The Whistle

A Father’s Day Tribute!  Love you, Dad~

The Whistle

My dad is one of those people who can place two fingers into his mouth and blast out a whistle that can stop a train.  It was our family’s signature “get your fannies home this minute” signal that would reverberate through the neighborhood at dinnertime.  It was also the signal he used to wake us up on Saturday mornings, hours before our teenage bodies would have naturally awakened.

“Pancakes are on the table!”

I hated those words.  I hated pancakes.  I hated trudging down the stairs in line behind my equally grumpy brothers still smelling of sleep and unwashed hair.

“Hurry up, they’re getting cold,” Mr. Handsome in his White Apron would bellow though we stood within whispering distance, pointing his silver spatula like a policeman’s baton.  “I’ve been up since 6:00 getting this ready for you all.  The least you can do is look alive. Show some respect.”

The six of us would take our places at the table, exhaling loudly and scraping the legs of the chair against the floor extra hard.

“Pass the orange juice.”

“Could you leave some syrup for the rest of us?”

“Why do you use so much butter?

“These are cold”

“Do you have to chew that loud?”

“Kevin, wake up and get your head off the table before Dad sees you.”

I would methodically cut my pancakes into exact squares and move them around.  When Todd wasn’t looking I would take a handful and throw them onto his plate. We had come to this arrangement some time ago as he would always pay me back in vegetables at dinner.

“Up and at ‘em. That’s what I always say.  Early bird gets the worm,” Dad would announce as he barged through the white swinging door that separated the kitchen from the dining room balancing a platter of steaming pancakes that would have made Aunt Jemima dance the jig.

“Elbows off the table.  Where should that napkin be?  Come on, backs straight, chins up.  A little class goes a long way.”  He would make one lap around the room emptying his platter onto our plates whether we wanted them or not, none of us saying a word.

“Beautiful day, lots to do.  You’ll find your lists on the fridge as usual.  No one leaves the house till your chores are done.  Work before pleasure.  Key to success.”

And so it went, week after week, as sure as the passing of the seasons. We grew up in a home built on a foundation of shoulds.  Though it was a constant source of irritation and emotional kindling that ignited many a fire between Father and Child, it also ingrained in us a deep sense of duty and order around which we could build successful lives.

My father, an electrical engineer, found comfort in rules and formulas.  A product of his generation he played the role of the “DAD” to the hilt.  Emotions were for sissies.

And he was very good at lectures.  He had a stockpile of them ready to go the instant they were needed.  He had lectures about jumping on the beds, and not pulling on the banister when we raced up and down the steps, not sitting on the edge of chairs and couches so we wouldn’t break down the cushions. He had a very emotional lecture that had something to do with not putting away his tools after we used them, and also a fiery one we only got to hear on special occasions like the one that lit up the back yard the day David decided to sneak the car out for a joyride before he got his license. And by god, if our mother took the time to make that dinner we were going to enjoy it.

I still don’t know what was going to happen if he “had to turn around one more time while driving the eight of us seven hours to Maine on vacation, or “if he had to come up there” when we giggled and played past our bedtime.

But what he was the best at, was the whistle.  It was a loud, commanding three-note signal that cut though the neighborhood and sent six pairs of legs racing home faster that than the bells of the ice cream truck. He understood that a family who eats together shares a life of meaning.

Yesterday, we sat in the bleachers at my son’s volleyball game as they battled the opponent point by point.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw my dad put his two fingers to his lips and take a deep breath.

“Dad, don’t.  You’ll embarrass him,” I laughed as I tugged gently on his arm.

“You think so?” He asked eyes softening with resignation.

“Yes. He doesn’t know about the whistle.”

“Probably for the better. I have a hard time with it now that I have these new teeth.”

“You’re still belting out your whistle?  In Sun Lakes?” I asked as he looked away thinking that I could not see his eyes cloud with memory.

“You know,” he said, “once in awhile, when the quiet overwhelms me, I pretend that it’s still magic, and you will all run home for dinner.”

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23 Responses to The Whistle

  1. Oh my gosh, goosebumps, chills and tears. Just beautiful.

  2. A lovely tribute, Susan!
    Wait, you don’t like pancakes???

  3. Shelly Scheuring says:

    Great story Susan–a wonderful break from a tedious work day!

  4. Kathy O'Neill says:

    Beautiful moments, beautiful sentiment and beautifully written Susan. Our generation of Fathers were not “allowed” to outwardly show and express their love to their children. Our Dad’s did it through discipline and pancakes! But the love was there, we just didn’t recognize it as such.
    My Dad loves and I mean loves to talk. The saying is that “he can talk a brass ear off of a monkey!” My kids know this too. So, this summer my daughter is staying in her college town and working in the local Cracker Barrel as a Greeter in the retail section. She talks about the conversations that she has had with the “older customers”.She knows where they live, how many Grandchildren they have and what they are buying for them. She say it is a easy job, it is just like talking to Grammie and Pop!! She “gets” her Grandparents. I think if your Dad did whistle, you son would have gotten it too!

    • Hi Kathy, Yes, Matt and his Grandpa are very close, too. I just love that. The best part about moving to Arizona was being close tp my parents and enjoying each other. No Cracker Barrels around here though! We used to love stopping at those and poking around the gift shop while we waited for “home” cooked breakfast! (No pancakes, though~)

  5. Karen says:

    Such a sweet story. Made me miss my dad…

  6. A precious post about a precious father Susan. Thanks for sharing here.

  7. Gorgeous story, beautifully written, Susan. You make your father come alive; you make me wish I knew him.
    Take a bow, both you and your dad. He for the love he bestowed on his children all these years and you for publicly acknowledging that love. Quite lovely.

  8. Margie says:

    I can’t believe Harry is 80… In my mind, he will forever be that 40-something guy we’d see standing on the front porch when he blew that whistle at dinner time – and from across the street at our own dinner table, the Powers kids would yell out in unison “Coming, Harry!” Thanks for triggering another slew of great memories Susan! Give Harry and Lois a huge hug from me!

    • HI Margie! So great to see you 🙂 I will hear that whistle forever, and I can just see you all around the dinner table cracking up. At least it wasn’t a cowbell like Mrs. Shaffer used for Trevor!

  9. Jacki Powers says:


    Maureen shared this with all the “27 Ardsley gang”, and yes, the memories are awesome. It seems almost like yesterday. Quite honestly, not sure if I am having happy or sad tears!

    My love to you and all of the family.


    • Hi Jacki! I am so enjoying this Ardsley Rd. reunion! We have a treasure trove of memories don’t we. Missing your family as usual. Love to you all, Susan

  10. iluvtowrite says:

    Loved this, Susan! Also wanted to toss in the “street lights.” No kid was ever left to play in the neighborhood after the sreet lights went on — in the Midwest that could be pretty early.
    You are so fortunate to still have your dad with you!
    Enjoy him and the day.

    • Ah, yes. The streetlights! I can remember standing in my room fuming as I looked out the window and saw all of the other neighborhood kids running through the yards at the edge on darkness chasing fireflies while I pulled on my pj’s. Thanks, for that memory, Trish!

  11. Jamie Lee says:

    This was a wonderful father piece. I also grew up in a family of eight kids and so many of your stories reminded me of my own father. His whistle was musical and my favorite was when he would wake me up quietly saying, “Good Morning Glory.”

  12. Nikole Hahn says:

    That was so touching! You have a lovely dad.

  13. Ken Wallace says:

    I was doing fine until the last line, then I got all teary-eyed. And at work, no less, but I don’t think anyone noticed. Nicely written. It does make me wonder just how much my own two children like the Sunday morning pancakes!

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