousness of being careful with matches and open flames. It was a very memorable experience for me and I think it had the desired effect.

Dad put a lot of work into the house on Carmela Way. This is where we lived when Vince was born on November 17, 1958.

He enjoyed going into people’s homes on installation and repair jobs. He was a sociable fellow and would often admire their antiques and collectibles. Sometimes he would offer to buy their unwanted treasures. On one occasion, I remember that Dad took us to an old house that he had serviced so we could dig for old bottles in the backyard.

In 1960, we moved to 2352 Craig Avenue in Sacramento. Dad’s work improving the house and the yard began again. We were literally on the southern edge of Sacramento and on a clear day we could see Mt. Diablo out of our two patio doors on the south side of the house. We waited to install our fence to preserve that view. But eventually Dad built a fence and a patio. I remember him smoothing and watering the concrete on the patio.  He and I installed phone jacks in every room of that house.  My job was to crawl under the house with the wire and poke the wire through the hole that Dad had drilled.

One of the best days of my life was when he and his brother installed an air conditioner in our house.

One of Dad's fondest family memories was taking the entire family to the drive-in movies. Mom would make bags of popcorn and they would purchase candy at the store to avoid the high prices at the snack bar. Sometimes he would put me in the trunk before we entered the drive-in to save money on the entrance fee. Dad created a place for all of the kids to sleep in the car when we got drowsy. Dad made a plywood platform to go over the drive shaft that allowed one kid to fall asleep on the floor of the Chevy. The lucky kid got the seat and another would be behind the back seat. I remember switching off with Vicky on the sleeping area. When we got the 52 Mercury woody wagon, we had more room for everyone.

One movie that we saw at the drive-in was Goldfinger. We would go to several different drive-ins.  My job would be to wash the windows.  Occasionally I would get to go to the snack bar to get popcorn and candy with Dad. In the 1961 City Directory there were listings for the Fruitridge Drive-In Movie at 5201 Fruitridge Road and I know we went there but the one we went to most often was Skyview Drive-In on 47th Ave. There was also the El Rancho at 200 West Capitol in West Sacramento and we went there a few times too. Mather Auto Movies at 9977 Folsom Boulevard was another place that we went to a few times. Some of these places had playgrounds but I do not remember spending much time at a playground. One of our cars was a convertible which was nice on a hot night but I seem to remember that Dad used the car heater to defrost the windows on many nights.

Dad was well immersed into the 1960s car culture to the point of purchasing and restoring sports cars and then exhibiting them in car shows. He owned an MG-TD and a drophead Morgan. One of my favorite photographs is of my brother Vince standing in the engine compartment of the Morgan.  Dad had removed the engine and fully restored it. Uncle Tony had a Volvo that he had renovated and they both were attending car shows and sports car races.

In the late 1960s Dad purchased a Citroen wagon. The car was quite the oddity on the streets of Sacramento at the time especially when we would come to a stoplight and the kids would shout 'raise it up, Dad'. The suspension had a hydraulic system that would allow the driver to raise the chassis higher for better clearance and it created quite the sight for the other drivers and passengers to see this car raising up several inches. Perhaps this is what inspired the low-riders to install similar systems on their cars!

Dad loved to take us on drives around Sacramento and day trips to the foothills. He liked to take the scenic route and pull over at historic markers and let me read the history of the site. I think that was one of the things that inspired my love of history. When he had his motorcycle, he would let me ride with him out to the river road. It was always fun to ride on top of the levee next to the Sacramento River whether I was on the motorcycle or in a car.

We spent a lot of time in the car going from one place to another. Sometimes we would get caught waiting for trains on Meadowview or Florin Road. When we were able to cross the tracks, it was always an adventure because the tracks seemed to be at a steep incline and it was a bumpy ride over the tracks.

One of my adventures with Dad would be a trip to the dump in a borrowed pickup truck. The road to the dump had lots of undulations so it was fun if we could get a little air as we were going over the bumps on the way back home. Dad was always very scrupulous about bringing the truck back clean with a full tank of gas no matter how empty it was when we picked it up.  Sometimes we would walk around the salvage yard and find a few treasures to bring back home.

