Stories About My Dad, by Peter

Fathers Are Wonderful!
But my experience is that mine is exceptional, even at age 104 as of this writing.  I was at a seminar many years ago that I was dragged to by my ex-.  A psychologist was trying to drum up business by sharing alleged pearls of wisdom.  She (the psychologist) refrained the old saw about how childhood difficulties with mothers and fathers could mess up kids’ minds, and then asked the group sarcastically, “Raise your hand if you’ve had a perfect childhood.”  Out of the 40 or so participants, I was the only one that raised my hand.
What does that tell you?

Dad’s Lessons
  • Never walk by a sink full of dirty dishes
  • Always do the right thing, even if no one is looking
  • Never miss an opportunity to do a kind deed

Crime & Punishment
The only time I ever got a spanking was because of my sister.  One day when I was probably 4 or 5, we were in the kitchen in Highland Park and I got mad at my big sister.  She was probably trying to boss me around, and I wasn’t having any of it.  I remember looking up at her (she was a lot taller than I was…9 years apart, don’t forget!), and I inexplicably hit her, probably on her arm.  I glanced panic-stricken at my Dad, and saw his expression change from loving father to something resembling a gargoyle, which I had never seen before.  Of course, I had never hit my sister before, so that might account for his change in visage.  On impulse, I tore out of the kitchen and bounded up the stairs, thinking I could escape retribution.  I hadn’t even heard of the word “retribution”, but I was about to know what it meant.  As I rounded the landing in the middle of the staircase, my Dad’s shovel-sized hand whacked my behind and propelled me up the second flight of stairs.  I hid in my room for several hours.  When I sheepishly came downstairs, Dad just looked at me sternly and said: “Never hit a woman.”  I learned a great lesson that day.  Thank you, Dad.

Ugly Monkey
My dad taught me a great lesson once at the zoo.  We were at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, a wonderful place full of old fashioned buildings and old zoo charm.  The Lion House.  The Bird House.  The Snake House.  I’m not sure all the animals felt that way.  Or PETA.
We were in the new (at the time) Great Ape House, and I remarked on the appearance of the chimpanzees.  I said to my dad, “That monkey is really ugly!”
Now Dad knew that I knew the difference between monkeys and chimps, but that’s not what he was going to teach me.
He turned to me with a thoughtful expression on his face and said “Have you ever wondered what you look like to him?”
That was impactful.  In three seconds, he changed my whole perspective on life, which lasts to this day.

When I was young, Dad and I used to go to uptown Highland Park and run errands.  It was mostly an excuse for him to stop and chat over a cup of coffee with his merchant friends: Powell’s Camera Mart, Ace Hardware…you know, guy stuff.  Dad made a point every so often of holding my hand as we walked from store to store.  When I was really young, that was OK.  But I remember thinking one day that I was a big boy.  I looked up at him and said “Dad, I don’t need to hold your hand anymore.”
I wish I hadn’t said that.

Dad was a real kidder.  We traveled a lot as a family all over the United States.  Whenever we got to a restaurant, Dad would take me to the restroom to wash up, etc.  As we approached the restroom door, he would invariably say: “Hey, Pete…it says ‘Men’ on the sign, but don’t let that stop you.”  He knew I could take it.

Emails from Dad
Dear Pete:
If I had life to live over again, the only thing I’d change would be to have more children.

Dear Peter:
The Great Edinburg (pronounced Edinboro) Tatoo – this is the ultimate tatoo, filmed with a lot of imagination.  A real treat for those who love and understand bagpipes.

Elevator Speech
At the end of celebrating Mom’s 102nd birthday in January, 2016, Mom and Dad were in the elevator at the Presbyterian Home.  A woman friend leaned over and kissed Mom, saying “Happy Birthday, Betty”.  Dad chimed in and said “My birthday is in June.”

There was a lovely nurse from Ethiopia that Mom & Dad had known for many years working the floor at McGaw.  Recently while Dad was there, she came into his room, gave him a cheery “Hello Mr. Werrenrath!”   She stood in front of his rolling tray table, bent down and looked him straight in the face.  Dad looked confused at first, but then a big smile appeared on his face and he pointed at the nurse.  He didn’t say it in words, but his gesture said “I recognize you!”  It was a precious moment.

Fake It Until You Make It

My dad was making one of his nature films.  We used to wander around the neighborhood and many of the great nature preserves that dot the suburbs north of Chicago.  This one sunny afternoon, Dad was trying to capture a honeybee doing its thing, in and out of the flowers in our front yard garden.  Honeybees are pesky things.  It’s almost as if they have a mind of their own.  You see them and hear them, and set your camera on the tripod, adjust the height and just when the light is perfect, it flits away.  Damn!

We spent the greater part of this afternoon trying to get just the right shot.  Peonies, tulips, honeysuckle, roses, zinnias…the bees would hover and buzz, squiggle seductively into the pistils and stamens, then shudder over to the next flower, sniff and ignore, then repeat amongst the botanical beatitude.  Dad kept moving the camera, I would scout the flight path, and erringly report the next position.

Funny thing about bees: they know you’re there and will take appropriate action.  Several times, I ventured too close to a bee and it buzzed me; came at me right in my face, and the vibration of its wings increased several thousand decibel levels.  I’d back away quickly and generally avoid an unfortunate confrontation.  Once, though, I put my hand up to fend off the little buzzer, and he got me right in the pinkie.

