On some morning walks , I am totally aware of my physical environment. What do I see – vegetation, flowers, birds, animals, architecture, people? Other walks turn mental. Thoughts build on thoughts. Images, mental not physical. The walk ignores the physical landscape in favor of of a personal mental focus. One recent morning my mental walk along the Delaware Canal focused on my Father, Vincent Profy, born December 24, 1920; died March 11, 2013.
So many images and stories flashed in my mind. Father was a good person. He was devoted to family; although usually not very demonstrative. His love was personal and quiet. He was humble.
Vincent Profy was a child of the depression and World War II. In the words of Tom Brokow, a member of The Greatest Generation. He was born, grew up and never moved far from Mill Street in Bristol Borough. He was small town. I know nothing of his elementary school years. When he spoke of High School (Bristol, of course)’ it was Mr. F who taught Latin, football and track. On December 6, 1941 he sat in a soda fountain on Mill Street and heard the news of Pearl Harbor. He followed his brothers and joined the war effort. Vince like older brother Albert went into the Navy, serving on the Rapidan, a oil transport. He worked in Pacific, in the engine room, distilling salt water. Frequently our personal history is limited to vague images. I seem to remember Father reminiscing about standing on the bow of a ship, in Seattle harbor, smoking a pipe, thinking of Cis and listening to “As Time Goes By.”
Back in Bristol, Vince married Cecilia “Cis” Gallagher, Irish, from the 4th ward, Bristol H S graduate from the other side of the tracks. A year later, their first of five was born — that’s me, Vince junior. Home was a Mill street apartment owned by Cis’s mother, Hannah. As the family grew they would move to larger apartments on Mill street — the last at 121 was built by Father — a gift from his father Thomas Profy.
Vince worked briefly for Rohm & Haas but Grandpop Profy expected his sons to work in the family business. So Vince joined brothers Tom and Frank in his father’s GE appliance store. Vince attended watch school and in a corner of the store opened a jewelry and watch department. One of my favorite memories is accompanying him on trips to Philadelphia’s Jeweler’s Row. After business, lunch (The automat at Horn and Hardarts was a favorite) we would visit Independence Hall, being restored. My first exposure to historic restoration.
Profy’s on Mill street was the dominant force in Father’s life. He was there early morning and worked several nights. In addition to sales, both appliances and jewelry, he was a repairman. My sisters and I have all learned lessons about caring for appliances. The Store as we called it was central to his life.
He supported all his children. In addition to myself, there followed four girls — Cissy, Vicky, Marylee and Lizanne. But as the only boy I suspect I got special attention. He went with me into Boy Scouts becoming an Assisatant Scoutmaster. He challenged me on the basketball court in high school (and he was a rough player). He and Mom both believed in education so they encouraged reading, stretched funds and sent me to Holy Ghost Prep and supported me in my first year at Boston College. The second year I really shocked him when I announced I was getting married. I was home for a few days in late May and at the dinner table he announced I wasn’t getting married (as a minor in PA, he had to sign papers). I guess Father had taught me independence because the next morning I left Bristol and hitch hiked back to Boston. By late July he gave in and Diane and I were married in late August. He told me he was worried about money; he couldn’t help us financially. I responded well just make us some furniture. He was always a bit of a carpenter handyman.
For Christmas Father drove up to Boston with two colonial reproductions he had made. A cobbler’s bench/coffee table and a round dining table that folded up as a bench. He also had a piece of carpeting which he installed in our Commonwealth Avenue apartment. Still have the table but the Cobbler’s bench was lost in a flood. M
As Father aged, his hobbies expanded. He continued to repair clocks and watches, made furniture, clocks, children’s toys, and recaned chairs. He did stained glass, bonsai, and other gardening. When he and Mom bought their first house on Mulberry Steet (not far from Mill), the basement became a wood working shop and the 3rd floor a clock and other hobby room. He exasperated Mom a bit with his obsessions. In his 60s, retired, he turned to long daily walks, yoga, and a series of healthy food fads. The pipe smoking, a fixture when we were growing up, had disappeared.
Profy’s Appliance Store closed in the 1970s. Business had left Mill Street for the suburban shopping centers and malls. And the Profy boys were not moving off Mill Street. I got Father a job at HGP. Wanted him to be a Business Manager but he said no, he’d work in the maintenance department. Not exactly sure the year he retired but I have previously written about the speech he gave at a retirement party. How he turned on the lights in the school allowing education and learning to happen. He was proud of that.
Retired from HGP, father remained active working in a clock shop and maintaining his hobbies well into his late 80s. He read quite a bit but rarely watched TV or listened to music and I could never get him to use a computer. He and Mom had always taken some trips (GE promotions) but he wasn’t a big traveler. Hated driving a car. NJ shore vacations, an annual trip to visit his brother Albert in Flushing NY was about the extent of his major driving. At one point Mother wanted to go to Alaska. He declined and she went alone (she is another story). His good friend Ray Nichols, planned and drove them on a number of retirement trips.
When Mom died (a hit and run), my sister Liz moved in with him. We had already moved them out of Mulberry Street to an apartment on the river. He suffered with some dementia, short term memory loss, but till the end his long term memory was very good. He did get very weaker physically and had difficulty walking. In the last year he became more than Liz could handle and we had to move him to a nursing home. Amazing he adjusted pretty well but was only there about 9 months before dying quietly, as he had lived.
I don’t quite know how he did it but Father left us a bit of inheritance. It paid off my loan for raising the house and gave me the money to purchase my new laptop (with a bit in savings). How do you do that on $85 a week. His salary in the 1950s.
Father gave me so many things. I’m not sure I ever properly thanked him. And there was probably much about my life style (college and after) that he would not like. My political and social views ran contrary to his conservative Catholic outlook. He disapproved and was almost afraid of gay men. But at the same time, he accepted and respected everyone.
Father exposed me to and taught me so many things. From pipe smoking and a liking of good red wine to reading and carpentry, history, exploring an environment, openness to new experiences (within limits for him), and a love of people. I remember one evening in the Store, he was asking questions to a customer. When the individual left I said Dad, why were you asking him those questions, you know the answers. His response was that you should show an interest in others, make them feel that they are helpful, even important. And he said, maybe I’ll learn something new. Thanks Father. Many pleasant memories. And I will try to start Yoga. It’s on my list.