When I was in Boy Scouts, Dad would often be one of the drivers that would take us to and from camp-outs.

The period from 1964 to 1970 was very difficult for Dad and Mom. Tensions were at a very high level and both of them started drinking too much.  Mom was in an auto accident and my brother Faran was in the front seat and received a huge gash in his cheek from the impact. Dad worked a lot of overtime ostensibly to pay the bills but there might have been some avoidance going on for him.  He used to spend a lot of time at the Round Corner Bar playing pool with his work buddies. There were lots of late-night parties at the house with work buddies and their wives. Mom’s drinking got out of control. Mom also struggled with epilepsy and she had some events which were called mental breakdowns. Dick and Jill were divorced in July 1970.

Mom got custody of the kids but she struggled to make it on alimony and child support and she wasn’t working full time. Her drinking seemed to get worse. Dad filed for custody of the kids about 1972 and I supported him during the trial. He and I lived together during that period. He obtained custody and things started to improve but Dad had his challenges raising three kids as a single father.

I was in college and Dad was able to get me a summer job with the phone company at Lake Tahoe. That was a very memorable experience for me and it gave me and dad a lot to talk about regarding our shared experience. I was now out of the house either working in the summer or going to school and living at UC Davis.  After I graduated from college, I moved back to Sacramento with Dad and my three siblings.  I could see that Dad was not happy trying to raise his kids alone in Sacramento. He thought a move would be a good idea.

He transferred to Santa Rosa and he described that as the best thing that ever happened in his career.

Dad moved to a rental house on West Avenue in Santa Rosa in January 1976. I got to drive his prized Shelby Mustang. Somebody broke into the moving truck in Sacramento behind the condo but they didn't take anything. A few months later, he and the boys moved to Aztec Court in Santa Rosa. The subdivision was known as Indian Village. Dad described it as a war zone. But he loved his work in Santa Rosa. He said it was easier because there were fewer conflicts with the customers. Now that I read this paragraph again, I wish I would have reviewed this sooner. I would have asked him to explain the war zone and the conflicts but I guess I can ask Phyllis and my brothers for their interpretations.

Meanwhile, I had met someone very special and in November 1976, I was married in Sacramento to Robin Harrington.  Both mom and dad participated in the wedding. Their divorced relationship was amicable at that point. Mom was working and getting on the right track.

Dad had also met someone special at a Parents Without Partners event in Santa Rosa.  Her name was Phyllis Hershwitzky and she was a nurse with three daughters. They dated for several months and were married on June 18, 1977.  Dad, Vince and Faran moved in with Phyllis, Kim, Alison and Shannon and they had their own little Brady Bunch on Monte Verde Way in Santa Rosa.

About 1982, Kim went to school in Mt. Po Yay (spelling?), France and Dad and Phyllis went to Europe for 3 weeks. They landed in Frankfurt, were there one night, then took the train to Aachen, Germany. This town was bombed out in World War II. They stayed in an old hotel with very good beer. They visited a toy company in Aachen called Danhausen. The town was shaped like a wheel. They had some meals at a railway station buffet which had excellent food.

They took the train to Paris to meet Kim and her boyfriend there. They went to Mt Po Yay and the Palace of Versailles. The rooms were huge.  One of the fireplaces was so large that Dad walked into it. There was an old merry go round. There were beautiful gardens and buildings and Dad thought it was a magnificent place. He remembered that Empress Josephine had a secret door in her bedroom.  

Kim and Phyllis climbed the Eiffel Tower. They went to the Moulin Rouge and had champagne and an excellent dinner. The entertainers were from Texas.

Dad and Phyllis went to Milano for a few days. Most days were spent shopping for toys and walking around. They went to flea markets and toy stores in Milano.  This was in the early years of his toy car collecting hobby.