“Ouch!” I screamed, and reached for my hand.

My dad said in probably the firmest voice I ever heard, “DON’T TOUCH IT!”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his trusty Victorinox Swiss Army Knife.  It was red, with a hundred big and little gadgets on it.  He unfolded the largest blade and pointed it at me.  Buckets of sweat fell from my brow.

“Open your hand,” he commanded.

He proceeded to scrape along my pinky finger with the flat of the blade, caught the bee venom sack with the sharp side and out came the stinger, venom and all.

He smiled as he looked at me and said, “If you try to pull it out, you’ll just squeeze the venom further into your body.”

My finger didn’t hurt too bad.  It felt like, well, a bee sting.  Luckily I didn’t yell “Mom!”

“Betty!” Dad called out.  “We need a little first aid here.”

So Mom brought out a bottle of Bactine, a box of Band-Aids and some ice tea.  Mom patched me up and we all cooled off in the afternoon sun.  I kept my bandaged pinky on the cold glass.  It felt a lot better next to Mom’s homemade ice tea.

Mom packed up her medical bag and went back toward the house.  “Thanks, Mom!” I said to her back.  She turned and smiled at me, and went inside.

As Dad and I sat on the hot grass sipping the nectar, Dad looked down at his feet and said, “Was you ever stung by a dead bee?”  Well, actually, Walter Brennan said that in To Have and Have Not, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  But Dad did spot a dead bee in the grass.  I felt guilty when I saw it, because it was my job to mow the lawn every week.  Must have clipped that little sucker when he was taking a break on a clover flower.  Or, it was the one that stung me.  They say bees die after they sting something.  Oh well.  It was dead.

So Dad picked up the dead bee and his eyebrows went up.  He had an idea!

“Pete,” he said, “go ask your mother for a needle and thread.”

I said “OK, Pop!”

As I scampered toward the front door, I looked back at Dad.  He cupped his hands over his mouth and said “Hurry, Pete!  We’re losing the light.”  Always the director.

I came out with a needle and black thread.  Looking back on it, black and yellow thread would have been better.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I handed them to Dad and he said, “Watch this.”

He took the needle (which was already threaded, thank heavens…we were losing the light!) and stuck it through the bee’s butt.  With a scowl on his forehead and an intense look of concentration on his face, he passed the slender silver needle through the body and it came out at the bee’s nose.  I didn’t know bees had noses, but I guess they must; how else do they smell where the flowers are? He then tied a knot at the dangerous end.  His face lit up with glee as he handed the contraption to me.

“Here, Pete,” he said.  “Are you ready for your close-up?”  Dad loved the movie references.

He picked up his camera and we walked through the yard looking for the best flower in the best of the fading light.  We found a patch of bright yellow snapdragons in the front by the driveway, beautifully framed by the low angle sunlight.

“Perfect!” he exclaimed as he set down his tripod and adjusted the camera head.

Then he explained what he wanted me to do.

First, I carefully pried the mouth of the snapdragon open.  They are cleverly built just for honeybees, their top and bottom lips coated with dozens of gooey pollen-covered stamens, ready to rub onto the bees knees as they pass through.  Then I inserted the needle, with the little dead buzzer hanging from the end of the thread.  I pierced the far side of the snapdragon and pricked my finger with the needle as it exited. 

I was young then, and didn’t curse.  At least not out loud.  Dad saw me jerk my finger back and said “You OK?”

“Fine, Dad,” I said as I sucked my finger.  “Not too much blood”

Then, I pulled the thread through until the bee sat on the front lip of the flower.  The bee looked almost real, if not a bit tired.

“Roll ’em!” said Dad.

I got my hands out of the way, and held the snapdragon stalk from the bottom, out of camera range.


I was my dad’s favorite actor in many of his education films, and I always got nervous being on camera.  So shaking ever so slightly, I gently pulled the poor honeybee corpse further into the mouth of the snapdragon until it disappeared and snapped shut.

And as any good director does, he waited a few seconds for extra footage for the edit, then said “Cut!”

It worked!  The final result made it to his next film, and no one complained.  On screen, you can only see the black knot by the bee’s butt if you know it’s there.  Of course, this was back in the dark ages (1960s) and Yelp had not been invented yet.

So we faked it.  So what?  We got a good lesson recorded and had a fun adventure making it.  We probably should have done a few more takes, but the light had faded and we packed it in for the day.

I helped Dad carry the photographic gear back inside the house.  He always got to carry the big camera.  Someday I would.

He looked down at me and said, “How are your fingers?”

I held up eight, hiding the two that were injured.

He laughed and said, “You’ll survive!”

Dad was always right.

3 thoughts on “Stories About My Dad, by Peter

  1. Robert Cass

    Great stories! Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Carleton Hutchins

    LOVE the bee story! Maybe you killed the poor buzzer with a lawn mower,
    or maybe he died from losing his stinger in your pinky…

    The important outcome here is that your creative Dad sort of reincarnated
    the bee and made a movie star of him, too. Hats off to the snapdragon, too.
    Cuz Brown

    1. Peter-Admin

      Thanks, Cuz. It was so much fun working with him. I know how much you admired my dad.

      Keep the stories coming!

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