My dad had a lifelong wish. He wanted to see New York City. His salary as a body and fender man in California in the Great Depression barely kept his family in food and shoes. A trip to New York City was a dream that was unlikely to happen.
By the time he was 72, and I was his caregiver, his dream had faded.
Then a miracle. My husband received a job assignment to Oneida, New York--upstate, but close enough!
The day we arrive in Oneida, my dad and my children begin planning for a summer trip to New York City. The children borrow books from the library and my dad sends for maps and travel folders of things to see in New York City. Every day the list grows longer--Ellis Island, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Jones Beach, the Brooklyn Bridge, the United Nations Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Ferry, and Coney Island.
The discovery of the wonders of the Automat adds it to the top of the list. The children begin saving their nickels in a tin can labeled “Apple Pie at the Automat.”
In early spring, when the freezing cold of winter begins to thaw, we hear a loud thump from my dad's room. We rush upstairs and find him lying on the floor.
He has suffered a stroke.
In the following months, as summer approaches, any mention of New York City becomes taboo. The children still huddle around my dad's hospital bed, counting nickels into the can and whispering to him about apple pie from the Automat.
My dad never regains the use of his legs or his left arm. In the coming months, he does regain some use of his right arm and full use of his sight--perfect for sightseeing.
We make the summer trip to New York City almost exactly to the day my dad and the children had planned. My dad sees the city from an air mattress bed in the back of our Buick station wagon. His head and shoulders are propped high on pillows. His body is immobile, but his sparkling blue eyes don’t miss a thing. He is the tour guide for all of us. When it’s time for us to return home, only one thing is left undone--the number one thing on the list.
We head for the Automat on Broadway near Seventh Avenue. My husband, usually a conservative driver, veers out of his lane and pulls within shouting distance of a police officer directing rush hour traffic. “Officer, is there any place we can park for just a few minutes?”
The officer frowns, shakes his head, and waves us on. As my husband works his way back into the line of traffic, the full length of the Buick station wagon passes the officer. The officer blows his whistle and motions us to stop--right in the middle of the intersection.
The officer, it seems, has had a change of heart. Is it my dad lying immobile in the back of the Buick? Is it the disappointed faces of the children?
When my husband tells the officer where we want to go and what we want to do, the officer points to a "no parking" space next to the curb. “OK, you got twenty minutes for your apple pie party. Enjoy it!”
As soon as my husband pulls the Buick next to the curb, the children and I jump out and race to the Automat. The children waste no time feeding their precious nickels into the slots for apple pie. We carry the pie back to the Buick and follow the police officer's orders--we all enjoy it!
Today, sixty years later, the kindness of a police officer and the wonders of the Automat live on in our family.