In 1986, Dad and Phyllis moved to 10027 Herb Road in Windsor. This is where his toy collecting hobby became an obsession. The house was decorated with his toy collection and Phyllis collected dolls and several other items. He was employed as a school bus driver for the Windsor School District that same year and he retired from the school district in 1996. It was during those years that Dad and Phyllis started their business called Cimino Machines in Miniature.  The toy collecting became a weekend business.  They purchased a camper van to carry their inventory to toy shows, flea markets and sports car races.

It was also during these years that their home became the scene of many family reunions, birthday parties and other celebrations.

In 2004, Dad and Phyllis decided to move to Battleground, Washington to be near their daughter, Shannon. Her family had already moved to nearby Vancouver, Washington. They purchased a house at 910 SW 30th Street in Battleground. Uncle Tony came from Bend to help them move with his friend, Dave. Vince Cimino, his friend, Bert and Shannon’s husband, Nick McCarthy also helped. When they arrived in their house in Battleground, they had no furniture until December. They had mattresses but no bed frames.

They spent their first Thanksgiving in Washington at Shannon's house with Vince and Sandra also attending. All of the boxes were in the garage but everything was out of the storage unit. The house had an open floor plan with kitchen, dining room and living room combined. The had a long table suitable for large family gatherings. They hosted a Christmas party for the neighborhood when they first moved to Washington. Phyllis made a delicious dinner.

In 2006 Dad was treated for lung cancer. Shortly thereafter he had a cardiac ablation.

Things were better at Christmas in 2008 when we received this email from Dad and Phyllis:

HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM THE BEAUTIFUL NORTHWEST From: Richard Cimino ( Sent: Sat 12/27/08 10:27 PM Dear family and friends, we want to wish all of you a very happy New Year. We hope that 2009 brings health and happiness. Here are some pictures from our home showing the beautiful snow fall December 2008. It has been quite an experience. We were snowed in for four days, along with no mail delivery. Some of the pictures are also of our newest member of our family's home, Greg Welter who lives across the road from us. Greg and Alison became husband and wife on 12/20/2008. We are thrilled!!! Blessings to all, Rich (dad, poppy) and Phyllis (mom,nana) ps max and daisy send their love as well.

The following year I received this email:

From: Richard Cimino ( Sent: Tue 9/08/09 3:51 AM Our Morgan is in the shop being worked on. Hope to have it back on the road again by spring. Phyllis and myself, and my brother Tony went to the All-British Field Meet in Bellevue, Wa. We saw lots of beautiful cars, including many Morgans. We had a great week-end in the Seattle area. Enjoy the remainder of your Summer. Best Regards, Rich and Phyllis Cimino

In 2011, I received another email:

From: Richard Cimino ( Sent: Wed 7/20/11 2:09 AM To: Nick Cimino ( Hi Nick, Thanks for the email. Vince and family will be here soon to spend the night. Tomorrow we will be on the way to Canada. Back home on Saturday. Thanks again love you, Dad. Rich Cimino

In March 2016 Dad and Phyllis moved to Vancouver, Washington. The Oakland A’s had been a life-long passion for Dad. They would often record the games so he always warned me not to tell him the final score. Dad had been having signs of Alzheimer’s and he had a variety of other health challenges.

We would talk on the phone frequently. Unfortunately, the pandemic kept us from visiting over the last year. Here are a few notes that I took from a conversation last year.

September 13, 2020, 2:54 PM- Looks like a fog from all of the smoke from the forest fires. They are not going out. Having his breakfast including English muffins with peanut butter and cherry jelly.  Drinking his coffee now. Still in his pajamas. Updated him on Irma in hospital in Elko.  Not going out. Freezer is stocked. Thinking about taking a drive. Phyllis is handling him. "It is a full-time job."

His conversations got shorter over the past few months. He was fortunate that Phyllis, Alison and Shannon were there at the end to care for him.  Dad was always a great story teller. His memories of his youth were very vivid. He had a great sense of humor.  He was especially helpful to me in compiling our family history. Losing a parent is never easy. For me it has been especially hard but remembering the good times helps.