Fritz Ehrler was as German as the name indicates. Yet he was a WWII vet who spoke little about that as well as the pin-up tattoo that adorned the inside of his forearm. He had deep tanned skin, no doubt because of the hours he spent fishing in sun drenched lakes. Making Fritz smile or laugh was simple and often elicited a story or two from his reservoir of lifetime experiences.
He found his way into my life through my Texas born neighbor who was trying to patch up a leaking version of her California dream in post war suburb.
Fritz had deep lines chiseled into his face. He had tools and worked with wood easier that he could hold a conversation. Yet, sometimes he'd open up on those long trips back home after baking all day and handling big lake trout.
Something deep in his past triggered the tale of a phone call he'd received in the recent past. The story he told goes like this: He and Mary were painting a bedroom when the phone rang. Being up on a ladder, he said let it go, but she went to get the phone. There were no answering machines back then. A minute later, Mary returned and said, "You better come to the phone, it sounds important, it's your sister." Fritz climbed down and went to answer the phone. He returned shortly and resumed painting without saying a word.
"What was that about," Mary continued.
"Dad died," Fritz said. Nothing more. They painted together for another hour in silence.When I pressed Fritz on the subject of his father all he would say is, "My did was an SOB."
After my mom died, Fritz would occasionally look in on my dad and me and compliment my cooking. Once when I had a little fuzzy mustache he asked me if I was going to grow a beard someday. I quickly showed him the new dark brown hair under my arm and he advised me to circle it with a red pen so it'd be easier to find!
One rainy night my dad and I were all set to listen to the Sonny Liston Cassius Clay heavyweight title fight on the radio. There was no TV, so we settled in when suddenly the power went out. We later found out a light plane had crashed into some power lines and the power was out for hours. I tried in vain to coax my little transistor radio to find the station by candlelight. When finally successful, the radio's battery was just about spent. "Maybe Fritz has a spare," my dad said. We both found our way to his door by flashlight. Fritz had no battery, but he did have a better idea. We heard every bit of that history making "I shook up the world" title fight in Fritz's car. My dad and Fritz in the front seat, and me in back leaning my head between them. Male bonding at its best.