The Candle Kid by Harvey Silverman

I don’t know if my father was a tough guy

In the sixty-three years that I knew him – he was twenty-seven years old when I was born, when he became a dad – he never seemed at all like a tough guy. He was a warm and loving man, kind and friendly. College educated – he was a pharmacist – he worked hard, loved his family, never ever demonstrated the least bit of violence, and was scrupulously honest. He laughed and enjoyed corny jokes. 

Me: I just took a shower. 

Dad: I thought there was one missing. 

He was certainly not physically imposing, standing five feet six inches. Though robust as my father, photos in adolescence or as a very young man show a slight, skinny, perhaps even scrawny fellow who could not have weighed one hundred thirty pounds. 

It was the rare unguarded remark, just a couple really, that hinted he might indeed have at one time been other than the peaceful fellow who reared me. 

Perhaps he had to be tough. He grew up in New York City in the 20’s and 30’s. I guess there existed a certain enmity – particularly among the first- and second-generation Americans – between different groups growing up then; The Jews, the Irish, the Italians, others 

Just once Dad recalled, ever so briefly, walking down a street alone when a group of boys his age, members of a rival ethnic group, yelled insults across the street at him. Dad crossed the street and offered to fight the entire group so long as they agreed it would be “one at a time.” A policeman happened by and dispersed the would-be combatants before any fighting could begin. Dad did say he was not disappointed by the policeman’s arrival. 

He never spoke of that episode again even when I asked about it. “Oh, I don’t know.” 

But he did one time admit, in reply to my asking if he got in a lot of fights as a kid, “I never ever went looking for trouble or a fight. But I wouldn’t run away.” 

Dad did relate in a bit more detail an episode that occurred during basic training in the army in 1942. A friend told Dad that another trainee named “Tony” was picking on Dad’s friends and he needed “to take care of it.” Dad described Tony as a big fellow, six feet tall, over two hundred pounds. Why would they have asked Dad to take on a much larger guy if he were not thought capable? 

“I can’t do it tonight, I have guard duty. I’ll take care of it tomorrow.” 

By the next day, though, Dad’s friends had joined together to eliminate any future problems with Tony, thereby relieving Dad of the task. He told me he was, as before, not disappointed. 

Perhaps the last story he told me answers the tough guy question. Still in the army, now a pharmacist at Thayer Army Hospital in Nashville, he began training for a boxing tournament that would be held for the soldiers. Shortly before the tournament he suffered second degree burns on his back and thus could not compete. 

“I was going to box as The Candle Kid.” 

“Really? Why did you pick that name, Dad?” 

“Easy. One blow and I was out.” 

Harvey Silverman is a retired old coot and writes nonfiction primarily for his own enjoyment.

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